a terrible reason to oppose life extension

August 1, 2012

In the transhumanist lexicon, the word bioconservative is used to describe those who argue that humans will need to accept death as an eternal inevitability and experiments meant to extend human life are folly. While a lot of our current life extension technology is in its early experimental stages and dead ends aren’t unusual, it is important to get people used to the idea that if we work really hard at it, we could prolong our lives and the endeavor is actually worthy. Unlike the critics charge, the end result of radically prolonging life spans wouldn’t be a zero sum game in which the poor are exploited as guinea pigs, and there are valid reasons for wanting to continue to live for much longer periods of time than we do now. We can accomplish more. We can open a new horizon for exploration, medicine, and society, The spinoffs could alleviate suffering for billions and allow us to reach for new frontiers. But what if, the critics continue, you had a dictator who could live more or less for thousands of years? Wouldn’t it be a good thing if he was guaranteed to die at some point and the people he oppressed had a chance to start anew? Wouldn’t the sacrifice be worth it? No, it wouldn’t, and here’s why.

Basically, we’re being asked to give a potential means of extending our life spans so we can be sure that just a small handful of people and their cronies would be dead at some point in time. We can’t always kill them or depose them, so we’ll be outsourcing the assassination to nature. Anyone see the problem here? Of the over seven billion people who aren’t dictators, who do we think is expendable enough to die alongside our targets for the sake of the anti-dictator cause? If I may reach for a little hyperbole, how different is the logic that all the billions who will die in the process are fair game because their death helps the cause from that of all terrorist groups who believe that civilians of the countries they hate can be on the hit list because killing them hurts an enemy and may force him to retreat? This is a rather crass way of saying that the ends justify the means and I doubt that they really do in this case. We could take this logic further and cast all modern medicine as being a dictator enabling technology. Maybe last week Assad would’ve tripped, fallen, hurt himself, then got his wound infected and was soon dead from septic shock, helping to end the civil war in Syria. Does this mean we must now give up our disinfectants and advanced medical treatments to make sure bad people die easier?

And there’s another thing. Dictators do not command a nation without an infrastructure of enablers and aides to do their dirty work. Rather than chopping off the head of a snake, killing a dictator is like slicing off the head of the Hydra. Another three will grow and continue whatever the severed head was doing. Likewise, the SCAF easily survived the deposition of Mubarak and his death, reinstating the old guard though political maneuvers that ensured their stranglehold on the political process, and creating a regime not too different than the one a month of protest forced to collapse. Even the names aren’t all that new. So imagine if we asked a billion or so people to forgo life extension treatments to let nature take its course with Mubarak? For what did they die? An autocratic regime raised from the ashes of Mubarak’s networks of cronies, toadies, and spies? This certainly wasn’t much of an improvement, was it? Would a dictator who could live for thousands of years be bad news for the world? Yes, definitely. But when we’re talking about extending human life, we’re talking about a change that can affect the entire species, not just those who meet our moral standards, and the billions of people for whom we have no good reason to deny more years of life are too high of a price to pay to get rid of a few really bad apples, who, let’s face it, will always be with us and who we’ll always want gone one way or another.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on StumbleUpon
  • Paul451

    You could go further: If it’s morally acceptable to deny life extension to an entire nation in order to limit the lifespan of its dictator, that gives you a “metric of mortality” acceptable to end a dictatorship. Say 50 million people, being denied 1000 years of extended life, gives you 50 billion person-years less life per dictator removed. Allowing a 50% battle casualty rate, that means it’s also morally acceptable to send 100 million soldiers (each with a potential 1000 year lifespan, sans war) to remove him. And my guess is that sending more than the population of the entire country in soldiery to remove one regime is such overwhelming force that it would result in less than 50% death toll for either the soldiers (or the civilians.)

    It’s probably always numerically better to use military force than deny the citizens of a country medical care (and/or economic growth) in the hope you somehow shorten the dictators reign. (Provided you act early, go in with overwhelming force, and restore services quickly. Unlike in Iraq, where you had both a decade of sanctions, then a clumsy, under-resourced invasion.)

    Hell, even nuking the capital to assassinate the leader would reduce fewer person-years amongst civilians than reducing life-span. Even without radical life extension technology. Say a national population of 50 million, the capital with a population of 5 million or so, a million killed in the blast, another million by radiation. 2 million deaths. Say each had (by definition) an average of 50% of the national average life expectancy remaining, so 1 million whole-life equivalents. With a national population of 50 million, it’s numerically equivalent of a medical sanction that reduces the average life expectancy of the whole population by 1/50th. Giving the country a pre-sanctions life expectancy of 75 years; it is numerically worse to use sanctions that reduce the average life expectancy of a nation by just 1.5 years, in order to punish the dictatorship, than to drop a nuke on the capital to kill the dictator and his allies and two million civilians. (And frankly, nuking the capital would have a higher probability of ending the regime than a decade of sanctions.)

    The question then is, is “numerically better” the same as “morally better”?

  • Tim Seabroo

    Not all Dictators are good for their country and cause! In World War 2 the leadership of the Alies decided firmly against assasinating Adolf Hiltler because the man was such an egotisyical Idiot that they thought he would do more Harm than good to Germany’s war effort! For example switching the Luftwaffe’s attacks against the RAF, to Bomb London ib september 1940, at the point when the RAFwas on the verge of Collpse, effectively cost Germany the War, by failing to gain Air superiority over southern England and the channel the German Invaision of England had to be cancelled as the Luftwaffe could not have protected the invasion Fleet from the Royal Navy. leaving Great Britain to act as a sort of strategic Aircraft carrier to destroy germany’s ability to manufacture weaponsand produce fuel to power their weaponry The Allies Land Armies and Airforces overwhelmed Germany’s armed forces! Hitlers Love of the Dramatic caused him to expend vast amounts of manpower on Wonder weaons like the V1 and V2 which didn’t achieve a great deal he even banned the develoment f the Messerschmidt ME262 jet fighter, which, had it been prouced earlier in the War would have stopped the Allied Strategic Bombing campaign in its tracks and prevented Aliied air superiority over France for the D- Day Landing and invasion. Without Adolf Hitler screwing up the German War effort we would probably not have defeated Germany in 1945.Had the War continued into 1946 the third Atomic Bomb would probably have exploded over Berlin!

  • Tim Seabrook

    It’s not just Prolonging Life that’s desirable but prolonging life with the Body’s systems intact!

    One of the more serious Problems is Alzhemers desiese in which a person loses their memory it’s not too bad for the person affected as they descend into a sort of dreamworld where their world is bounded by the 24hour care institution into which they’ve been placed, for their close relatives left behind, it’s awful to behold their loved ones descend into a child like state where they effectively have to be locked up under 24 hour supervision for their own safety my mothers Alzhiemers hit her in 2008 when she was 74 she was firstly locked up under the mental health Act in a Mental Hospital! Now she’s living in a Residential care home! she’s quite happy thinking she’s saying in the best RAF Officers Mess (accomodation for Officers) she’s ever stayed in; Dad was a Pilot in the RAf!. However, my father-in-Law is 102 and can recall avidly his time spent as a Prisoner of War in World War 2! He’s as fit as a fiddle and never grows tired of pointing out the pile of rubble that marks the Pit head where he when down into a coal pit at age 14 to mine coal in the 1920s!

    I myself suffered a Major stroke when I was 45 – 8 years ago it has left me with a disablement inthat I can’t operate my left hand or Arm, My left leg doesn’t work too well either and I can’t rotate my left foot around the ankle which makes walking without a stick very hard work it took me three months to learn how to walk again! However, I can speak intelligibly and understand speech OK! It took me two days of mouth exercises to get that back If I could just find someway of reconnecting my brain to my left hand again and be able to position the Left hand where it’s needed I could return to work looking after Jumbo Jets again but being unfit and disabled is a right pain, at least I’ve stopped having suicidal thoughts about my condition! I had my stroke 8 years ago in 2004!

    I have a mate whohad his stroke 4 years ago! he is confined to an electric wheel chair he can’t stand or walk anywhere he needs to use a Gantry crane to get in and out of Bed! he can’t speak either suffering from Aphasia where he can’t control his throat and mouth to create intelligible speech, but he does have the use of both hands, he was a colonel in the British Army I did get a sort of smile out of him once when I pointed out that it could be worse in that he could be lying face down in a Ditch in Afganistan with a Bullet in his Brain! So increasing the average Life span is a good idea if the debilitating conditions can be resolved because I really wouldn’t want to live a long life as a cripple relying on state handouts to live [Benefits or Welfare etc…] I have one fantasy that keeps me going in that I’m trying to write a thriller novel using some of my experience as an Aircraft Engineer and fantasy imagination to sell on Amazon as an e.book if I can make enough afrom that I might be able to afford stroke treatment Privately because despite the UK’s NHS saving my life after the stroke! Which I understand is rather important! Their opinion of a stroke survivor is that no one recovers from a stroke so there’s no point in treating anyone, I just kick myself for not finding a suitable health insurance policy that didn’t require me to be declared Bankrupt before they’d pay out: when I was looking for one in March 2004 ( 2 months before my stroke!).

    I understand that some canadian research on the effects of microwavve energy on the brain (mobile Phones) has found that certain frequencies can destroy the protiens in the brain that can lead to Alzhiemers desiese! Some research arried out in the UK has found that it is possible to use a patients own stem cells to replace the neurons in the brain destroyed by the blood clot that caused the stroke. In May 2004 ( after my stroke) I took part in some research that measured the different blood flow rates up the side of the head to the brain using doppler shift measured on microscopic air bubbles in the blood to work out if a patient had a hole in their heart [a lmain cause of strokes] and if so how big it is. The hole in my heart was sealed with a keyhole surgery procedure that took about 20minutes by going up the femoral Artery in the top of my thigh and into my heart the hole took a 35mm diameter ‘Bung’ to seal it: with a hole that sized its little wonder that I had a Major stroke!

    The doppler shift test has been designed to be carried out by local nurses in a local General Practioner Doctors office or clinic if the whole Population were to be scanned and the people with holes in their hearts diagnosed, generally thought to be about 30% of the population, If these holes were sealed using the keyhole PFO closure
    procedure that I had done. A lot of Sttrokes could be prevented, in the UK there are 150,000 strokes annually this is a terrific strain on resources: strokes can affect anyone of any age from toddler to old age I was relatively young at 45 when I had mine!

    I’ve found a motto in the Christopher Nolan Film ‘Batman Begins’ that fits my Predicament -” Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up!” I just dream of being able to get off the ground without having to call an Ambulance Crew for assistance!

    So if an easy quck cure for brain damae due to strokes can be found and research perfected into curingthe debilitating desieses associated with old age like Alzhiemers, dementia and a fix found for Arthritus rather than just replacing joints! I have a 73 yearold mate who reckons his biggest regret is having his knee joints replaced a the age of 56 as he’d worn them out at a younger age doing too much road running Marathons and the training for them having his knees replaced meant that he had to give up playing Rugby! I thought he was pretty far out when I joined the same Rugby team when I was 28 and he was 48!

    My latest hobby is learning how to fence but I’m having trouble with tmy lack of dexterity in my left leg and foot I practice prancing up and down my kitchen using my walking stick as a stand in Epee (a fencing fioil!) I’ve decided My heroine needs to be able to fight with a sword in my book to defend herself against Vampires I did say my novel is a Kind of Fantasy thriller I written most of the first book its epilogue which is also the Prologue and hook for the second bookthe Epilogue has a certain amount of flying in it which I’ve had checked out by an Old RAF flying Instructor mate of mine, I did learn to fly in 1980 whilst based in HongKong but I never progressed in aerobatics beyond the loop and in the prologue my pilot performs an Immelman Turn where the pilot rolls wings level at the top of his loop whilst he is inverted so that he effectively performs a vertical U turn! in the air. It was invented by a german World War 1 flying Ace called Immelman!

  • Paul451

    You missed Hitler’s two biggies. First he called off the attacks on the Dunkirk evacuation. Second, he attacked Russia.

    The latter is the reason they lost the war. The West could have sued for peace in 1941 and Germany would have lost to Russia.

  • Russ Toelke

    There may be other psychology at work here. I wonder if dictator-wannabes know that since they’re only here a (semi) finite time, they’re trying to cement some legacy by ruling with an iron fist. If they knew that a long life span of, say, 1000 years would introduce new ideas and weapons during their longer lifetimes, would they even consider radical despotism? The knowledge that governments, technology, and weapons have changed so much over the *last* 1000 years could influence their thinking. Plus, there’s the old mellowing-with-age thing where an older ruler might actually change his way of thinking, especially after being beaten with the evolving technology. Over time, after a few centuries of longer life spans, I would think that world peace may be realized at last, simply for the increased wisdom of experience of the population that would be living longer.