Ariana Eunjung Cha’s recent article in the Washington Post, “Tech Titan’s Latest Project: Defy Death,” discusses the attempts by the wealthy tech elite to defeat death by using their vast resources to fund anti-aging research. These elite include, most notably, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and others. As Ellison puts it: “Death makes me very angry.”
I have written extensively defending my belief that death should be overcome and applaud the wealthy tech elite for the commitment to this most important goal. However many aren’t convinced.
In a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent said they believed treatments to slow, stop or reverse aging would have a negative impact on society. Two-thirds said they worry that radical life extension would strain natural resources, that only wealthy people would get access to new treatments and that “medical scientists would offer the treatment before they fully understood how it affects people’s health. Fifty-eight percent said treatments that would allow people to live decades longer would be “fundamentally unnatural.”
And of course there is the opposition of Francis Fukuyama, a former member of the President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, who “argues that a large increase in human life spans would take away people’s motivation for the adaptation necessary for survival. In that kind of world, social change comes to a standstill, he said; aging dictators could stay in power for centuries.” What increased lifespans have to do with adaptation I have no idea, nor does the action of the mortal regarding climate change, nuclear annihilation or environmental destruction demonstrate much interest in survival. As for what increased lifespans have to do with stopping social change or more repressive political systems I am also in the dark.(I have responded to Fukuyama’s silly arguments previously.)
And then there is that deathist and opponent of every bit of social change ever proposed, Leon Kass, who asks: “Could life be serious or meaningful without the limit of mortality?” Kass’ arguments are even more absurd that Fukuyama’s. Kass simply hates progress and is a true enemy of the future. (I have replied to Kass previously here.)
But the most interesting objection to radical life-extension comes from a man I admire greatly, the world’s greatest philanthropist, Bill Gates. who says: “It seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer.” I do agree that giving everyone the opportunity to live say an 80 year healthy life probably takes precedence over giving a few the opportunity to live say double that. But the ultimate goal should be to eliminate death altogether. As I’ve said many times in this blog we are not truly free nor can life be ultimately meaningful unless death is optional. (The argument in detail is in my most recent book, The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Transhumanist, and Scientific Perspectives.