How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death

Ed Hudgins's picture
Submitted by Ed Hudgins on Thu, 2015-04-23 04:51

How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death
By Edward Hudgins

April 22, 2015 – Excited about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs investing billions of dollars to extend life and even “cure” death? It's amazing that such technologically challenging goals have gone from sci-fi fantasies to fantastic possibilities. But the biggest obstacles to life extension could be cultural: the anti-individualist fallacies arrayed against this goal.

Entrepreneurs defy death

A recent Washington Post feature documents the “Tech titans’ latest project: Defy death. “ Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist, has led the way, raising awareness and funding regenerative medicines. He explains: “I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing… Most people end up compartmentalizing and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive. I prefer to fight it.”

Others prefer to fight as well. Google CEO Larry Page created Calico to invest in start-ups working to stop aging. Oracle’s Larry Ellison has also provided major money for anti-aging research. Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg both have funded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation.

Beyond the Post piece we can applaud the education in the exponential technologies needed to reach these goals by Singularity U., co-founded by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believes humans and machines will merge in the decades to become transhumans, and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis.

The Post piece points out that while in the past two-thirds of science and medical research was funded by the federal government, today private parties put up two-thirds. These benefactors bring their entrepreneurial talents to their philanthropic efforts. They are restless for results and not satisfied with the slow pace of government bureaucracies plagued by red-tape and politics.

“Wonderful!” you’re thinking. “Who could object?”

Laurie Zoloth's inequality fallacy

Laurie Zoloth for one. This Northwestern University bioethicist argues that “Making scientific progress faster doesn’t necessarily mean better — unless if you’re an aging philanthropist and want an answer in your lifetime.” The Post quotes her further as saying that “Science is about an arc of knowledge, and it can take a long time to play out.”

Understanding the world through science is a never-ending enterprise. But in this case, science is also about billionaires wanting answers in their lifetimes because they value their own lives foremost and they do not want them to end. And the problem is?

Zoloth grants that it is ”wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big way” but she also wants “to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying.” Wouldn’t delaying or even eliminating dying be even better?

The discoveries these billionaires facilitate will help millions of people in the long-run. But her objection seems rooted in a morally-distorted affinity for equality of condition: the feeling that it is wrong for some folks to have more than others—never mind that they earned it—in this case early access to life-extending technologies. She seems to feel that it is wrong for these billionaires to put their own lives, loves, dreams, and well-being first.

We’ve heard this “equality” nonsense for every technological advance: only elites will have electricity, telephones, radios, TVs, computers, the internet, smartphones, whatever. Yes, there are first adopters, those who can afford new things. Without them footing the bills early on, new technologies would never become widespread and affordable. This point should be blindingly obvious today, since the spread of new technologies in recent decades has accelerated. But in any case, the moral essential is that it is right for individuals to seek the best for themselves while respecting their neighbors’ liberty to do the same.

Leon Kass's “long life is meaningless” fallacy

The Post piece attributes to political theorist Francis Fukuyama the belief 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.”

Nonsense! As average lifespans doubled in past centuries, social change—mostly for the better—accelerated. Increased lifespans in the future could allow individuals to take on projects spanning centuries rather than decades. Indeed, all who love their lives regret that they won’t live to see, experience, and help create the wonders of tomorrow.

The Post cites physician and ethicist Leon Kass who asks: “Could life be serious or meaningful without the limit of mortality?”

Is Kass so limited in imagination or ignorant of our world that he doesn’t appreciate the great, long-term projects that could engage us as individuals seriously and meaningfully for centuries to come? (I personally would love to have the centuries needed to work on terraforming Mars, making it a new habitat for humanity!)

Fukuyama and Kass have missed the profound human truth that we each as individuals create the meaning for our own lives, whether we live 50 years or 500. Meaning and purpose are what only we can give ourselves as we pursue productive achievements that call upon the best within us.

Francis Fukuyama's anti-individualist fallacy

The Post piece quotes Fukuyama as saying “I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster… Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirable by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

What a morally twisted reason for opposing life extension! Millions of individuals should literally damn themselves to death in the name of society. Then count me anti-social.

Some might take from Fukuyama’s premise a concerned that millions of individuals living to 150 will spend half that time bedridden, vegetating, consuming resources, not producing. But the life extension goal is to live long with our capacities intact—or enhanced! We want 140 to be the new 40!

What could be good evolutionary reasons why we die when we do? Evolution only metaphorically has “reasons.” It is a biological process that blindly adapted us to survive and reproduce: it didn't render us immune to ailments. Because life is the ultimate value, curing those ailments rather than passively suffering them is the goal of medicine. Life extension simply takes the maintenance of human life a giant leap further.

Live long and prosper

Yes, there will be serious ethical questions to face as the research sponsored by benevolent billionaires bears fruit. But individuals who want to live really long and prosper in a world of fellow achievers need to promote human life as the ultimate value and the right of all individuals to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness as the ultimate liberty.
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Hudgins is a senior scholar and the director of advocacy at The Atlas Society.

Explore:

• Edward Hudgins, Google, Entrepreneurs, and Living 500 Years. March 12, 2015.

• Edward Hudgins, “Book Review: Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler.” ISkeptic, April 24, 2013.

• William Thomas, Transhumanism: How Does it Relate to Objectivism?


Brother Ed!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I have to say I find what you don't answer as fascinating as what you do!

No, I don't want to die, nor do I hide in my room under dark clouds, as you know full well. I don't doubt that scientists will make great strides in delaying ageing (abolishing death I find harder to get my head around). But if we slide into full-blown dictatorship, it's all moot. Even if scientists were still free to do their thing, would we want to be immortal, or live to be 200, under such circumstances?

Even if we don't slide into dictatorship, I'd have serious reservations about living for ever in a world defined by Kim Kardashian. That's a dictatorship of halfwits, which I'd find unendurable. Besides, as a matter of rational benevolence, I'm not sure even a world that corrupt deserves a 200-year-old version of me. Heck, even I don't deserve a 200-year-old version of me.

I enjoyed your op-ed, and will be quoting from it in my own.

Hey Linz, wanna die?!

Ed Hudgins's picture

Hey Linz, wanna die?!

We’ll move the Baltimore discussion to another thread but some last thoughts here. Do you think when you suffer some disease in the future that could well prove fatal, or when old age starts slowing you down, weakening you, sapping your ability to enjoy life, will you think, “This whole life thing was pretty good for a while but I’m really glad it’s coming to an end. Too much of a good thing, you know. And the world’s going to hell.” Or will you think, “I wish those guys Ed was always going on about had come up with something to knock out this illness, to slow the decay, to restore my strength and vigor and focus.”

I would assume the latter.

In 1968, America experienced riots from coast to coast. The Apocalypse was upon us, blah, blah, blah. The next year I did this thing that had been denounced for a century as just so, so sci-fi. Except it wasn’t. I worked at Goddard Space Flight Center as a high school intern on the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

Today there is a group of people who rather than reading about the Baltimore riots and all the other bad stuff and then just staying in their bed because the world is doomed anyway, have spent their time making billions of dollars as productive achievers. And now they’re taking on new challenges that are being denounced as so, sci-fi. Except they aren’t. Oh, look, this isn’t in the sci-fi section: Scientists Discover the Secret to Keeping Cells Young!

To what extent they succeed, and on which projects first has yet to be seen. But they really don’t have the time or inclination to hide in their rooms with dark clouds hanging over their heads because their work is just so damned exciting and fulfilling for them and they just love life so much.

So join me in celebrating these achievers, promoting their values!

Ed

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I look forward to your op-ed on this matter. I shall definitely be doing one myself, but I'm keeping my powder dry till certain things become clear. Did the Mayor who affirmed "space to destroy" indeed give a stand-down order when the destruction broke out (shades of Hillary/Obamarx/Benghazi)? Why is that creature still in her job? Did Freddie Gray inflict his injuries himself (not that it makes any difference in that the rap-loving looting scum on the streets don't really give a damn about him)? My broader point is: Mrs. Hudgins is exactly right in saying lovers of Mozart don't behave as those sub-animals did. That is the point I've been making on SOLO all these years. Lovers of rap, punk, death metal and all the rest are the entities who behave in this way, for reasons that are obvious enough. A comprehensive approach to being "effective," as you quite rightly want to be, includes promoting real music and condemning metal and other such toxicity as much as it promotes passionate reason and individualism, in my seemingly-solitary view (all to be amplified as part of Authenticism). All part of the package. If Mrs. Hudgins gets it, Ed, why don't you??!! Oh well. I shall be delighted to sign your lovely wife up as a recruit for Authenticism! Smiling

In any event, Ed, given that you acknowledge Baltimore as the "culture writ large," I repeat that this is possibly not the time to be fixating on curing death and the like. Who would want the looters, the 47% (in Romney's optimistic view), Airhead America, to be immortal?

To my beloved Nephew Vardoulis (re your "hideous conflict" post on the National Anthem thread): yes, the War on Drugs is insane and evil, and should end. But that's a side-step. There's no excuse for the doings of the filth in Baltimore (I know you weren't seeking to excuse them); still less for their mentors. Hats off to them for their "effectiveness" though—Gramsci, Alinsky and Chomsky and their foot-soldiers in the classrooms have done their work with devastating potence.

The only solution, really, is what the Founding Fathers did. Alas, there are no Americans with their courage, conviction and willingness—let alone the military expertise—to put their "lives, fortunes and sacred honour" on the line. Why, they won't even hang effigies of liberty-deniers on their front lawns, as the Patriots did! Do you remember, Nephew, when you and I and some other reprobates drank alcohol on one of the reprobate's lawns and thereby risked arrest because of some newly-passed ordinance forbidding the publicly visible consumption of alcohol on one's own property? There may even be a photograph of it somewhere. That was as good as it got, alas. Cowardice rules, among Obleftivists first and foremost.

"No more does that star-spangled banner now wave
O'er the cowardly
In the home of the slave."

And even if there were such patriots, there are quite simply too many airheads to make a new War of Independence remotely viable.

America, not to put too fine a point on it, is fucked. And with it, the world. We can only hope that out of the ashes the phoenix that arises will be an Authenticist one! "Life on the level," as Ayn Rand pleaded for. Enough with gaming.

Oh, and here's another instance of OrgOist evasion and cowardice: where are their opinions on the Atlas 3 movie??!!

Baltimore as Culture Writ Large

Ed Hudgins's picture

Linz - I live near Baltimore and know the pathetic politics and many of the political hacks of this state quite well. I watched rioters in the area of the Howard Museum and Peabody Conservatory of Music. The rioters left them alone: no liquor there to loot, though the Tchaik-trucks would have been useful! (As we watched, Talia held up a book on Mozart she is reading and said "People who produce this [classical music] don't do that [pointing to the rioters], and our daughters will have plenty of this music in their world.")

I'm writing a piece right now arguing that what happened in Baltimore is simply writ large what happens in poor and minority communities every day: theft, vandalism, and violence. I've written about how in the five decades since Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech nearly 400,000 blacks have been murdered by other blacks in America. That's seven Vietnam Wars worth of deaths. And this carnage is aided by race-hustling scum like Al Sharpton and America-haters like Obama. I'm hardly Pollyannaism about any of this.

And here's the dichotomy of which I spoke. We have a class of achievers who are transforming the world and another class--Airheads, the Bums of Baltimore--who are destroying it. Yes, I work to help the achievers understand that the world they want is at stake if they don't embrace the liberty and limited government that allows them to pursue their values and don't explicitly promote those values. (By the way, here's more evidence that this understanding is starting to dawn on some of them: The political storm over the Googleplex)

And I've worked in local politics as an elected official in Maryland with a lot of folks--black and Hispanic especially--who abhor the degenerate state of their local communities. (By the way, have you seen the film Waiting for Superman? It's a devastating look at the failed schools of D.C. and the parents desperate to get their kids out of this system. And it shows us the true motives of Obama, who on taking office immediately cancelled the D.C. voucher system.)

And, as always, I ask "What is to be done?" Yes, I denounce the destroyers. So what and who cares? Can I offer anything that will rouse people to action to change the world? Again, I welcome all suggestions and efforts that can actually, in the real world, make a difference.

Ed

Lindsay Perigo's picture

In the post of mine to which you replied I cited as one instance of the catastrophe that is Airhead America, "when your police and judiciary have become brazenly politicised ..." Since that post and your reply, the whole world has watched in disbelief as scum from high schools in Baltimore, after the mayor brazenly affirmed their right to have "space to destroy," looted, arsonised, and destroyed—while police just stood by and watched.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????????????

May I respectfully ask if this will wake you up? If not, just what will it take to get you and your fellow-Pollyannists to recognise that the Apocalypse is upon you, and fixating on colonising Mars and curing death won't cut it from those who should be at the forefront of civilisation's few remaining defenders?! It's one thing to pursue sci-fi as a hobby, which is entirely your prerogative—but you are here speaking as an official spokesperson for OrgOism. Does it ever occur to you to wonder what Ayn Rand might be saying in these circumstances?

Hudgins

Tore's picture

I don't speak out of ignorance, i speak out of HATE!

I DESPISE ted talks and its ilk, and I LOATHE american libertarianism. All they ever can do is applaud the private sector and hum along to The Beatles' Gettin' Better. It's like a fucking religion, with people yelling HALLELUJAH at a press conference or a talk where some corporate silicon valley asshole preaches to the converted. CANCER CURE RIGHT AROUND THE FUCKING CORNER NOW! DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'! Also, of course, everything run by the government is THE DEVIL, so we must just preach PRIVATISIZING and we will reach the garden of eden. People will come around with rational arguments, right? All the while millions of schisms CONTINUOSLY happens within, because you have so many anarchists, pacifists, "everybody should be allowed to carry nukes" and whatnot.

Being this religious clouds ones vision of reality. It's evading it. With the oculus rift-glasses off, the world is ugly. As shit.

 

Another dichotomy

Ed Hudgins's picture

Linz – I don’t know that we disagree here. As I’ve written before, I see all the decay you document. And I see a class of intelligent, technically proficient, entrepreneurial achievers who love their work and aim high—life extension, private space ventures, etc. That is a dichotomy in our culture.

On other discussion threads I’ve agreed that too many Airheads waste their lives now, lives extended over the past century by medical and other advances, lives offering incredible opportunities for achievement. Longer lives for many would simply be more potential to waste.

I am skeptical about the timetable offered by Kurzweil and other for “curing’ death. But all of the components that are part of this quest are real—nanotech medicine that would treat cancer by targeting just cancer cells, genetic manipulation that could eliminate the propensity for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc. (BTW, did you see the story a few days ago about modifying human embryos? The reason I don’t take Tore seriously is he makes grand pronouncement from ignorance. Do you celebrate ignorance as a virtue? I keep up with these developments and judge from knowledge.)

In a world of so much ugliness you chose to immerse yourself in esthetic beauty. I chose also to immerse myself in the vision—nay, the reality—of achievement worthy of a Roark or Rearden. And I want to convince those achievers that their values will collapse in our culture if they do not explicitly recognize what those values are and promote them openly and proudly.

I know you think mine is a quixotic quest. But I am not willing to concede this collapse. I want to act as effectively as possible. I want to make an actual difference in the world. And hope you succeed on your battle front and I am back to mine!

Haha

Jules Troy's picture

Tore you crack me up.

Hmm...

Tore's picture

Perigo, I thank you for your support!

Hudgins - bridge to captain Hudgins! Romulans have infiltrated your enterprise from within and rendered it useless from attacks, all the while Klingons are blasting torpedoes at your ship. This is not the time to practice being a hip Vulcan.

In all seriousness, life is finite, and will continue to be finite. And, as Perigo so rightly writes, it would be a disaster if the milennial jerks get to live forever, myself included. People believing that this technology is around the corner reminds me of those people believing in "they found a cure for cancer"-news, which you can read on websites daily.

But you are right about me. I will fade out in obscurity, as I am a nobody. I have no major influence over anybody, least of all the culture. But I guess that's the one thing that I have in common with TAS and CATO!

Ed

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I think Tore's point is valid. It strikes me as bizarre that when America has become Airhead America, in the throes of cultural as well as economic catastrophe—on which matter you have repeatedly agreed with me—; when a treasonous president is enabling evil to nuke up; when it's being revealed the Dem front-runner to replace him has apparently done the same thing already, for cash; when free speech is being vanquished every which way by Political Correctness; when your police and judiciary have become brazenly politicised; and so on ... that at such a time OrgOism's standard-bearers qua standard-bearers should go into sci-fi lala-land about the "curing" of death. Death, actually, is an outcome devoutly to be desired for the sub-humans who dominate Airhead America; if a cure for death is ever discovered I very much hope it is withheld from them. In the meantime, I think there are more urgent matters needing to be informed by individualism. And I'd love to see the eloquent anger (anger—horreurs!!) you've just directed at Tore directed at the filth who have ruined your country and the world. This world, not Mars.

Only a little bothered.

Ed Hudgins's picture

I must be maturing. People who make extremely stupid remarks, out of ignorance, but with a false assuredness that only highlights the depths of their thoughlessness, don’t bother me that much anymore. They kind of sadden me when they’re people reduced to posting on discussion threads—nothing inherently wrong with that—where to be pretty much ignored.

It disgusts me when they are, say, Al Sharpton or any politician who have many who follow them in stupidity. So perhaps I should take solace when the stupid are buried online and ignored. I feel better.

If something is too good to be true...

Tore's picture

...it usually is. This is science fiction. Pure Star Trek. Now, I am a huge Trekkie, but I prefer this kind of thing when Shatner is overacting on my TV.

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