As it is, I have a hard time balancing flippancy and venom. The more sincerely I feel about something, the more I’m drawn towards shrill peevishness and bilious ranting.
Except, of course, when I talk about Leon Kass
I realize that past a certain point, confident self-assurance sounds like arrogant dogmatism. This is counterproductive, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.
When I come across a writer who expresses my own thoughts in a more civilized and articulate manner, it makes me realize how far I have yet to go.
Jay Fox makes some arguments that I have made in the past, but makes them in such a pleasant, heartfelt way, that I just had to share them with you.
His primary argument is that we should be thinking about longevity first. Literally. Well, maybe I don’t agree entirely with that, but it should certainly be in the top ten.
Some of you may wonder why I feel that way. For starters, helping people to stay healthier longer is so self-evidently virtuous as to require no excuses. It angers me that such excuses are even thought necessary in “certain quarters”. To live a good life requires, first and foremost, that you have a life to be good WITH. The dead have had done with being good.
But the life extension angle, isn’t that just a little kooky? We have no proof at all that it’s even possible, right? Aren’t I just grasping at straws here? Well now, that’s the funny thing. We actually DO have evidence that it’s possible, at least in lab animals. Heck, it’s not just possible, it’s a done deal.
Worms have had their natural spans trebled, and quintupled. Rats have gained fifty percent. If the rat comes from a truly screwed up strain, prone to a short lifespan, caloric restriction can triple their life expectancy.
And we’ve known how to do this since the 1930’s. It’s only now that we have the tools to begin exploring the why of it.
Given these FACTS, when I hear someone denigrate this type of research as hopeless, or immoral, or doomed to failure, I ask myself where THEIR evidence is…but perhaps I’d better quit while I’m ahead.
Here are some things Jay has written that I (mostly) agreed with.

Imagine aging has been cured. People no longer grow old. Old people can be restored to youthfulness.

The first thing to understand is that death has not been cured. People will still die. Accidents will still happen, as will murder, war, suicide, pneumonia, fatal flu viruses, etc. Even heart attacks, strokes, and cancer will still happen, though far less frequently. It is important to understand this, because we need to be clear about the philosophical and religious aspects of curing aging. People will still die; mortality will still define existence. People will not live forever simply because they no longer have an expiration date.

So what’s the difference, then? Without aging, people will live a lot longer. 500 years, perhaps 1,000. There wouldn’t actually be a hard limit, as there is today. Today, you might have a 50% chance of living to 80, but a 0% chance of living to 130. On the other hand, with aging cured, you might have a 50% chance of living to 500, but a 6% chance of living to 2,000, and a 1% chance of living past 3,000.

Why did I ask us to consider the world from this perspective? Well, think back to today’s world. We currently live in a world that openly rejects the mere concept of curing aging. We live in a world where it’s okay to talk about curing heart disease, or cancer, or Alzheimer’s, as long as we don’t make people ?live forever.? It’s okay to let people live 10 years longer, or 20, but 50 years is too much?it’s unnatural. As such, we live in a world where it’s okay to spend tens of billions of dollars a year to cure cancer, but it would be considered a waste of time and money?indeed, it would be morally wrong?to spend half that much money to cure aging itself

If we have a chance to save hundreds of millions of lives, and cure cancer and heart disease at the same time, for less than we currently spend on either cancer or heart research, aren’t we obligated morally to carry out that research?

Put another way, if aging researchers announced that aging would be cured in 30 years, would we actively try to stop them? Would we actively try to prevent hundreds of millions of people from living longer lives? Would we in fact condemn hundreds of millions of people to die? It’s easy sometimes to remove personal responsibility for the misery and suffering of others, by saying that we did not cause that misery.

Once aging was cured, and people were living hundreds of years, would we want to go back? Think of antibiotics. They are ?unnatural,? just as curing aging would be. Would we want to go back to the days before antibiotics? If not, then why does today’s world not want to go forward, into a world where people don’t have to die by the tens of millions?

…Knowing that a cure for aging is possible, we must cure aging as fast possible. Looking back at 2004, from the year 2104, we will be ashamed that we did not act faster to save the millions of lives that will be lost by our collective inaction. Let us not allow 2005 or 2006 to be remembered so shamefully.

You can read the whole thing here. Where I part company with Mr. Fox, is the notion of moral culpability. Also, though I am convinced that people will eventually live longer, I am not confident as to the actual numbers. Given those minor caveats, there is one thing he says of which I am dead certain. Let me say it again.

Looking back at 2004, from the year 2104, we will be ashamed that we did not act faster…

SECOND THOUGHTS: From second parties, namely Phil Bowermaster at “The Speculist“. He read the essay by Jay Fox and had some observations of his own to make…

Our ancestors engaged in a war against death that we’re still fighting today. They threw everything they had and everything they could think up at the enemy, and as a result we now have science and medicine and religion and, really, the whole of human culture. They were relentless and tenacious fighters, but (being rational creatures) they understood the limitations of the war they were able to wage. As a group, the clan/tribe/people would fight on until the end of time, making what progress they could against death. But as individuals, it had to be acknowledged that each and every soldier would one day fall to the enemy.

That was a terrible thing. An unacceptable thing. But it had to be accepted anyway. Refusing to acknowledge the inevitability of death would have made as much sense as refusing to acknowledge the inevitability of gravity. It was pointless, and you would go crazy if you thought too much about that kind of thing.

It’s only within the past couple of centuries that human beings have had our first real victories in the war with gravity. Getting to the first hot air balloons, much less to Kitty Hawk, required an enormous paradigm shift on the part of a few visionaries. Only after these heroes showed the rest of the world that gravity could be beaten did the mass of humanity come around to shifting paradigms.

That’s encouraging, but the “inevitability of death” paradigm is far more entrenched than the “inevitability of gravity” paradigm. There’s so much more at stake. To acknowledge that life might go on for decades or centuries longer than we’ve ever known it to is to kindle a hope that lies hidden in the heart of every human being.

You can read the whole thing here.
THIRD THOUGHTS: A warm welcome to Instapundit readers… I hope you like what you’ve read so far, and also hope you’ll look around a bit when you’re done here. My blog-host Eric and I have very different interests, and though he has been previously instalanched, oh, a few times, this will be my very…first…ever. Have I mentioned how extra-special each and every one of you is to me? Didn’t think so. That’s why blatant and shameless self-promotion follows. You’ve been warned…
For peevish bile aimed at Leon Kass click on his name up in paragraph two, or go here.
For cool Israeli tech with a dash of paranoia try “Barking Dogs“.
Bigger Dirigible” looks at the possibility of a government driven lighter-than-air Renaissance. Yeah, I know…
If you prefer your science fiction clearly labeled as such, here’s a review of “The Golden Age” by John C. Wright. I think he’s as good as Charles Stross.
Retrospectives on Paul Ehrlich and Jeremy Rifkin have (perhaps too often) graced these pages. Both “Estimated Prophet” and “Birth Of A Notion” are sentimental favorites of mine. “Machine Gun For An Idiot Child” asks the rhetorical question “What would it take to make those two happy?”. Bjorn Lomborg supplies a plausible answer.
To wrap up our commercial programming, some “Family Values” vignettes,
Anecdotage“, “The Blue And The Grey“, and “My Aunt Margie“. Now you’ve got psychological insight, see?
At a conservative estimate, Eric cranks out more than 95% of the bloggage around these parts. Dennis and I sort of lurk in the crannies, firing off an occasional potshot, but if you look for us, we’re here. Thanks for dropping by.
Extra thanks to Phil Bowermaster, Reason, and Jay Fox for fighting the good fight.