The topic of life extension is much more debated these days than before. As a result, more people who are not in the field talk about it, and they don’t always do so in praising terms. Articles written by outsiders tend to be conservative at best and fear-mongering at worst, mainly focusing on the potential downsides of life-extending technologies without paying much attention, if any, to the benefits, as if there weren’t any to begin with.
One accusation that is often thrown at life extensionists is that they would be selfish for wanting to extend their lives. It is all too easy to say that all that life extensionists think about is their own benefit while disregarding the common good, but it’s not too difficult to see how this is entirely wrong.
Life extension is about eliminating the suffering caused by the diseases of old age, and at this stage, it is not clear who will actually make it to a world where these diseases are under control; many of today’s rejuvenation advocates might simply die before the world they are trying to build will come into being. I am not trying to say that all rejuvenation advocates do what they do only for others’ sake, because that would not be true, but the opposite claim—that all advocates of life extension are such only for exquisitely selfish reasons—is quite a stretch, to the point of slander. It is no different from claiming that all women’s rights advocates who happen to be women only care about this cause for their own benefit and not at all for their fellow women, and it is equally outrageous.
It’s impossible to prove or disprove that life extensionists are all selfless, and it doesn’t even matter. What matters is that being a life extensionist implies that you must care about global issues that are a threat to everyone and thus about the common good.
The reason is quite simple; if you intend to live for a really long time, possibly even forever, then aging is only one of your problems. Defeating aging won’t be much use to you if the climate goes haywire and kills everyone a few decades after aging has been defeated, for example. Similarly, you want to be sure that you will not die of starvation, so it is in your best interest to support the development of better and more efficient ways to produce more food in a sustainable fashion; you want to be sure that pollution will never reach such levels that your life would be threatened as a result; and more generally, any far-future issue that would normally not be your problem during a normal lifespan suddenly becomes your problem too.
Closer to home, the dreaded specter of unequal access to healthcare and technology in general is an extremely important issue for life extensionists, because unlike what innumerable clickbaity articles like to make you think, most life extensionists aren’t tech billionaires who buy a new car whenever the old one runs out of gas; they’re average joes who wouldn’t be able to afford super-expensive therapies, and you can bet that they will be the first in line to lobby for cheap access to treatment the moment it becomes available, if not earlier. As a positive side note, the dystopian scenario of a few rich people hoarding rejuvenation biotechnology for themselves while the rest of the world is left to age to death becomes very hard to believe when you notice that it’s self-defeating; the more people who are left out of rejuvenation, the larger the angry mob revolting against the few selfish rich people keeping the technology for themselves.
All life extensionists have an interest in having these important problems addressed; they all have an interest in the common good, which means that pursuing life extension implies supporting or endorsing a number of causes that are important for everyone. This could hardly be called selfishness. Granted, one could be a supporter of global causes exclusively for selfish reasons, thereby doing something good for questionable motives; I wouldn’t be good friends with a life extensionist who supported research in sustainable food production methods only to save herself from possible starvation, but the benefits of her actions in this regard would be tangible for everyone, even if she didn’t do them out of the kindness of her heart.
Of course, not all life extensionists are necessarily active, vocal advocates of all other global causes; this doesn’t mean that they don’t care, it means that, like everyone else, they only have 24 hours a day, and effective advocacy requires time. I’ve read my fair share of articles complaining that life extensionists aren’t busy with other important causes as well, such as pollution or rights for this or that minority; however, I am skeptical that the same authors would complain about environmentalists not being sufficiently engaged in defending women’s rights. Both of these causes are widely popular, so their supporters don’t need to justify their preference, and nobody has a problem with a women’s rights activist who’s not also a full-time environmentalist.
However, since life extension hasn’t reached the same level of popularity, some people seem to think that life extensionists must also show support to other, more acceptable, causes first, as if that were somehow necessary to legitimize their efforts in life extension. This is, of course, ridiculous, because if life extension is worthy of support, it is worthy whether or not its supporters are engaged in other causes as well. That life extension is indeed worthy of support is straightforward, because just like the fight against world hunger, it’s about eliminating something that causes people prolonged suffering followed by death. The only difference is that, by some highly debatable measures, starving people haven’t yet lived long enough, whereas old people have. Similarly, not many people bring up the potential overpopulation side effect of saving people from starvation, yet the very same side effect is often the first thing to be objected to when it comes to saving people from aging!
In closing, someone is selfish when his actions benefit only him to the detriment of others; if done right, life extension will be the greatest benefit of all time, for individuals, their loved ones, and society in general. It’s hard to imagine how any of that could ever been seen as selfish.