Freedom is a rather big deal in this age. We want freedom of speech, political freedom, press freedom, religious freedom, and freedom of choice over anything that may concern us directly. Different kinds of freedom are available in different amounts in different areas of the world, and while many people tend to see the glass half empty and complain that freedom is not equally distributed everywhere, it’s undeniable that we enjoy far greater liberty than previous generations. It’s not always easy to act upon your choices, and sometimes you’re free to choose in theory but not in practice, but overall, we enjoy options that who came before us couldn’t even dream of.
Take health, for example. Two hundred years back, if you didn’t want to get the flu, or any other infectious disease, you didn’t have the option not to do so. The mechanism through which infectious diseases manifest and spread wasn’t even remotely understood, so you didn’t have any idea what you should or shouldn’t do to minimize your risk of falling ill; basic hygiene wasn’t exactly a standard, and drugs and vaccines were nowhere in sight. If you actively wanted to do something to prevent getting the flu—which, at the time, might have killed you—you simply didn’t have this option.
Today, however, if you want to avoid infectious diseases, you have plenty of options to do so. Hygiene is common in most of the world, and there are vaccines available. You may well choose to not care, live in filth, and never get even a flu shot, but you do have the option. It’s a choice that, two hundred years back, could simply not be made. Depending on where you live and your access to medical care, acting upon your choice can be difficult, but this is a different matter. The option of preventing disease exists, and in principle, you may avail yourself of it, unlike in the past, when the option wasn’t there to begin with.
It’s clear that having the option to avoid disease is a plus, not a minus; it expands, not restricts, your possibilities. It’s hard to imagine anyone who’d rather be sick, but with very few exceptions, people are not forced to undergo treatment, and if anything, sometimes the opposite is true—you’d really want to get treatment, and you could in theory, but for one reason or another, you don’t have access to it.
It’s not always possible to avoid disease; there are diseases that you can’t choose to cure if you get them, because we don’t have a cure for them, and diseases that you can’t even choose to prevent effectively, because we don’t have the means. If we had the means, then just like in the case of other diseases, you’d have an option to not get sick or to be cured, thereby expanding your possibilities and ultimately giving you more freedom—the freedom to stay healthy. The vast majority of diseases and ailments that we cannot really cure or prevent are the diseases of old age, and they range from being just a hindrance to your everyday life to being downright humiliating, debilitating, and lethal.
Giving people the option to be free from the diseases of aging is literally all that life extension is about. Right now, we’re all sitting on a fast train heading towards disability, disease, loss of independence and dignity, suffering for ourselves and our loved ones, and, ultimately, death. There are a couple of things we can do to very modestly slow down the train, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, but that’s never going to fully stop the train. It’s always, inevitably, going to take you to a place where you’re sick enough to die.
Indirectly, life extension also means having more control over how long you’d like to live, because a longer life is only the logical consequence of being healthier for longer. To me, the idea of wanting to live for only a finite amount of time sounds absolutely absurd, but that’s my problem; there may well be people who have their own reasons to want to live only so long. Currently, you can choose to live a shorter time than the maximum human lifespan (how easily, dignifiedly, or pleasantly attainable this may be is a different matter, but the point is the same as before—in principle, you can choose to live a shorter time); but if you wanted to live longer than that, you couldn’t, not even in principle. If life extension were possible, at the very least, you would have the option to live longer, and in a best-case scenario, you’d have an option to live in perfect health for as long as you see fit. Right now, you don’t have that option. In this regard, your freedom is severely limited.
This is all that life extension means: the freedom to be healthy and control over how long you want to exist. Yet, here we are, debating ethics, delving into the twists and turns of hypothetical dystopian futures with dictators who never check out, pondering what is or isn’t natural and if natural is always best or not, and considering forestalling the risk of unequal access to rejuvenation, even if short-lived, by abandoning the whole enterprise before it even gets started. We waste time trying to prove or disprove that if you live too long, you’re going to get bored no matter what; while people die of aging at a horrifying average rate of one per second, we go on about whether letting these very same people die isn’t a valid countermeasure to a possible overpopulation problem (while neglecting altogether much more humane, efficient, and ecological measures, such as switching to clean energy sources, focusing efforts to make lab-grown meat an affordable and widespread reality, and so on); we have the effrontery to say that “there are worse problems than aging”, when in the time it took to say it, two people died of aging, quite probably after having spent the last ten or twenty years of their lives in increasing misery.
Meanwhile, as we waste precious seconds arguing with one another, the train is running full speed ahead, unabated. It’s easy to become discouraged and think that we’ll never stop the train. When you look around and see how nonchalantly people harm themselves with smoking, drugs, junk food, and sedentary lifestyles, you can’t help but wonder, “If they don’t care enough to at least not speed up the train, why in the world would they ever care enough to stop it?” Even in a world where rejuvenation is commonplace, I wouldn’t expect healthy lifestyles to be the norm, given our history; in general, we cannot expect everyone to join our quest to stop the train or even agree that we should.
The good news is that we don’t need everyone to stop the train; we only need enough people. No great revolution ever required a concerted effort of the whole world’s population, and the rejuvenation revolution will hardly be any different in this regard. However, the relatively few people we’re going to need must first be found and reached out to; that is why advocacy is of the utmost importance. Whether it’s through your website, over the dinner table, or with a public speech, spreading the word to as many people as you can will increase the odds that someone will listen and decide to join, help us pull the train’s brakes, and set a new course to a place where we have the freedom to live as healthily as we like for as long as we like.