The Pro-Aging Trance is a Coping Mechanism
The pro-aging trance is a concept created by the British biomedical gerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey to describe the broadly positive and fatalistic attitude society has about aging. It is a significant barrier to the development of rejuvenation technologies and ending age-related diseases.
The pro-aging trance is a coping mechanism
The pro-aging trance includes both the belief that the aging process is inevitable and cannot be prevented even by future technologies, and also the view that even if it can be done, any success in doing so would lead to negative consequences.
The trance concept suggests that facing the fact that our bodies are constantly aging and deteriorating is so burdensome, most people do everything they can to put it out of their minds and pretend it is not happening. In other words, the pro-aging trance is a deeply rooted coping mechanism.
Opposition against medicine that seeks to slow, halt, or reverse aging is waning, but the pro-aging trance is still alive and well; for every journalist who puts time and effort into actually understanding rejuvenation biotechnology and the health benefits that it could potentially bring to older people, there’s others who have limited knowledge of the subject and rage against unspecified “immortality” technology and related impending catastrophes. Some of this stems from a lack of basic information, and some of it is simply clickbait.
Today, the pro-aging trance is something that only rejuvenation advocates are aware of and battle against, but maybe, fifty years from now, it will be an interesting phenomenon of the past for psychologists to figure out. Maybe, on the YouTube of 2068, there will be videos making fun of it in pretty much the same way that some people today make fun of the old belief that hysteria was caused by stray uteruses wandering around women’s bodies.
The pro-aging trance is rather interesting indeed, as people who are subject to it tend to commit fallacies that they would never commit in other contexts. A very good example of this is the objection to inequality of access: this reasoning assumes that rejuvenation would not be available to everyone who needs it, for economical, political, or whatever reasons; understandably, this is perceived as a profound injustice, which pushes a fair number of people to make a leap and conclude that the best way to avoid this injustice is to never develop rejuvenation to begin with.
If rejuvenation technology were plumbing, would people feel the same?
It’s hard to believe that many current detractors would still reason this way if “rejuvenation” were replaced by something else. For example, consider the statement “Plumbing is not available everywhere in the world, and that’s unjust! They should never have invented it in the first place, and we should take it away from those who already have it to put an end to this injustice!”
Most sensible people would likely mentally eye-roll and then patiently explain that if plumbing had never been invented, or if we took it away from people who already have it, nobody would benefit from this; we would all be more equal in that no one would have the benefits of running, clean water in their homes, but you can’t quench thirst or shower with equality.
Obviously, the best option here is to do all it takes to bring plumbing wherever it is needed; it’s very regrettable that, to this day, there still are people who don’t have plumbing, but that only means that we need to increase our efforts to get it to them, not take it away from others.
The example becomes even more effective if we replace rejuvenation with human rights. Not all fundamental rights are respected, or even recognized, everywhere in the world, in spite of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the work of the UN, UNICEF, and so on. Even slavery, though theoretically abolished in all recognized countries, is still a thing.
Who in their right mind would ever argue that human rights should be taken away from people who have them, or should never have been thought up in the first place, for the sake of equality? “Equal” is not the same as “just” or “desirable”, and being equally in trouble is a rather cold comfort.
Some arguments are more equal than others
The fact that inequality of access can appear to be a reasonable objection in the case of rejuvenation but not for other topics suggests there might be something special about our perception of aging that causes this difference. Its true nature is anyone’s guess, but it might be a manifestation of our deep, inborn desire to live, which flies right in the face of the common narrative about the supposed horrors and undesirability of eternal life.
We want to exist. We all popped into existence, in a sense out of nowhere, into a world full of marvels and pleasures as well as dangers and sorrow, but the former induce in us a desire to stay that, in most cases, is far stronger than the desire to leave that might be caused by the latter.
Yet, at some point, all of us had to come to terms with the fact we can’t stay here forever. We will have to give up on everything and everyone we’ve come to know and love, our memories, our passions, and ourselves. Realizing that your own life is finite is terrible, especially if it happens during your childhood, when you’re likely to be very enthusiastic about everything in your life.
This seems unjust enough as it is, and it would hardly feel better if you were one of only some people who’re doomed to oblivion. We can get over, and even used to, really unjust things, but could we ever get over the fact that other people could go on living, maybe forever, but not ourselves? If, as some people fear, rejuvenation were really to become a privilege accorded only to people with a certain socioeconomic status, and you were left out, you would probably experience a crushing, absolutely understandable resentment for people who, unlike you, are entitled to keep existing; the thought of your own mortality would become more imposing and difficult to bear.
Fear of missing out underpins the pro-aging trance
It may be that some people are so afraid to end up in that situation that they’d rather have rejuvenation never come to pass—even if it means giving up on whatever chance they’d have to benefit from it themselves. Maybe, in this particular case, being equally in trouble might be preferable to finding yourself in a position where your deepest desire is achievable in principle but not in practice.
After all, as long as rejuvenation doesn’t exist, it’s easy to tell yourself that you don’t want it, because the object of your temptation simply isn’t there; if it were there, it would arguably be much more difficult to cope with your inability to get it.
It’s possible that this is why the pro-aging trance pushes so many people to abandon rationality entirely and indulge in all sorts of fallacies, double standards, and mental gymnastics that, in a different context, they would find extremely embarrassing; in a way, it’s there to protect us from our own desires.
It’s a refined defense mechanism that we put in place to protect us from terrifying thoughts about something that, thus far, has been absolutely inevitable. The only defense against a slow but relentless and invincible enemy is accepting the unacceptable and justifying that which is unjustifiable. The only way to do that is to relinquish rationality.
That is what the pro-aging trance is today; but, hopefully, sometime soon, it will just be an intriguing piece of defunct human psychology.