Of all the objections to life extension, perhaps the most banal one yet is the argument that it is not natural for humans to want to live longer and healthier than they currently do. Of course, not only does this actually go against human nature itself, but it is also an insult to the immense progress we have made in improving the human condition throughout the course of history. In fact, this opposition to life extension also flies in the face of the entire medical industry, which is focused on keeping people alive, and any other industry that contributes to the betterment of the human condition, of which there are many. The fact is, opposing life extension is what is unnatural, because it is a natural human desire to want to survive, and to continue living in a healthy manner.
And let me be clear – just because something is natural does not make it good. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that getting poisoned by a plant, mauled by a wild animal, drowned by a tsunami, or crushed by a landslide are scenarios that are to be avoided at all costs. That these sorts of events are now relatively rare speaks volumes about the progress we have made in battling the destructive forces of nature.
Similarly, cancer, heart attacks, and strokes are natural too, yet no one would say that these conditions are desirable or good. In fact, many billions of dollars and resources are spent on finding a cure for these diseases, and for good reason – these diseases are deadly and contribute to massive suffering and pain.
To be sure, the environment is precious and should be protected. After all, to be able to walk through a forest and appreciate the flora and fauna is refreshing. Being able to visit a beach and feel the cool ocean breeze on one’s skin on a late summer afternoon is lovely. However, we should also be very wary of romanticizing nature, mostly because nature is entirely indifferent to the human condition. Indeed, nature does not care one bit about our happiness or fulfillment. Earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes are part of nature, but no sane person would argue that these events are positive or that we should experience more of them.
Just because something exists in nature does not make it desirable or good. Conversely, just because something was developed outside of nature does not make it undesirable or bad. In fact, more often than not, science and technology have contributed to massively improving the quality of life for human beings. Imagine how much worse life would be without electricity, life-saving medicines, medical procedures, and computer technology.
How many people now would say that the tuberculosis vaccine, stents, or pacemakers are bad and should be abolished? Of course, all these discoveries were “unnatural,” but no sane person would wish to be inflicted with a deadly infectious disease or suffer a heart attack.
But going back to talking about the environment, climate change is a very real threat to planet Earth and humanity, and we should do all we can to protect our planet, the human race, and members of the animal kingdom. However, the solution to climate change is not going to arrive automatically as part of a natural process. Neither is the answer to stop evolving as a species or to stop all technological innovation and progress and revert to the Dark Ages, and in turn have humanity experience economic collapse and widespread suffering. In fact, humanity’s best hope for battling climate change will likely come from science and technology.
Further, attempting to control nature is what has allowed us to come up with inventions such as indoor plumbing, safe and comfortable shelter, and weather forecasts, all of which have improved the quality of life dramatically. Suppose that we had just let nature run its course in these scenarios. I don’t think I need to spell out what would have happened to humans had we allowed that to happen.
But even after we have thoroughly debunked this ridiculous objection to life extension, critics may then move on to other objections, such as the idea that a human life is already long enough, or that we may become bored if we were to live longer, or that the Earth will become overpopulated. Fortunately, we have answers to these objections as well. And what about the argument that sickness and death are inevitable and that we should just accept things the way they are? This topic deserves its own discussion, but for the moment we can respond by saying that catching an infectious disease and dying at the age of 20 or 30 was once the way things used to be, but it is fortunately no longer the case.
The fact is that it is entirely natural for humans to want to live longer and healthier. Indeed, it is what we have been trying to do since the dawn of time. It is human nature to want to survive and thrive. For the first time in human history, we have the potential to overcome nature itself. Limiting ourselves to what is natural means we deny ourselves the opportunity to be better and to do better. Dying at 20 years of age due to cholera, measles, or malaria wasn’t our destiny as human beings, and therefore we overcame infectious illnesses and significantly increased our life expectancy. Now, we are at a crossroads where we get to decide if we wish to continue suffering for years and then dying due to aging-related illnesses such as dementia, heart disease, and cancer, or, whether we will dedicate this next stage of human development to overcoming these horrific illnesses.
Of course, even after admitting that aging-related illnesses and natural disasters are devastating and should be avoided at all costs, opponents of life extension may still argue that they are entitled to oppose life extension. Of course, they are entitled to their beliefs, no matter how faulty their reasoning and logic may be, but we supporters of life extension are also entitled to advocate for the defeat of aging-related illnesses and to improve the human condition through advancements in science and technology, even if these advancements are not part of nature.
I would urge those who oppose life extension technologies because they are unnatural to revisit their stance after burying a loved one who dies from cancer, or after witnessing a calamitous natural disaster that destroys entire towns and kills thousands of people.
If nature held all the solutions to life, then we would not need to build earthquake-resistant buildings, we would not need to develop anti-cancer drugs, and we would not need spend money, time, and resources on reducing human suffering and improving the human condition.
Nature is how we started as human beings, but nature is not where we need to end.
Arin Vahanian is Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party.