The Myth of Aging Gracefully – Article by Arin Vahanian
It’s something nearly all of us have heard (or have even said) at some point in our lives: “Doesn’t he look great for his age?” Or how about, “It’s hard to believe that she is 85!” At first glance, it may seem like an act of kindness to say such things. Indeed, I am all for making people feel better about themselves and encouraging people to be better and to do better, in life. However, if we observe the thought process behind such statements, we may find that it is dishonest to say such things. No matter how good someone may look in their advanced age, the facts remain that a 20-year-old will always look better than an 80-year-old. It is also true that a 20-year-old will be healthier than an 80-year-old.
But why am I stating the obvious? After all, isn’t aging inevitable? Also, shouldn’t we have some compassion for the elderly? While admitting the reality of the current situation in regard to aging and aging-related diseases and having compassion for others is very important, we need to take a deep look at how our views, beliefs, and actions may actually be preventing us from helping many millions of people avoid needless pain and suffering. These very same views, beliefs, and actions may be condemning those same people to years or decades of poor health and may also be preventing us from achieving improvement and mastery in life.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we should destroy people’s self-esteem or make the already difficult situation of aging even worse by being insensitive and cruel. However, I am saying that our current beliefs about aging may be preventing us from getting people the help they need so that they can live more productive, healthier, and happier lives. Ultimately, that is what it is all about: helping people to be better and to live better.
It is not shallow to want humans to live longer, healthier lives, and to look, feel, and actually be younger and healthier. It comes from a deep caring for the human condition. I can completely understand why we would say that someone looks great for their age. It is because we find it very difficult to come to terms with the absolute horror of aging, so we try to devise ways to deal with it without actually dealing with it, while making others, and ourselves, feel better about our current plight.
Anyone who has been to a nursing home or retirement home can attest to this. Anyone who thinks that aging can be graceful should visit a nursing home and take a look at all the people unable to move around, feed themselves, or think coherently. Needing assistance with performing basic bodily functions is anything but graceful.
Even though we know deep down inside that it is wrong to insinuate that losing basic bodily functions can be “graceful” or “inspirational”, we continue to perpetuate the lie. Why? Because on some level, we need to try to make sense of the cruelty of biology, and we need some way to deal with the horrible prospect of aging and death.
However, no great challenge plaguing humanity was resolved through flowery prose, euphemisms, or by hope alone. Indeed, the entire scientific community joined forces to come up with vaccines for COVID-19 in a matter of months. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and the road was anything but a smooth one, but humanity is capable of great things when we have many people working together on a common goal. Recently, that goal has been the eradication of COVID-19. Why couldn’t the next goal be eradicating aging-related diseases?
Now, I understand that the problems of aging-related diseases and aging are infinitely more complex and difficult to tackle than a virus. However, just because something is difficult or complex does not mean we should give up, especially when the stakes are so high. In fact, one could argue that the stakes have never been greater. We could easily perform a thought experiment and visualize the benefits to society in terms of reducing pain and dramatically increasing the quality of life, not to mention ensuring that our economies and societies are healthier and more robust as a result of not having to expend enormous amounts of money, time, and resources to treat people suffering from aging-related illnesses.
Critics of life extension, the prospect of reversing aging, or even Transhumanism itself, may lash out with criticisms such as, “If there weren’t enough problems on Earth, now they’re going after the one thing we can’t solve!” I have discussed and dispelled the numerous objections to longevity and longevity research in my previous articles, so I won’t bring them up here again. However, I will say that while I respect each person’s opinions about life extension and longevity, no one has the right to choose how long human beings get to live. Certainly no one has the right to prevent humanity from living happier, healthier lives.
Despite what one’s opinion may be about spending time, money, and resources on fighting aging and aging-related diseases, the fact remains that biology does not care how wealthy or poor you are. Dementia does not care if you have been a generous and kind person in life. Aging and aging-related illnesses can and do affect everyone who is lucky enough to become old enough to experience them.
The proper response to the criticisms is to stand tall and to maintain, with scientific data and evidence (of which there is an abundance), the many benefits that society would receive if we were to reverse or eliminate aging and aging-related illnesses. Or, even better, to actually do something about it! We need every available man and woman in the fight against aging-related diseases.
If we are honest with ourselves, the reality of the situation is that we have concocted this myth of aging gracefully so that we can help ourselves deal with the tragedy of aging-related diseases and offer some dignity to those who are suffering from aging-related diseases. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is entirely understandable why we would do this; when faced with something we cannot currently cure, or resolve (the problems of aging, deterioration, and death), it would be downright foolish to deny the problem or to pretend there is a resolution for it, when there isn’t. However, we are doing no one any favors by throwing in the towel and resigning ourselves to a state of affairs in which the final years (and in some cases, the final decades) of life are full of pain and decay.
No one should have to succumb to aging-related diseases the way our elderly are currently doing. Understandably, there is much outrage when a young person is killed by a random act of violence, or when war causes a massive loss of life. However, where is the outrage when our loved ones suffer for years, only to shrivel and die, lost in their own loneliness and hopelessness?
A world in which we have vanquished the specter of aging-related illnesses means a world without many millions experiencing massive agony and pain at the hands of aging, a world where we need not watch our loved ones deteriorate and then perish, and a world without the despondency and dread that often accompany old age.
The most logical way to approach the subject of aging and aging-related illnesses is not to say that one should approach aging with dignity. There is no dignity in being fed through a tube or in wasting away in a hospital bed, only to later be buried in a wooden box or be burnt to ashes. The most logical way to approach the subject of aging and aging-related diseases is to treat it as we would treat poverty, crime, or any other problem that plagues humanity. We must define the problem and then work on a solution. But if we delude ourselves and somehow try to manipulate society into thinking that suffering and then dying from aging-related illnesses is graceful, we will never solve the problem. We will keep dancing around the problem. We may make ourselves feel better about it temporarily, but the biggest problem is that while we avoid the issue, we ourselves face extinction by the hands of time. Instead of arguing that one can age gracefully, we should be arguing that watching our loved ones suffer and die from aging-related illness is undignified and unacceptable, and that we as a society will do something about it.
Even if we never completely solve the problem of aging and death, if we could at least reduce the massive suffering inflicted upon humanity by the biological process of aging, we will have done humanity a great service. And that would hopefully be a stepping stone to eventually eliminating aging-related illnesses for good. Indeed, there are many millions of elderly languishing in nursing homes or hospitals today, who are hoping and praying for a cure to what ails them. It would truly be a noble cause to offer the elderly some real hope through scientific breakthroughs that promise to cure their suffering and pain. This is the promise of Transhumanism – that humanity can be better, and do better. One of the ways we can do better and be better is to banish aging-related diseases to the dustbin of history, thus allowing human beings more time and more opportunities to do great things in life.
Arin Vahanian is the Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party.