February 02, 2009

Can we win the War on Aging?

Wellington memorialJulian blogs on Practical Ethics: Why We Need a War on Aging - a post based on his presentation at the 2009 World Economic Forum (with support from Nick Bostrom and Aubrey de Grey).

I agree, of course. It is just that I'm worried that the "war on ageing" might be as inefficient as the wars on cancer, drugs and terrorism (cf. these scenarios). There is a real risk in focusing on symptoms rather than causes when fighting this kind of "war". In the case of ageing the goal is at least pretty clear (the decline in health caused by ageing damage caused by metabolism evolved with little regard for the soma), but "fixing ageing" is not just about the biomedicine but also dealing with how to organise a less ageing society.

People love to bring up objections like overpopulation, pensions or static job markets as if they were substantial objections to the whole project. But that is like arguing (back in the 1800's) that we should continue slavery, since the economic and social impact of abolition would be enormous. Those anti-abolition arguments were actually correct: the impact was big. Yet the moral motivation for abolition was stronger both then and in retrospect. The fact that one could tear up a sizeable economic and social system and handle the consequences is actually good evidence that we could do something similar for ageing (especially since the death and pain toll of ageing is far, far higher than slavery ever achieved). We might have to have fewer children or have mandatory career changes every century, or (more likely) we will come up with entirely new solutions to the problems. But it is unlikely we will be lamenting ageing, just as we do not lament the loss of slavery, smallpox or the divine right of kings.

Posted by Anders3 at February 2, 2009 03:19 PM