Part of what I am trying to do with this blog is address, comprehensively, the various arguments I often encounter when I mention healthy life extension. It is my impression that many times (and this is not to disparage anyone, it is just an observation) these arguments are a bit on the "knee-jerk" side and not very well thought out.
For instance, the "we need to fix the world now, and end poverty and diseases, before we even think about extending lives and devoting money and resources to anti-aging research" argument. I encounter this one quite frequently. My response to it is basically this: we already devote all sorts of resources to things that are arguably totally frivolous -- why not go attack these things rather than singling out life extension and anti-aging research?
Saying that we shouldn't research life extension / anti-aging technologies until everyone in the world is properly fed and clothed is as illogical as saying that nobody should be able to have any sort of modern appliance until everyone in the world has access to "the basics".
Many of the things most of us in the Western world take for granted -- indoor plumbing, distributed electricity, designer clothing, professional sports, reality TV, sitcoms, nutritionally empty snack foods, packaging design for nutritionally empty snack foods, high-end graphics cards for computers, plasma TVs, sports cars, car stereos, LCD monitors, athletic shoes, internet-enabled refrigerators, special effects, sweetened alcoholic beverages, sparkly gel-ink pens, Hello Kitty merchandise, wireless Internet, cellular phones, cell phone accessories, scented lotions, hair dye, cosmetics, strip malls, casinos, celebrity worship, tabloids, video games -- are still far-off and unimaginable luxuries in some parts of the world.
Very few of the things listed above lead to, or are likely to lead to, improved quality of life for people in the world who are truly suffering. Yet people are more than happy to support horrifically large salaries for football players, keep asinine reality-TV shows on the air, and pour all sorts of time and money into development of, and advertising for, new high-tech basketball shoes. It makes no sense for anyone who partakes of any of the things listed above to call anti-aging research a frivolous waste of time, money, and resources.
Anti-aging research is basically a win-win proposition. Not only could it provide massive, life-enriching benefits for people who just plain don't want to die, studying the mechanisms behind senescence has the potential to lead to serendipitous discoveries about serious diseases like cancer and immune dysfunctions. Data obtained regarding the aging process is data about humans, and how we develop and change over the years, and how our bodies operate at fundamental levels. I don't think anyone would suggest that age-associated problems like Alzheimer's and arthritis and atherosclerosis are good things -- approaching such conditions from more than one angle (the "cure" angle AND the "prevention" angle) seems much more likely to yield results that could help a lot of people.
Not only is anti-aging research far from frivolous, it seems that it would be irresponsible NOT to follow this line of research considering the sheer number of people it could help. It is an ethical imperative, not a pipe dream of the wealthy. Think of all the people in poor nations who have benefitted from such things as antibiotics and other medical treatments -- treatments that were basically tested first on people who perhaps had greater material wealth.
Just because certain technologies cannot be immediately distributed to everyone that could possibly need them does not mean that we should not pursue such technologies on the basis that it somehow isn't fair. The world is imperfect. Human social organization is imperfect. But even with the glaring imperfections in how we operate as a species, we can still make great strides toward a better world -- a world in which more and more individuals have the opportunity to pursue their goals, lead productive and self-directed lives, and find happiness.
It obviously cannot happen all at once for everyone, but this is a terrible reason to restrict research that could help so many.
If anyone wishes to target possible "wastes of resources" or "selfish pursuits", please do not put anti-aging research in this category. Instead, stop going to football games, stop eating spicy cheese puffs, stop driving your car, get rid of your computer and cell phone, and make sure to donate all non-essential portions of your income to people who lack the basics of survival. Oh, and if you develop cancer or some sort of condition that necessitates an organ transplant or other expensive treatment, you should probably just let yourself die. After all, why should you get to experience any sort of luxuries relegated to the world's wealthy?
If the above paragraph sounds ridiculous, that's because it does indeed represent how ridiculous it sounds to me when people refer to anti-aging research as a selfish waste of time and money and some sort of distraction from solving the world's "real problems". Age-related illness IS a "real problem". It has never made sense to me that we're supposed to somehow make the world a great place for everyone as long as they happen to be 75 or younger -- somehow, we're supposed to create a society in which people exist in perfect health and happiness until one day they just keel over and die. I do not think that many people really think about what they're suggesting when they say, "Fix the world first!"