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Interesting Times

I read Infidel753’s blog a lot. He’s always an interesting read. I’m gonna annoy Infidel here (he’s a Democrat) by suggesting that anyone with a vested interest in putting the Republicans back together again could do much worse than read his stuff on the travails of the GOP.

Anyway, one of Infidel’s big things interests is life-extension (and I don’t just mean his own) but technologies to combat ageing. Now I mainly know about this sort of stuff from Infidel’s blog and over the last year or so I’m beginning to think this sort of thing is plausible. What I mean is not the slow ramping of the life-expectancy charts but a sudden dramatic increase with the chance that that will buy you more time until they get something even more whiz-bang which will buy you more time until the nanobots reset your DNA or whatever… The main reason I now think it plausible (apart from the phenomenal progress with stem cells and computational biology* and such) is that if anyone gets anything to work they will make an absolute bloody fortune.

“All that I own for one moment of time”

-Last words of Queen Elizabeth I – probably apocryphal.

Moreover it will demonstrate the field is not a “fringe” investment opportunity. Any significant advance will be like the Rainhill trials. Before that people bitched and moaned and mocked the railways. After it investing in railways was the place for the smart money to be. History is littered with things that people thought daft, dangerous or immoral that are now indispensable. Lord Reith who was the guiding spirit of the BBC thought TV immoral. He later thought it OK but that colour TV was a step too far and in some obscure way would bring about the end of civilization. Well it did make the televisation of snooker feasible so I guess the curmudgeonly old puritan might have had a point**.

Anyway something close to rolling immortality might pitch-up soon. But I do wonder at the moral, social and philosophical implications. I’m not at all arguing that such treatments (if they are even possible) should be banned but they would profoundly alter the human condition in a way that no technology since writing has and that they will take a hell of a lot of getting used to. One of the most universal human experiences is bereavement. How will the experience of that be changed if people are clinically immortal but can still die in wars, natural disasters and accidents of the Tom & Jerry fashion. I mean if you get married you promise for “as long as you both shall live” and it’s possible to make a fair guess at that but what if that is potentially indefinitely? And what of the question of access to this stuff? I don’t just mean cost but I can imagine some folks will be genetically not suitable. There are phenomenal issues here. I cannot even begin to think them all through.

I can though guess at one. I think people (at least the compatible and wealthy enough) will become much more risk averse because losing your three score and ten is one thing but losing a potential eternity is quite another.

Oh, and God knows what the religious nutter types will make of it. I guess they’ll still be inconsolable with grief over the birth of the first kid who is the genetic child of two lesbians (that is very feasible and you can imagine the Phelpsites going absolutely stratospheric over it). It will happen and I’m looking forward to the absolute end-of-days chaos that will ensue. I’ll get the beer and the nachos in for that one. It’ll be bloody marvellous. Well in a way it will but not alas for the kid. There is a bitter irony there. The religious mentalists will go ape and cite (naturally) the effect this unnatural coupling*** will have on the child’s future happiness without even realising that by generating a stink over it they really aren’t helping screw the kid up. Don’t doubt me on that. A couple of years ago a woman in her late twenties in the Northwest of England gave birth to her first child. The Times felt it had to say the baby was “normal”. That woman was Louise Brown.

We are living in interesting times and I hope they get even more so. Because social, economic, scientific, technological, medical, stasis is the death of our wonderful, creative civilization and novelty is it’s own reward. At the end of the 300 Delios makes a rousing speech to the lads before the Battle of Platea. The bit that nails it for me is, “…and usher in a world brighter than any of us can imagine”. That’s beautiful. I want the future to be so bright I gotta wear shades and I’m just beginning again to think it might be. I also studied nuclear science and I revelled in its paradoxes and new discoveries and it’s revolutions and it’s capacity to astound. I am also a Libertarian so there are no five-year plans for tractor production for me. I want the future to be the undiscovered country but I appreciate it’s not gonna be smooth or easy or plain sailing. I also appreciate that that is exactly where the fun lies.

Let’s just do it and see what happens! The hell with stuffed shirts and moralising gits! I mean there are gonna be cock-ups, difficult questions, disasters and God knows what on the rocky and random path to the sunlit-uplands and even more upsets and “issues” to confront from there to the stars but hell’s teeth that’s life. My ancient ancestors didn’t stumble blinking and grunting out of the jungle onto the African savannah to get to a certain level and then set it in aspic like a Victorian housekeeper with a potted ham****. We are stardust from supernovae forever in motion and our very atoms yearn to get back there. It didn’t take (in geological time anyway) long for us to go from throwing spears at mammoths to throwing Saturn Vs to the Moon and back. I hope we are in for an interesting ride. I have to hope that because otherwise what’s the point?

Per Ardua, Ad Astra!

PS I composed this in Word 2000. It green-lined “blog”. It also uggest I replace “Phelpsites” with “Philistines”…

*Might I cite that absolute cyclone of biological advance Craig Venter?
**Infamous Colemanball – “For those of you watching in black and white the brown is the one behind the green”. My favourite sports commentator line though has to be this from a cricket match) “The batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willie” which caused at least one RTA. Though Bobby Robson’s epic “tribute-act” to Ali, “Des Walker jumped like a salmon and bit like a ferret” has the merit of just being gloriously nuts.
***”Unnatural” to me means something that can’t exist or can’t be done. If it can exist or can be done then that’s it – end of.
****The Victorians knew a thing or to about progress, which is why, they stopped potting hams and invented refrigeration.


  1. greap says:

    I think the whole transhumanism thing (particularly anti-aging and eugenics) tend to show just how brainwashed by “society” people tend to be. Whenever the topic comes up at the pub, dinner etc some of the smartest people I know seem to lose all sense of self-interest and begin insisting that the very idea of modifying our bodies to live longer and be better is somehow evil and one of the grandest crimes against humanity one could ever commit.

    Of course they don’t have any answer to how treating cancer (or indeed any of the possibly terminal illnesses one could get) is really any different.

    The attitude is unlikely to change and combined with the fact government have an interest in people dying of old age (no old age == no state benefits or NHS costs for old folk == 40% of the budget ceasing to be used) I strongly suspect when radical anti-aging treatment comes along in a couple of decades we will see almost every country on earth outlawing it with huge popular support from the citizenry. Or maybe it will be licensed with a board of random cunts deciding who deserves to live forever based on their societal worth.

    Didn’t put enough recyclables out for council pickup? That’s an extra 5 years of old-life for you. Didn’t attend the latest screening for Al Gore’s new movie “Things that are going to destroy us simply because I say so 12”? Another 10 years for you sonny.

  2. Infidel753 says:

    Nick, thanks for the reference.

    Fortunately, this is not going to come about in the form of the sudden announcement of something like an anti-aging pill that will throw the world into shock. It will just be a steady acceleration and increase in sophistication of the advances which have been lengthening life expectancy for more than a century and are still doing so. An Alzheimer’s treatment here, stem-cell therapy to rejuvenate the heart there, and so on and so on. Like most technological innovations, such treatments will start off being expensive and working not very well, then get cheaper and more effective (think of home computers 30 years ago vs. today).

    That the significance of bereavement would change is an interesting one — I’d argue that this has already been happening as life gets longer and most people have fewer children. We can see the effects in things like increasingly casualty-averse war-fighting strategies. The US is getting into military robotics in a big way.

    As for efforts to ban such innovations, of course there actually were bans on most stem-cell research funding under Bush, and some Republicans tried to impose much more sweeping restrictions (even including criminal penalties for Americans who went abroad for treatments developed using techniques banned here), but they failed. Religious nuts railed against the first antibiotic against syphilis because it would promote “immorality”. There are always efforts like that, but in the long run they never succeed. If some countries ban such treatments, others won’t, and people will go where they can get them — and those people will doubtless turn out to include more than a few aging preachers and Luddite politicians.

    Luddites have never been able to stop progress. They have, however, sometimes managed to stop it in their own countries — thus turning those countries into backwaters. If the US and Europe don’t do it, Japan will, or Russia will, or Israel will, or, or, or…..

  3. El Draque says:

    John Wyndham wrote “Trouble with Lichen” about anti-aging treatments. He postulated a gender split; women wanted it, so they could have a working life after children, men didn’t want it because they would rather die of old age than double their working lives.
    Poor book though, I never re-read it. It was either that or Chocky that I threw out of a train window, it was so bad.

    You’re right though about anti-death treatment making people risk-averse.

    There’s a glorious little book – “Roads to Ruin” – about inventions and social innovations that were condemned from one side or another. From the umbrella – “When God causes rain to fall, he intends it to fall on you. How dare you interfere with God’s will?” – to the Poor Law, there’s always someone against change.
    One curiosity of the Victorian age is that the early feminists opposed birth control. It was the road to ruin when men no longer had to face the consequences of their actions. It would make them irresponsible.
    Some would say they had a point, but there’s two sides to it, of course.

  4. Infidel753 says:

    It was the road to ruin when men no longer had to face the consequences of their actions.

    Actually, the way nature has arranged things is that if there are no birth control pills, men do not have to face the consequences of their actions. Women have to face the consequences of men’s actions. The pill is, one might say, the “equalizer”.

    I don’t know about Britain, but in the US a lot of the early feminists did advocate contraception. This was one of the things that turned the reactionaries of the day (espacially religious ones) against them.

  5. NickM says:

    I read today of a 29 year old bloke in TN who has fathered 21 kids in an utterly feckless way by 11 women. The Telegraph article was all about his fecklessness. OK, thats undoubted but what were the women thinking of too? I mean…. get on the pill or use Implanon (my wife does) or something*. It really is not rocket science. The human capacity for idiocy knows no bounds.

    Fertile from TN had only this to say in his defence, “it just happened”. Well my wife had to drive half way across Derbyshire to get Implanon and that “just happened” to. A hassle for sure but compared to pregnancy, birth and all that… Especially when it only has to be done once every three years.

    *Would it be too much to say that folks should only have sex with folks they love and trust? I mean would it? I don’t mean any of the sort of religious right chastity ring stuff but just taking care of their own bodies stuff.

  6. Infidel753 says:

    Something like half the pregnancies in the US are unintended (I recall a figure of 56% from a few years ago). A surprising number of people have only a hazy idea about birth control or think there’s something morally murky about it. Tennessee is a “red” state (Republican-leaning, disproportionately religious), and those states always have higher rates of teenage pregnancy and so forth. And any population has a certain number of irresponsible members; the people involved in that story are the far end of a normal curve.

    Would it be too much to say that folks should only have sex with folks they love and trust?

    Might be feasible for a species that didn’t evolve from chimps. Humans are impulsive critters. Most people have terrible difficulty even controlling diet and exercise so they don’t get fat, never mind controlling the sex drive in a culture* which still largely substitutes moralistic crap for actual knowledge. If the US had the sexual values and practical attitudes of, say, Scandinavia, our levels of sex-related social problems would probably be as low as theirs too.

    *Ours, not yours. can’t speak for over there.

  7. El Draque says:

    Infidel – well, in evolutionary terms you’re almost certainly right, that the nuclear family didn’t, I suspect, exist before agriculture.
    Men had sex and women had sex, the resulting babies belonged to the tribe.
    But the men did bear the burden of defending the tribe and the womenfolk in particular.
    And of course, I doubt that unrestricted access to all females was the custom. The top men got the most. No change there then.

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