Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The discombobulation of being on the 'wrong' side of the argument

My post yesterday about Joan Bakewell's BBC article on aging research was picked up by the Fight Aging website, and I must admit I was slightly startled by the comments it attracted. Evidently life extension is a prospect that strongly appeals to many right-wing libertarians, ie. precisely the sort of people I've spent a fair bit of the last two years battling on the topic of gun control. It's slightly disconcerting to find yourself seemingly arguing the same corner as people you're in general ideologically opposed to, and in my case it's happened before on certain issues relating to gender politics, civil liberties, and to a very limited extent abortion (although in the latter case the partial agreement would probably be more with the non-libertarian right). It always tends to make me step back and question whether there's some inconsistency in my thought-processes that I hadn't previously spotted.

However, on this subject I don't see why there actually needs to be an ideological divide, at least at this stage. The bulk of the left are united with the bulk of the right in generally favouring scientific progress as long as it is ethically acquired. The true division will arise if and when anti-aging therapies actually become available, and we need to collectively decide what use to make of them - doubtless the people who were agreeing with me at Fight Aging would be disgusted to know that I would be arguing strongly in favour of such therapies being made available free to all via our "socialised" health care system! I gather that's the position of Aubrey de Grey as well. Perhaps the reason some on the left are instinctively disquieted by this field of research is that they fear the post-breakthrough battle for 'longevity equality' would be lost, and I must admit that without a crystal ball there's no way of knowing for certain that's a baseless concern. But I don't see how it's a rational response to that fear to try to impede the research or wish it away - if it turns out increased lifespan is scientifically feasible, then we can be absolutely certain society will have to face up to the moral dilemmas posed by that reality sooner or later. Given the immense potential benefits for everyone, from my point of view it might as well be sooner.

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