Anti-Death Politics

I am extremely anti-death. In fact, I’d like to think I am as anti-death as you can be. I firmly believe that death is bad. But when I tell people this, they always reply the same way: “Nathan, everyone is anti-death. Obviously death is bad. Who thinks otherwise?”

Nearly everyone thinks otherwise, actually. Most people are perfectly fine with death. In fact, so many people are so fine with death that I end up having to spend half my time convincing people of the proposition that supposedly everyone already believes, namely that death is bad.

For example, recently I wrote an article saying that it’s sad when children are killed by guns, and pointing out that people who like guns don’t really have a way to stop children from being killed by guns. I got a lot of furious responses from gun-people. But in every single argument they made, they accepted these deaths as perfectly fine. They would say things like “A lot of people drown in pools, too.” Or “Accidents happen, what can you do?” Now, note first that this acknowledges the full truth of my argument, namely that they don’t have any ideas for what to do about these accidents. But also, it’s weirdly tolerant of death. Personally, I don’t like death. I want to do everything possible to stop children drowning in pools, and being crunched by tractors, and shot by handguns, and having their bones ground up to make bread. But these people, who think we should just sit back and accept death, are totally uninterested in trying to stop these things. Accidents happen. They do indeed, and we must stop them immediately! How can you accept them as tolerable, given what a precious thing it is to be alive?

(I also had to argue with these people about a premise I think is inarguable: that a world with zero guns is preferable to a world with guns. Wouldn’t we all ideally want to live in a world where there is no weaponry? Leave aside the question of feasability. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were no need for guns? Alas, no. Hardly anyone would even agree to this.)

Another example: my nemesis Peter Thiel has been funding life-extension research. Many people are upset by this for reasons I cannot possibly fathom. Many “scientists and ethicists” apparently oppose research into how to extend human lives. They believe it is unnatural to live forever. Now, leave aside the bizarre conflation of the “natural” and the good by smart people who ought to know better. The real question is, why do these people like death? Why do they want people to die? There is no way to escape the conclusion that they believe death is desirable. This position is actually common, and is usually stated thusly: death is a natural part of life, it is good for lives to be of a limited duration. Alright, fine, but don’t tell me you’re anti-death, because you are in fact pro-death, you believe it has a positive function and is therefore good. I, myself, am differently inclined. I am anti-death. I think death is bad. In the context of life-extension research, this position is in the minority, and yet somehow people tell me my anti-death politics are universally shared!

Here is my position on death: I do not want an infinite lifespan. What I want is to have free choice about my lifespan. Death is the most complete possible destruction of a person’s freedom. I believe that people should be as free as possible, and so I believe people should be freed from the necessity of death to the greatest degree possible. Personally, I would like to live for as long as it takes me to complete all of the projects I would like to do, and have all the experiences I would like to have.  Unfortunately, currently I cannot make this choice, because these projects would absolutely take longer than the longest presently-possible human lifespan. My life will at some point be revoked against my will.

The prodeath crowd carefully dance around the issue with poetic phrases about how we should humbly accept our essential mortality. “Radical life extension smacks of an intemperate claim to have unlocked the fundamental mystery of life,” said Roger Cohen of The New York Times. But say what you mean, Roger! In practice, what you mean is that given a choice between massive quantities of death and zero death you would take the former, because of some nonsense poetry about temperance. I find this position a bloodthirsty kind of madness, and I resent Roger Cohen for wanting me to die.

I am a strong believer in the right to life. I believe we should all have as much life as we possibly can. And so the idea of opposing life extension research, in fact, of not seeing life-extension research as a top human priority, is to me pro-death. I see it as an essential issue for human freedom, perhaps the essential issue. Billions of people have lost their lives when they would not have chosen to. Because life is the most precious thing we have, we must do everything to make sure that future people do have this choice, that they can have as much life as they please. I believe in maximizing human capability and the control we have over our own destinies. Thus I cannot accept the fundamental absence of this control represented by death.

I am very strongly anti-death. Why isn’t anybody else?