This Politicization of Anti-death

TheLastDerail - [original thread]

As many of you know, a big part of the rationalist project is being against aging and involuntary death. Ever since Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote the sequences, a sizable chunk of the community output has been devoted to supporting anti-aging research, and towards advocating cryonics (the process of cryopreserving one's brain or body).

While being against aging and death has always been a fringe position in society, the tone surrounding the subject has changed in recent years. It used to be said, for example by Yudkowsky, that progress in the field of anti-aging was being held back by religious conservatives. People in the field pointed the blame squarely with Leon Kass of George Bush's administration, and others, who had written about how aging and death were part of God's plan.

Most of these religious conservatives still exist, but I haven't heard much about them recently. Ever since about 2012-2014, we've started to hear about a new group of people holding back progress.

If you've been interested in this space for any amount of time recently, you've no doubt come across headlines much like these:

Seeking eternal life, Silicon Valley is solving for death

Why Silicon Valley Execs Are Investing Billions to Stay Young

Is Silicon Valley's quest for immortality a fate worse than death?

A new narrative has now formed in many journalist circles that Silicon Valley billionaires are pouring money into research to cure aging. While many of these articles are positive or neutral, most are negative. The underlying theme is that wealth inequality is linked to death; with no death, wealth inequality will skyrocket, and the world will be worse for everyone.

(As an aside, I want to point out that this narrative is just straightforwardly false. Money isn't really "pouring in" as is often claimed. More mainstream projects like cancer research still receive far more funding and yet draw in far less criticism.)

This politicization of anti-death stuff has even hit somewhat close to home. The Wikipedia page on cryonics had been somewhat favorable to cryonics from the early 2000s to about 2015, until a group of "pro-science" editors, including top Sneerclubber David Gerard, took over the page and filled it with baseless accusations of pseudoscience and quackery. If you go back in time through the page history, you can find that Wikipedia used to have a much more thorough and balanced treatment of the subject.

At the present moment in time, however, the page is complete trash. If you know a lot about the field (as I do), then reading the page will leave you very frustrated. Essentially every sentence in the entire article is written in the least charitable way possible in order to convince you that cryonics is something on par with astrology. Whenever someone tries to add anything to the page contrary to the current anti-cryonics narrative, one of several powerful "pro-science" admins will show up to explain to you how the whole field is bullshit. But these people don't know even a tiny bit about what they're talking about; a favorite tactic for them is to debunk cryonics by finding off-hand comments from neuroscientists in random media articles. In fairness, it is true that prominent scientists have come out against cryonics (even when they don't understand the basics!), but at the same time, many of the sentences on the page are outright lies and misrepresentations of their sources. Anyway, I digress...

In effect, anti-death messages have now shifted from being somewhat vaguely anti-right or anti-conservative coded, to being pro-right and pro-conservative coded. As someone who cares a lot about the field, this new development frightens me.

Personally, I think that conservatives have way less power over what type of research is funded. Back when research into fetal stem-cells was a big political deal, funding for stem cell research projects skyrocketed as grantmakers in academia desperately wanted to signal how much contempt they had for the politcal right.

Now that anti-aging is being seen as a sorta right wing thing, the opposite might happen: projects to study aging might get shut down for being too problematic and for their ability to increase income and wealth inequality.

I'm not sure whether that's where we're headed, but it's currently looking a lot like it from where I'm standing.