David M. Brown's Blog

August 20, 2016

Aging is not a “disease”; nor is finitude

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy,Science,Self-help,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 6:56 am

The blogger Instapundit, commenting on efforts to slow the inexorable advance of our decrepitude, says “Good to see aging being treated as the disease that it is.”

No, I veto this wording. A normal, universal and inevitable biological process is not a “disease,” even if it makes us more susceptible to disease as we careen toward the finish line. Is the intention here to be loose and metaphorical, deliberately inexact, in a sort of jovial and ironic way? Well then, fine. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the intention when the claim is being made repeatedly and emphatically. If biological limitations and finitude as such are a “disease,” living as such is a “disease,” and the concept of “disease” loses its meaning. Then we would have to find another word for colds, pneumonia, myocardial infarctions, et cetera. What’s next, prescribing penicillin for the Law of Identity? I’m all in favor of our slowing or stopping aging, and I’d also like us to slow or stop misuse of language.

A commenter at the Instapundit site, responding to the same Instapundit report on efforts to combat aging, wants to know: “So what gives the current generation the justification to live forever? Why shouldn’t they die like every other generation? I see no redeeming qualities about me to justify such a thing. In fact, I’d recommend resurrecting the Greatest Generation before letting the current morally and physically deficient generation continue for another breath.”

This is one of those strenuously nonsensical assertions that must exhaust and outlast any attempt to fully answer it. One may as well ask the commenter what “justification” he himself has to exert the effort required to live the next hour, month, year, decade, or whatever the full span is until he is no longer able to survive.

Justifications occur within the context of pursuing the ultimate goal of your own life. Taking medicine is justified to help keep you alive; you don’t stay alive to “justify” your taking medicine as an end in itself. If someone who might have died at age 59 instead lives until 89 because he improves his habits of exercise and diet, would this guy say unto him, “So what gives you [and other members of ‘the current generation’] the right to live longer? Why shouldn’t you have died at age 59 like every other person who dies at that age? I see no redeeming qualities about you [or ‘the current generation’] to justify such a thing”?

Organisms expend effort and energy to sustain their existence; that’s what it means to be alive. Whether a particular individual is “morally corrupt” or lacks “redeeming qualities” and is thus deserving of censure is a separate question. And no, there isn’t any mass indictment of all members of a generation as a group that can properly be made without consideration of what differentiates specific individuals in that group and their choices and actions as individuals.

Another commenter says: “This anti-aging obsession is very selfish….why do baby boomers and others think they are so special that they should live longer and grub more resources? Pathetic.”

This means that staying healthy and alive is a bad thing, because being alive is per se a bad thing. This also means that eating, exercise, shelter, medicine are all necessarily bad things too isofar as they foster the continued well-being and survival of a living individual.

Of course, doing the things you need to do to stay healthy and alive is indeed selfish, if selfishness simply means being concerned with and taking appropriate actions to foster and preserve one’s self. But I suspect that the commenter intends “selfish” to include also what he anyone would regard as bad and objectionable conduct rather than only acting rationally and peacefully to enhance one’s life–so that benign life-serving actions are guilty by association with the malignant actions. Note that he offers no argument or reasoning to explain why taking further steps to improve one’s ability to survive is bad. He offers only disapproval and guilt by association with some undefined evil, maybe bank robbery and murder.

Similarly, the production and consumption required to sustain human life are pejoratively transformed into “grubbing” if an individual should begin to do more than the commenter is willing to countenance in the way of living a healthier life. The connotation substitutes for argument. Folks have been “grubbing” to sustain their lives long before life extension or anti-aging research came along. No doubt each new advance of civilization making possible longer average lifespans was greeted with equal howls of protest by equivalent commenters in their day.

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

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