IEET > Interns > HealthLongevity > Anne Corwin
On Longevity Medicine and Resources
Anne Corwin   Jan 13, 2007   Existence is Wonderful  

While I do firmly believe that existence is, in fact, pretty wonderful, I realize it is not wonderful for everyone, everywhere, all the time. This is obvious to anyone who so much as picks up a newspaper or walks out their front door.  And while some people may indeed be apathetic and complacent or defeatist about it, this is not true of everyone.  Hence, there are a lot of charitable and humanitarian groups in the world making a tremendous effort to improve living conditions for people all over the world.

Consider American Red Cross, which provides a multitude of different services, and the Global Water Foundation which is focused on addressing the problem of maintaining clean drinking and sanitation water in poorer areas, and UNICEF which focuses primarily on the reduction of child mortality. 

Though no organization of any kind is perfect, people are at least trying, and with the growing information infrastructure in the world, it is getting harder and harder for anyone to ignore Big Problems.  And while it is clear that these problems are not being addressed as fast as they would ideally, there is still some room for optimism, so long as people keep realizing that they personally can be part of the solution.

Clearly, there is no shortage of people in the world capable of helping to fund and volunteer their time for worthy causes.  And at the risk of prompting a debate between people of different economic persuasions, I highly doubt that there’s an actual scarcity of needed resources.  There might be local scarcities, and I’m not saying resources are infinite, but it seems undeniable that there is plenty more we (as in “we of the highest standard of living in the world in these industrialized nations”) could be doing to address global misery

The World Health organization reports that:

The state of adult health at the beginning of the 21st century is characterised by two major trends: slowing of gains and widening health gaps; and the increasing complexity of the burden of disease.

The fact that gains are slowing, anywhere, is extremely problematic—and it is most certainly important to work to address this.  However, nothing is going to happen to help anyone if we spend all our time arguing over which cause is most worthy.  It isn’t too hard to find a worthy cause—hopefully someday it will be much harder, but right now, there are still a lot of things that threaten people’s lives and well-being to a degree that ought to be unacceptable to any rational person.  My equation is simple: if it kills people, it’s bad, and needs to be stopped.  Things that kill people should be a priority, regardless of who they are killing, how old these people are, how they are configured, or where they people live. 

In about 1998, before I knew that anyone was actually trying to do something about addressing aging (and certainly, there was no Methuselah Foundation or Longevity Dividend back then), I went through a kind of sudden and overwhelming realization with regard to how utterly lucky I was.  Lucky to have been born into a home with a solid roof, plenty of food, and access to medical care.  Lucky to have had the opportunity to get a decent (if imperfect) education up to that point.  Lucky for all kinds of other reasons that had nothing to do with anything I myself had done—rather, lucky due to the hard work of those who came before me and due to the support of family and others. 

So, there I was at age 19, thinking, “Um, how did I get here?  And how can I possibly even deserve a life like this?  And what is the worst thing in the world, how can I avoid it, and how can I help others avoid it?”

The obvious answer to this question seemed clear: the suffering and death of innocent people.  And when I mentally went through the list of everything, from violence to disease to accidents, that I imagined as being agents of suffering and death, one thing stood out on top of it all: aging.  Even if we managed to cure cancer, end dysentery, thwart the Ebola virus, conquer AIDS, and address violent crime, people will still be growing old, becoming infirm, and dying.  Imagine going into a doctor’s office and being told that while you are, in fact, dying, that’s just to be expected due to the demographic you belong to, and you might as well just start putting your affairs in order—sounds inhumane, but it happens to elderly people all the time. 

I find that unacceptable.

Funding longevity research or initiatives like SENS does not mean anyone is ignoring the plight of people in developing nations who lack basic medical care and education.  The world is literally teeming with people, many of which have organized to take on the challenges of addressing global suffering—and though things definitely are not perfect, they are improving in some respects, and I expect that this will continue. 

Also, just because people don’t announce it publicly every time they make a charitable donation or engage in some sort of endeavor associated with addressing a global threat or crisis, this doesn’t mean they aren’t doing anything or contributing.  I object to the characterization of, say, life-extensionists as people who only care about “the rich”.  As far as I can tell, all of us who are involved in longevity advocacy care about people, plain and simple.  Regardless of age, income, country of origin, ethnic background, you name it. 

A person can, and should, maintain awareness of what is going on in the world at large, but this does not mean they can devote all their time and resources to every cause that comes along.  If you want to change the world and help people, that doesn’t just entail waving your arms around and lamenting what is going wrong, but choosing a few targets and putting some time and energy into them. 

Humans may be fairly adept at organizing to get tasks accomplished, but it seems much more likely that more will be accomplished through the parallel efforts of numerous, focused organizations and groups than by everyone trying to get together in one big mass and pick one problem and beat at it until it’s gone.  The complexity of the world, and the sheer size of the population, makes that a ridiculous prospect. 

All any of us can do is choose our battles as best we can, based on the information available to us.  And considering that the elderly are one of the most discriminated against, and most neglected, populations in the world, it seems that the effort to address age-related infirmity and death is one that could use more support.

Anne Corwin
Anne Corwin was an IEET intern 2006-2007, and is an engineer and technoprogressive activist in California. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Humanity Plus, and is active in the longevity movement through the Methuselah Foundation and in the neurodiversity movement addressing issues along the autism spectrum. Ms. Corwin writes the blog Existence is Wonderful and produces a related podcast.

COMMENTS No comments

Next entry: Star Trek’s ‘Prime Directive’ is stupid

Previous entry: Ashley X, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn, XING and Bald Women