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Can Transhumanism Overcome a Widespread Deathist Culture?
Zoltan Istvan   May 28, 2015   Huffington Post  

The rapidly growing field of transhumanism—an international social movement whose highest immediate priority is overcoming human death via science and technology—is facing a colossal challenge. About 85 percent of the world’s population believes in life after death, and much of that population is perfectly okay with dying because it gives them an afterlife with their perceived deity or deities—something transhumanists often refer to as “deathist” culture.

In fact, four billion people on Earth—mostly Muslims and Christians—see the overcoming of death through science as potentially blasphemous, a sin involving humans striving to be godlike. Some holy texts say blasphemy is unforgivable and will end in eternal punishment.

So what are transhumanists to do in a world where science and technology are quickly improving and will almost certainly overcome human mortality in the next 30 years? Will there be a great civil rights debate and clash around the world? Or will the deathist culture change, adapt, or even subside?

First, let’s look at some hard facts. Most deaths in the world are caused by aging and disease. Approximately 150,000 people die every day around the world, causing devastating loss to loved ones and communities. Of course, it should not be overlooked that death also brings massive disruption to family finances and national economies.

On the medical front, the good news is that gerontologists and other researchers have made major gains recently in the fields of life extension, anti-aging research, and longevity science. In 2010, some of the first studies of stopping and reversing aging in mice took place. They were partially successful and proved that 21st Century science and medicine had the goods to overcome most types of deaths from aging. Eventually, we’ll also wipe out most diseases. Through modern medicine, the 20th Century saw a massive decrease of deaths from polio, measles, and typhoid, amongst others.

On the heels of some of these longevity and medical triumphs, a number of major commercial ventures have appeared recently, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the field of anti-aging and longevity research. Google’s Calico, Human Longevity LLC, and Insilico Medicine are just some of them.

Google Ventures’ President Bill Maris, who helps direct investments into health and science companies, recently made headlines by telling Bloomberg, “If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500? The answer is yes.”

Increasingly, leading scientists are voicing similar ideas. Reuters reports that renowned gerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, chief scientist at SENS Research Foundation and the Anti-aging Advisor at the US Transhumanist Party, thinks scientists will be able to control aging in the near future, “I’d say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I’d call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so.”

Even smaller projects like the musician Steve Aoki supported Longevity Cookbook with its Indiegogo campaign have recently launched, in an effort to get people to eat better to live longer. All these endeavors add to a growing climate of people and their attitudes willing to accept the transhumanist idea that death is not fate. In fact, in the future, death will likely be seen as a choice someone makes, and not something that happens arbitrarily or accidentally to people.

Despite this positive momentum in transhumanism, changing cultural deathist trends for 85 percent of the world’s population may prove difficult. Humans are a species ingrained in their ways, and getting fundamentally religious people to have an open mind to living far longer periods than before—maybe thousands of years—could prove challenging.

Recently, a number of transhumanists, including myself who is an atheist, have attempted to work more closely with governmental, religious, and social groups that have for centuries endorsed the deathist culture. Transhumanists are trying to get those groups to realize we are not necessarily wanting to live forever. Transhumanists simply want the choice and creation over our own earthly demise, and we don’t want to leave it to cancer, or an automobile accident, or aging, or fate.

To change the deathist culture in America and abroad, it’s important for people to understand that lengthening lives and having the ability to overcome human mortality is not something that has to be seen as clashing with religion. I’ve often told Christian friends, for example, that living longer could be seen as a way for religious missionaries to spread their message further—to save more people if that’s how they want to view it.

Longer lifespans and more control over our biological selves will only make the world a better place, with more permanent institutions, more time with our loved ones, and more stable economies.

In the end, transhumanism is not really trying to overcome deathist culture, but get it to understand that transhuman culture can also stand functionally next to it, helping the aims of everyone involved. Together, we can find the middle ground, and give everyone the choice to follow whatever path they want when it concerns dying or not dying in the 21st Century.


Excellent article Zoltan. I will post a URL link over at the forum. More people need to view this. Good ideas including, Steve’s Longevity Cookbook.

“Deathist culture” isn’t really a major problem for transhumanism.  Find a way to cure aging (and provide cybernetic enhancements, etc.) that ordinary people can afford, and “deathist culture” will evaporate like dew in the Sahara.  We used to have religious explanations for why women had to suffer (and often die) in childbirth.  Then we invented anesthesia and sanitation and made them available on a widespread basis.  Tthe “birth pain-ist culture” vanished in fairly short order.

On the other hand, if transhumanism is something only the rich can participate in, threatening the creation of an ageless caste of billionaire demigods, “deathist culture” may be more of a problem.

The biggest challenge though, is going to be limits on available energy and resources.  Endless exponential economic growth is impossible on a finite planet, and it’s probable that only a small fraction of the quasi-immortal population will want to live in little cans in space.

It depends on why someone wants life after death.  It appears that quite a few people wish to make sure there is punishment for those who aren’t sufficiently punished on Earth.

(After all, it is much easier to imagine a Hell people hate than it is to imagine a Heaven that we would like eternally).

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