Some say our fascination with eternal youth is worse than death. (Photo by Eric Vondy)
So far all of the newspaper articles on anti-aging I've written about have been either positive or neutral. Most have been hopeful but cautious. None, however, have been clearly negative towards the idea of life extension.
Susan Cole from NOW Magazine is here to put an end to the madness of anti-aging. In a provocative piece titled 'Anti-Anti-Aging: Why I Find the Anti-Aging Movement Despicable', she takes on the International Anti-Aging Show – a road show with seminars on various aspects of longevity and health, and apparently the root of all evil.
A quick look at the seminars reveals that a lot of the stuff is pretty light-weight and even bordering on nonsense, with topics ranging from weight loss to natural healing. But they also have seminars on more serious-sounding topics, such as cosmetic surgery and hormone replacement.
Now, I can certainly see why the author of the article is angry at the dubious claims made by some of the speakers. Consider, for example, Dr. Nick Delgado, the sexual healer who will tell you "how the frequency of intimacy can increase ones longevity by 50%". The fact that there are no 150-year-olds around should raise some questions. As Mrs. Cole puts it:
These exhibitions have nothing to do with health and everything to do with profit. If health were the priority, organizers might consider the immense stress that the term anti-aging puts on people who are – and this can't be helped – aging.
I can also understand why she's angry at skin creams and cosmetic treatments being marketed under the banner of 'anti-aging' – all these products can do is treat or mask the effects of aging. Most of them don't even do that.
What I don't understand is that she's angry at the very idea of anti-aging. Here's a quote that describes her radically negative position:
And why does she hate the term so much? Let her explain:
I loathe the term anti-aging. It makes my skin crawl and my blood boil.
I consider anti-aging shows to be part of an ideological war against older people. North Americans already live in a youth-obssessed culture that dismisses elders as dispensable, useless pieces of human flesh. Wisdom has no value, while doing everything you can to look like you have none does.
Here's where we begin to see where she's coming from. Anti-aging is to be hated, because it's a direct attack on old people. With our ever-growing obsession with looking younger, feeling younger and being younger, we're making it clear that old age is something bad, something to be avoided. Therefore, old people, by virtue of being the opposite of what we ourselves want to be, are to be avoided, too.
This is of course a big fallacy. The idea of anti-aging is not to spit on the elderly and treat them as "useless pieces of human flesh" (I can almost hear the blood gushing in her veins when she wrote that) – it's to prevent all the bad things that come with old age and that make life less enjoyable. Who in their right mind could be against preventing human suffering?
Rather than specifying each age-related problem and saying "I'm anti-cancer, anti-arthritis, anti-diabetes, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-Parkinson's" etc. it makes more sense to be anti-aging, because what those problems have in common is that they all more or less stem from the biological process of aging.
Thus, if we could prevent aging, we could prevent all of the aforementioned problems too. Anti-aging, as a term and a concept, is a strike at the root.
So why would anyone who is, for example, anti-cancer (and I have to assume even Mrs. Cole isn't enraged by the idea of cancer treatments) be against anti-aging? The answer is fear and lack of knowledge. People are unaware that we have an actual chance at slowing down aging and eventually bringing it to a complete halt. And because they're unaware of that chance, they attempt to rationalize aging as something that is naturally good.
This is the pro-aging trance; the strange and terrible mindset where bad things become good only because they are unavoidable, and which makes people utter the most irrational sentences:
Personally, I'm not against aging. Because I'm nowhere near ready for the alternative.
As you can see, the most problematic side of the pro-aging trance is that its proponents will also force their love of aging on other people. It's not enough for them to grow old and die; aging must be enjoyed by all. Death has to be shoved down the throats of everybody, whether they like it or not.
Of course, not even the most hardcore deathist can resist cheating just a little in the game of aging, when given the chance:
Speaking as someone who etches a little powder onto my rapidly balding eyebrows every day, I'm not so totally opposed to a bit of make-up to help the eyes pop out and to give the cheeks a little lustre.
So you see, it's okay to use make-up to appear more youthful, exercise to stay fit, eat properly to stay thin, and treat disease to stay healthy. Nobody is against that. However, it's not okay to stop the process that makes all those increasingly difficult with time. That's where the deathist draws the line.
In case you don't get the logic, don't worry: there is none. The deathist will have nothing to do with it. Using logic would be an attack on crazy people.
For more information on anti-aging, see these posts:
Caloric Restriction Improves Memory in the Elderly
Anti-Aging in the Media: National Post on Caloric Restriction
Anti-Aging in the Media: Vancouver Sun on Immortality
Anti-Aging in the Media: Rolling Stone on Ray Kurzweil