Custom and Individual Thought

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists on adapting the world to himself; therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
- George Bernard Shaw

"The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress. If you go down just one corridor of thought you never get to see what’s in the rooms leading off it."
- Trevor Baylis

"Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We must care to think about the unthinkable things, because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless."
- James Fulbright

"Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called."
- John Stuart Mill

"The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement."
- John Stuart Mill

"The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking of a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors."
- John Stuart Mill

Safe Drinking Water

I just watched a documentary yesterday called FLOW - For the Love of Water. It was about how billions of impoverished people do not have access to safe drinking water and how multinational water corporations are only helping the rich. The documentary reminded me of how important safe drinking water is and how much I take it for granted. Noam Chomsky mentioned in one of his interviews that many treatable diseases could be eliminated with clean drinking water, costing pennies a day from rich countries.

The documentary also reminded me of the Lifesaver bottle which is a hand held filter that is supposed to turn filthy water into sterile drinking water. I first encountered this filter watching a TED talk and I remember being amazed at human ingenuity. I wish I could produce some sort of product that could save millions of lives. So far, I can only think, read and write, nothing in comparison to the person who designed the Lifesaver bottle. Check it out at www.lifesaversystems.com.

Some facts about access to safe drinking water from www.water.org:
  • 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.
  • 43% of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea.
  • 84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14.
  • 98% of water-related deaths occur in the developing world. 
  • The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.

Extension of Human Life

The Extension of Human Life Indefinitely and its Effects

Introduction

This discourse was initially prompted by my discovery of Aubrey de Grey who is a scientist working on a treatment to extend human life indefinitely. He spends some time in interviews explaining the numerous criticisms he receives (which is quite substantial I can only imagine for someone who is dedicated to such a controversial cause) and presenting his arguments to defend his research. His defenses were extremely interesting to me and during my analysis of them, I decided to write my own opinion on the matter.

I would first like to state that my discourse is not holistic; it consists of only the factors that I have thought of, excluding most of the ideas of Aubrey de Grey that I have heard, trying to keep the considerations in this essay as original to me and to him as possible. Furthermore, I intentionally did not include the subject of economics as I lack a thorough understanding of it that it deserves, if it is to be written about. This discourse is just one piece of the large puzzle which is needed in the holistic debate of the extension of human life and its effects.

The first part of this composition will consist of the question of man's nature and his morality. The point of this first section is to understand the concept of anti-aging treatment in the context of existing treatments to extend human life; this section will have it's own conclusion based solely in the context in which it is analyzed. In other words, I would like to use the context of existing treatments to show that we generally agree that postponing death is natural and moral.

The second part of this composition will consist of the analysis of the effects of extending human life indefinitely. The reason why I separated these two sections is because they take different things into consideration. The former takes into consideration general accepted morality while the latter takes into consideration concrete effects, a more utilitarian approach. In my opinion, the latter should ultimately have more weight in determining whether or not this treatment should exist.

Nature and Morality

When analyzing a new subject such as the anti-aging treatment, I find it helpful to connect it with similar subjects which are not debatable. In this case, treating disease or preventing unnecessary death would fit the criteria.

Do we find treating disease to be natural? The answer seems to be yes; it only seems natural that man would use his superior intellect to further his life, taking into consideration that all living creatures tend to do the same to their respective capacities. I see no difference between receiving treatment for a disease and aging; both cause unnecessary death and suffering.

This leads me directly to the second topic of this section, which is morality.

Do we find treating disease to be moral? I think we do. I would definitely find it immoral to allow suffering to continue while having the power to stop it. How is extending human life through anti-aging treatment any different? I do not believe it is and therefore, I conclude that extending human life indefinitely is moral.

The next step that needs to be taken is to discuss if extending life is moral given the context. In other words, are relieving pain and extending life good things once we take into consideration their positive and negative effects? Since I have already made the case that extending life through the anti-aging treatment is a moral thing, I would now like to mostly consider the negative effects it might have because ultimately, what determines the immorality of this treatment is the strength of the negative effects. In other words, if the negative effects do not outweigh the initial good of relieving pain and extending life, then the treatment should be developed. I would analyze other positive effects as well, but I do not find it necessary to take that next step because I do not believe the negative effects outweigh the initial good.

Effects

This section will unfortunately not be as structured as the previous; it would be more of a short list of the most obvious effects I think an anti-aging treatment will have.

I. Over Population
The most obvious negative effect this treatment could have is over population. This is, of course, a very legitimate concern for people who would like to take care of the planet and future generations. Seeing how humans are already destroying the planet and seeing how the world population is only growing, one would conclude that an anti-aging treatment would exacerbate this problem. I am not so convinced of this argument to the extent where I think we should not even try to develop the treatment.

The first part of the argument which is not too convincing is the possibility of overpopulation. The fact is that the problem of overpopulation is not about numbers, the problem is the fact that we're destroying the planet. For example, if one were to take the biomass of ants and put it in one hand, and then the biomass of humans on the other, one would realize that the biomass of ants would actually weigh more. However, ants do not create waste, they do not destroy the environment so it is not a problem that they are so many. In other words, the problem is not that we are too many, the problem is that we are too stupid. If humans were to live in a sustainable way, the world could actually support many more people.

Another factor to take into consideration is the status of women. As the status of women rises, fertility rates tend to drop. In fact, many countries in western Europe have extremely low birth rates to the point where it is not sustainable.

Therefore, I am not certain of how likely it is for our world to be over populated taking into consideration new green technologies and the rising status of women. However, if there were to be this threat, treatment could just be discontinued. Also, I would like to point out that this treatment does not make humans immortal; people will still die, just not due to aging.

I (extended). Taking Care of the Environment
It is possible that humans will actually take better care of the environment because they themselves would be affected by the deterioration of it. I believe the reason why most people who can protect the environment don't is because it poses no immediate threat to their existence. Moreover, it poses no threat at all to the older generations because they will be dead before they will suffer from their misdoings. Thus, an anti-aging treatment could make humans more environmentally friendly. Although people still would not suffer from their mistakes immediately, it would nevertheless be something significant for them to consider.

II. Violence
Such a radical treatment would definitely cause some unrest. I do not think this treatment will cause wars, but I leave that as a possibility. I think it is more likely that it would cause domestic violence, particularly from religious fundamentalists. I think this subject will be treated similarly as abortion.

III. Good and Bad People Living Indefinitely
I think it is very difficult to imagine if the general good of mankind would benefit or suffer more from good and bad people living indefinitely. It will be helpful first to distinguish different types of bad people, since there are a variety of them. Imagine a pyramid hierarchy with the petty criminals in the bottom and the powerful tyrants in the top. I think it is most likely that the anti-aging treatment will have more effect the higher we look on the pyramid. Petty criminals would still get punished with probably higher jail sentences to adjust to the increase in lifespan. Violent criminals, such as gangsters, would also not be significantly effected due to the dangerous nature of their activities. In other words, they would more likely die before they could take advantage of the treatment. The most considerable effect would be on the powerful tyrants and others who belong in the same category, and seeing that they pose the most formidable threat, I am unable to conclude whether or not society at whole would benefit more or suffer more from good and bad people living indefinitely. One would hope that the good done by good people in general would outweigh the bad done by tyrants.

Final Note

There is one more concept that I would like to give some credit to before I end this essay and it is the instinct factor. However nonacademic and unprofessional this factor sounds, its legitimacy should not be underestimated. For many it is difficult to avoid having a negative initial feeling when hearing about this anti-aging treatment. Although many would not be able to explain this negative feeling and although this anti-aging therapy could be logically explained as something positive, many if not most people would still have a negative feeling towards it. I think there are two likely possibilities for this. One is that people are emotional animals that distinctly dislike what they are not familiar with. The other possibility is that this instinct is brought about from unexplainable and unforeseen negative effects that the subconscious mind realizes. Of course, if its caused by the former, it should be ignored, but if by the latter, we should proceed with caution. And because I am unable to discredit this instinct, I think it would be wise for us to take it into consideration.

In conclusion, I believe the negative effects of this treatment are not considerable enough to outweigh the initial good of relieving pain and extending life; therefore, Dr. de Grey has my support.

Power and Violence

I am currently reading Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy and I have come to an interesting chapter in which he describes three modes of expanding, the third of which, pertains to what I want to analyze.

The third mode is to get not partners but direct subjects, as did the Spartans and the Athenians. Of these three modes, the last is entirely useless, as was seen in the two republics written about above, which were not ruined otherwise than by having acquired dominion they could not keep. For taking care of governing cities by violence, especially those accustomed to living freely, is a difficult and laborious thing. If you are not armed and massive with arms, you can neither command nor rule them. To be like that it is necessary to get partners who aid you and make your city massive with people.

This reminds me of something Chomsky has previously mentioned. Chomsky has stated that it is becoming more and more difficult for states to use violence to control their populations because the masses do not tolerate it anymore. According to Machiavelli's opinion, ruling with violence is entirely useless and since Chomsky talks about recent history and Machiavelli ancient, maybe we can conclude that violence has never been a successful tool to control the masses, at least not for a long period of time.

Of course we have to take into consideration the different contexts that both intellectuals were discussing about. Machiavelli was writing about controlling inhabitants of conquered territory while Chomsky was talking about native populations (the former probably being more difficult due to the lack of sufficient arms for large territories). Nevertheless, I think an enlightening connection can be drawn that educates us a bit more about power and violence.

Living a Modest Life

I would like to spend sometime to explain why I plan on living a modest life and what a modest life specifically entails.

There are a couple of reasons why I believe in living modestly. The first and most obvious reason is because it is better for the environment. Our pursuit of owning more material things is the root cause of many environmental problems and until cradle to cradle is fully implemented, consumption will continue to have a negative impact on our environment. 

The second reason is considerably more complicated because it deals with my spirit. I do not want my material possessions to distract me from connecting my spirit with those who are impoverished. It is somewhat difficult to explain this reason clearly, but it suffices to say that if I were to live a lavish lifestyle, my mind would be occupied with less important things and that would, I believe, lead me away from being in spirit with those who suffer.

Now, I would like to give some idea to what living a modest life specifically entails. Here are the criteria:

no house
no car (unless C2C)
no more than 50,000 dollars equivalent of yearly income
no more clothes than what can fit into a suitcase

These criteria are subject to change when necessity calls for it, e.g. if I have a family, and if I decide to change my criteria, I will make my reasons clear at that time. However, if there is a time when I exceed my set limits when necessity does not call for it, I would like my close friends to assist me in correcting my misdoings.

Somali Pirates

I would like to dedicate some time to discuss the media and specifically about an article that was published on September 30, 2008 titled, “Somali Pirates Tell Their Side – They Want Only Money”.

One could infer from the title itself that most news articles about the Somali pirates do not contain their side of the story, which by default would make them not objective. If this were the case, which I think it is, then the media would have strayed so far away from its original purpose that it has to distinguish certain articles as being fair.

That is unacceptable.

Furthermore, the lack of objectivity is evident in the unawareness of the American public. Do most Americans know why the Somali pirates started to hijack ships?

According to the New York Times article, the Somali pirates started hijacking freighters because they wanted to stop illegal fishing and dumping in their waters, but since then have become corrupt.

Mohamed Osman Aden, a Somali diplomat in Kenya, states “It’s true that the pirates started to defend the fishing business. And illegal fishing is a real problem for us. But this does not justify these boys to now act like guardians. They are criminals. The world must help us crack down on them.”

This is, of course, just a small piece of the puzzle of what is the background to this topic, but it is significant; the American public should know about this, but they don't.

I criticize the media for not fulfilling its responsibility.

World Muslim Population

Muslims have been receiving overwhelmingly negative attention in the past years and I can only think that this has been brought about by Islamic fundamentalists and the War on Terror. It seems to me that the mainstream image of Muslims has been tarnished and I would like to contribute my opinion to this issue. It should be understood that extremists are always in the minority by definition and therefore, to accept this tarnished mainstream image of Muslims would be unfair and just simply inaccurate. Furthermore, the perception that Muslims are predominately in the Middle East is also false; only 20 percent of Muslims live there while 60 percent live in Asia, the highest concentration living in Indonesia as shown in the chart below.


JS Mill's Autobiography

I have just finished reading John Stuart Mill's autobiography and I feel as if he has died for the first time, because prior to reading it, I never felt that he was ever truly alive. His autobiography gave me the impression of his utmost honesty and righteousness, so much that it has now led to my increase of admiration and respect for him. I must admit that I have not read most of his other writings and it is very possible that I never will. However, of those that I have read, all have convinced me of his sense of philanthropy. And even though I never had the chance to know him personally, I will spread his name and his wisdom as if I had.

Here is an excerpt of his autobiography pertaining to his childhood education.

Most boys or youths who have had much knowledge drilled into them, have their mental capacities not strengthened, but over-laid by it. They are crammed with mere facts, and with the opinions or phrases of other people, and these are accepted as a substitute for the power to form opinions of their own: and thus the sons of eminent fathers, who have spared no pains in their education, so often grow up mere parroters of what they have learnt, incapable of using their minds except in the furrows traced for them. Mine, however, was not an education of cram. My father never permitted anything which I learnt to degenerate into a mere exercise of memory. He strove to make the understanding not only go along with every step of the teaching, but, if possible, precede it. Anything which could be found out by thinking I never was told, until I had exhausted my efforts to find it out for myself.