Not all discriminations are born equal

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything new. I’ve been quite busy lately with a lot of things, including rebooting looking4troubles, my other blog. As a result, my topic list for Rejuvenaction has been growing dangerously long, so I decided it’s about time I tackled some of the lengthiest items on my list.

People like talking about justice, equality, and discrimination a lot. I mean a lot. In my experience, though, most tend to focus mainly or entirely on the type(s) of discrimination they’re more interested in for whatever reason, sometimes minimising others or not even noticing they exist in the first place. Some other times, they even end up endorsing one type of discrimination for the sake of warding off another.

As if poor people cared

Take the good ol’ ‘only the rich‘ objection against rejuvenation. Its essence is that, to forestall the possibility of rejuvenation being available only to a few wealthy ones, rejuvenation should not be created at all—if not everyone can have it, then no one should have it.

The core misconception behind this argument is obvious. Given a certain gap between rich people and poor people, if you better rich people’s lives in any way you do widen the rich-poor gap, but you do not change the poor’s quality of life at all. In other words, if you develop any new technology and only rich people have access to it, you make rich people better off than they were before, while nothing changes, in absolute terms, for the poor people. They are worse off than before with respect to the rich, but this hardly matters. Their living conditions are exactly the same as before, for good or bad. Rich people’s quality of life is not the yardstick by which we should measure everyone else’s quality of life. If extreme poverty didn’t exist and the poorest person in the world was as wealthy as a typical middle-class person in the western world, I think we’d have little to complain about the existence of all the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs. (Except perhaps for some who seem to be unable to lead a happy life if they don’t have something to be unhappy about.)

Even without bothering with rejuvenation, poor people don’t really care if Mark Zuckerberg has one Ferrari, or two, or three, or none—they’re likely more concerned with whether they have food for one day, or two, or three, or none. It could be argued that Zuckerberg could spend more money on the poor rather than on Ferraris (which he probably does—I just needed a rich guy’s name), but while I’m okay with prioritising poor people’s needs over buying Ferraris, I’m not okay with prioritising the lives of starving people over the lives of geriatric patients. They’re both in danger and they’re both suffering. Rich or poor doesn’t matter: Any elderly person is just not as healthy as a young one, irrespectively of their wealth, and they’re possibly closer to the grave than a young starved person is. I’m not saying we should prioritise rejuvenation over combating world hunger; I’m saying they’re equally important, and they can and should be fought simultaneously.

Discriminating discriminations

Ah, but I’m neglecting an important factor at play here, am I not? If rejuvenation was only for the rich, that would be discrimination against the poor. You would have right to good health only if you were rich enough, and that would be unjust. It would indeed, and I am the first to say that we need to make sure that equal access to rejuvenation is granted to everyone as soon as possible. That is why we should discuss these topics already now, when rejuvenation is mostly on the drawing board and partly in the lab: We’ve got all the time in the world to make things work out nicely.

To some, however, this is not enough, and they’d sooner have everyone wilt and die than let only the rich benefit from rejuvenation. Sometimes I have the feeling that, in the collective imagination of people, ‘the rich’ are evil incarnate. Are all rich people so bad that they deserve to age to death? Why? And who gets to decide it? Even if not everyone was able to benefit from rejuvenation from the very beginning, as compassionate and caring human beings as we should be, what should we decide about rejuvenation’s fate? That it should be created and save at least some lives in the present, and hopefully every life in the future, or that it should never be created and save no life at all? What about those future generations that we seem to worry about so much in terms of climate change and pollution? They deserve a clean world, but not a disease-free existence?

In case it went unnoticed, the type of discrimination that rejuvenation opposers are trying to fight off with the ‘only the rich’ objection is income/wealth discrimination; the form of discrimination they’re endorsing (whether they realise it or not) is a form of ageism; whatever their reasons may be, whenever people say that rejuvenation should not be developed, they’re saying that elderly people should not have the chance of equally good health as younger people.

Some opposers are not only concerned that rejuvenation would not be available to all; they’re also concerned that being rejuvenated or not might in itself become a discriminating factor. For example, suppose that not everyone wants to undergo rejuvenation treatments and prefer to age and die ‘normally’. What if—I was asked once—an employer denied you a job on these grounds?

This question betrays a lack of understanding of several things—the fact that rejuvenation is not a single-shot therapy that you take now or never, or only once and for all, for example—but anyway the point here is not the answer to this particular concern. The point is that some people seem very concerned about the potential discrimination that rejuvenation might cause, but not very much about the concrete discrimination against elderly people, actually taking place here and now each time we question and postpone the development of comprehensive anti-ageing therapies that could fully restore chronologically old people’s health. While we ponder this and that hypothetical future problem, elderly people suffer from all sorts of ailments.

Equality in a cloak and a scythe

Going back to the ‘for all or for no one’ argument that some people like to make, I wonder if they would still make it if the matter being discussed was something other than rejuvenation. In the case of rejuvenation, they would prefer it not to be developed at all rather than risk unequal access to it. Would they think the same of human rights, for example? Unfortunately, human rights are not respected everywhere. By the ‘for all or for none’ logic, for the sake of avoiding inequality and injustice it would be better to take human rights away from everyone rather than have only some people enjoy this privilege. Even better, perhaps, human rights should never have been invented to begin with. A more fitting example is an evergreen: vaccines. Even today they’re not equally accessible everywhere, let alone when they were first invented. Maybe, if vaccines hadn’t been invented in the first place, we would have experienced less inequality; at the same time, though, a lot of people, rich and poor alike, would have died of infectious diseases before age 2 in the past decades.

Here I’m touching another point that some advocates of ageing like to make: Death is the ‘great equaliser’. If vaccines had not been invented, then not only the poor who could not afford vaccines would die of infectious diseases; everyone would, even the rich. If nothing else, like some authors suggest, the poor can take comfort in the fact that the rich will die too, just like them. If we developed rejuvenation, for example, we’d run the risk of depriving the poor of this ‘comfort’ and would make the world a much too unequal place. I am frankly quite amused at how nonchalantly some people call schadenfreude ‘equality’ or ‘justice’: Be happy, dear poor person, for even if you and your children have suffered many privations, rich people will one day die, just like you will! Wohoo. If that ain’t a reason to throw the wildest party, I don’t know what is.

I would really like to ask a simple question to all the poor people whom the advocates of death like to speak for: Would you rather take the chance that rejuvenation might be available to everyone, including you, or the certainty that both you and all the rich will age to death? I wonder how many would actually find the second option more enticing than the first.

Short update

As I was saying elsewhere, the past month or so has been rather busy, and I haven’t had time to write a line anywhere. Now that that’s dealt with, let me give you a short update on what’s new with the rejuvenation world before I move on to some more meaty post.

You probably already know about Michael Greve’s lavish donation to ageing research, for which humanity as a whole should be grateful. That’s very good news. Still on the subject of money, the OncoSENS crowfunding campaign will end in about a day, and last time I checked it had reached around 56% of its 60.000$ goal. You still have time to make your contribution—they’re all welcome, big and small ones alike. I hear from Keith Comito of that an “exciting announcement” about the campaign will be made during the RB2016 live streaming—because yes, they’re doing streaming it this year—and I’m looking forward to know what it is.

Introducing l4t

As I have mentioned before, I have another blog where I post about pretty much anything crossing my mind. The blog’s name is looking4troubles and it is still quite new, less than two months old.

While Rejuvenaction is and will always be the main hub through which I give my humble contribution to the cause of rejuvenation, I will post rejuvenation-related stuff on l4t too, hoping that people who end up over there to read other posts will become interested in rejuvenation as well.

As a formal introduction of l4t to readers of Rejuvenaction, I would like to copypaste my first l4t blog post in the category of rejuvenation—which I thought appropriate to call Rejuvenaction. The post’s title is How would you feel?

There is a story I would like to tell before I forget it. It is a real story, and in a very sad way, it is the perfect story to inaugurate this new category with.

About three weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were returning home from the supermarket on a Friday night. The end of March is still quite cold and dark in Finland, and when you’re carrying heavy bags full of groceries you generally want to get home fast, especially if you’re coming from a tiring and eventful week. We don’t live far from the supermarket, but the area is fairly isolated at night, closer to the outskirts than the city centre. Finland is a very safe country, and your odds to run into troubles are extremely low. Worst-case scenario, you might bump into a drunk, and dammit, most drunks I’ve met in Finland are more well-educated than your average Italian. But that’s not the kind of encounter we had.

We were talking about something I can’t recall when we passed next to a person. I couldn’t see this person very well. I had a feeling it was a woman, but that’s all I could tell. As we passed her, I thought I could hear a voice calling. Maybe it was her, but she was probably talking on the phone or something, I told myself. Then I heard calling again, and it was then I turned around to see if it was that person trying to talk to us.

It was an old Finnish lady, looking quite lost and tired. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the entire conversation line by line, so I’ll have to improvise a little as I translate from Finnish. My girlfriend is not yet fluent in Finnish, and she didn’t participate to the conversation. It was just me and the old lady.

“Yes?” I said.
“Sorry, how do you get on a bus around here? I’ve been walking back and forth for half an
hour and I got nowhere,” she replied.
“There’s a bus stop right there,” I said pointing at a stop less than 400 metres away, in the same direction we were going.
“What bus stops there?”
“79, it goes to Herttoniemi. There’s another stop over there,” I continued pointing at a stop at about the same distance in the opposite direction. “79 goes by that stop too. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the city centre. I’ve been waiting for a bus over there for a while, but it never comes…” I am not quite sure where she meant. It probably was another stop close by, where bus 68—which does go to the centre—is systematically late. The lady started to look like she was about to cry. As she began rummagging in her handbag looking for something, I asked my girlfriend to take her phone out and check Google Maps.
“Would a bus to the central railway station be okay?” I asked the lady, since the station is located in the very city centre.
“It would be, sure…” she replied, as she looked around confused and visibly heartbroken. I told my girlfriend what to look for, and she quickly came up with a couple of options. I started explaining the lady what the options were, not yet convinced she was crying. Maybe she was just blowing her nose, I thought. I was trying to explain the quickest way to get to the centre, but as I’m not 100% fluent in FInnish, I didn’t quite know how to phrase what I wanted to say.
“Tell you what,” she said, “let’s forget the whole thing. I’ll just call a taxi.”
I insisted the bus stop was really close, and suggested I could come with her myself.
“No, don’t worry,” she answered, “I’ll find my way there. I’ve been living in Helsinki my whole life, that’s 70 years. Do I look my age?” she asked, with an incredibly bitter smile, made even more sad by her tears.
“You do,” I said after a brief pause. That’s possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. “Are you alright, madam? I’m getting a little worried…”
“Don’t worry, I’m fine, I’m fine…”
“Again, how about I come with you to the nearest stop and we wait for the bus?”
“No, no, it’s not necessary. My fellow Finnish citizens don’t worry about me, I don’t see why you should…”
“It really would be no problem,” I insisted, talking over her.
“…Maybe where you come from, you have a better concept of love, and that’s why…”
“I don’t know about that, madam…”
“Well, that’s just my opinion. You both have been wonderful and I’m very thankful…”
She then proceeded to hug us both, and continued saying she would call a cab. I asked if she had a phone with her and knew where to call. She said she did. I asked if she was going home, and if anyone was there. She was indeed going home, but she said she lives alone. I tihnk I suggested a few more times I could at least wait with her until the cab arrives, but she was adamant I should not. She hugged us once more, and as I wished her all the best, she slowly started to walk in the direction opposit to ours, faltering along the way. We gazed at her for a minute or two. My girlfriend cried for a while, as I explained what we had said.

You might think I’m now going to complain about the supposed heartlessness of Finnish people the old lady hinted at, or about how we should take better care of the elderly. I won’t. I have never been a fan of placebo ‘solutions’. I belong to an entirely different school of thought, one that is thankfully gaining more and more popularity. I will tell you more about it in my next post in this category. In the meanwhile, I will leave you with one question. How would you feel if one day, you or your loved ones ended up walking alone on the street, sick and tired, barely able to walk, grieving your lost independence and fearing the few days left ahead, feeling abandoned and not even knowing how to get back home? This article on Business Insider may help you answering.