Ask yourself this: why do you think of senescence (the process of deterioration resulting in becoming elderly, and eventually, dying of it) as inevitable? I ask why, not if, because universally nearly everyone seems to have simply accepted it without question. Yes, it may be true that death due to old age has been inevitable for all of human history, but then again, until very recently, so was the possibility of death due to other sorts of diseases (polio, the bubonic plague, etc.). Yet science has continued marching on at an exponential pace, achieving breakthroughs so groundbreaking and revolutionary that we couldn’t even dream of them just decades prior. Thus, it is inevitable that the inevitability of old age itself will be overridden.
Old age is the number one cause of human death in western societies. It manifests itself in all sorts of different forms — heart disease, organ failure, weakening bones and muscles leading to increasingly prevalent and dangerous accidents, etc. We have been doing some research on the problem, and we have some intriguing leads on one of the possible causes of senescence (shortening telomeres after each cellular division) and some possible ideas on how to delay it (reduced calorie diets, probably mimmickable using drugs without the constant hunger). Yet we aren’t putting nearly the same effort into curing old age as we are into all sorts of lesser diseases that don’t kill anywhere near the same number of people. This point is made very elegantly in the form of a parable called The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant; I highly recommend that you read it.
The only reason that we aren’t putting more effort towards curing old age is because all too many people think it is inevitable. They see it as part of being human, something to be accepted rather than overcome. Religion arguably exists to get people to accept that their time on Earth will come to an end, spinning all sorts of fairy tales in the process about infinite, perfect afterlives in heaven or reincarnation. But why look for consolation in myths when we can get rid of the reason for the creation of those myths in the first place? Death is bad; it kills people, and those who depart are sorely missed by the many who are still living. Don’t over think it; death is bad, thus solving the number one cause of death is good.
Imagine how much better the world would be if people didn’t suffer from old age. Instead of growing old and eventually becoming useless, you would simply continue being yourself, extending your productive life for decades, if not centuries. You could forget those ever-present fears in modern society of becoming unable to do things you once enjoyed, and becoming a drag on your loved ones. Is this not a worthwhile goal?
The only possible objection anyone could have to this plan is a concern over overpopulation. But consider that many western societies are already below replacement rates; having people live longer might actually be the only thing that would keep them from collapsing. And once lifespans are measured in centuries rather than decades, birth rates will go down. If you have centuries of fertile adulthood ahead of you, what’s the rush in having kids now? And don’t go assuming that all the humans that there ever will be will all have to be crammed onto just this one planet. We are eventually going to spread to the stars and beyond, so being able to live productive lives stretching across many centuries will be exactly what we need.
The next time that someone tries to claim that senescence is inevitable, that it is part of the human condition and not something to be overcome, gently tell them that they are wrong. The more minds that we educate, the more consciousnesses that we raise, the closer we will become to curing the worst plague ever to afflict humanity. And the stakes are depressingly urgent: for each further year that we dally and do not focus our full attention on the problem, millions more people will unnecessarily die.