Colorful origami paper cranes appeared on a neighbor's front yard last week, as they often do on lawns across America when a child is dying from a brain tumor. The cranes are supposed to be a heartwarming symbol of eternity, life, and good luck, put up by family and friends to support that child.
Today that child died.
I live in a community of tree-lined streets in San Francisco where many kids go to college and pursue careers in technology, law, and medicine. It's a close-knit neighborhood with few issues. A sick child here usually gets the best healthcare possible. Two of the world's leading medical centers, UCSF and Stanford, are within close driving distance.
Unfortunately, when illness struck this 6-year-old child, the best medicine was not enough. Some people find it hard to believe in our modern world of smart phones and jet travel that we still can't stave off disease. Inevitably, everyone asks: Who or what is responsible for the death of this child? The answer is simple: We are all responsible.
Few people want to address the fact that science and medicine are lagging far behind where they could be if adequate resources were given to them. Even fewer people would agree that they are responsible for that fact. But make no mistake: We are all responsible. We are all responsible for the death of that child. We have not dedicated enough of our time, energy, and resources to the advancement of science and medicine. Furthermore, every time we give a dollar to a religious institution instead of to a scientific institution, every time we endorse a politician who cares more about lobbyists than our fumbling national education system, and every time we support our government's trillion dollar wars instead of a trillion dollar war on cancer, heart disease and diabetes, we support the premature death of innocent people.
I recently took a tour through the research center at SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), one of the most prominent nonprofit scientific organizations attempting to stop aging and disease. Filled with white-gowned men and women bent over microscopes, SENS has many promising scientists in its labs. I asked Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer of SENS, and one of the most visible anti-aging advocates in the world, what the SENS budget was for 2013.
"Less than five million dollars," he told me.
I gasped. That's tiny, I thought. Many nonprofit organizations like World Wildlife Fund, Feed the Children, and Red Cross have at least twenty-five times that amount for their annual budgets. And those organizations are not trying to stop the human race's most significant problem: dying.
There are many excellent research groups around the world trying to eliminate aging and disease, but all of them need more resources to speedily tackle the complexity of human longevity. Yet, nobody is giving enough money to these scientists because nobody cares enough. The US Government isn't doing much either to extend American lifespans. They spend just 2% of the national budget on science and medical research, while their defense budget is over 20%, according to a 2011 US Office of Management Budget chart.
What people don't realize is that with enough research money properly focused—$50 billion dollars, some experts say (the world's wealth is over $200 trillion)—human aging and the terror of disease can likely be halted. In the end of the day, controlling aging and disease are just more science puzzles waiting for the modern world to solve. We could help that process along if we changed the psychology of civilization's culture—a culture that largely believes human death is unstoppable and inevitable. Aging should be seen as a fixable problem, not as a destiny. The human race can overcome its biggest natural hurdle.
My new Psychology Today blog is titled The Transhumanist Philosopher. Every few weeks, I will be writing about how individuals and society are being transformed through rapidly advancing science and technology. I will be bringing you stories that dive into philosophical, sociological, and psychological perspectives of human enhancement, longevity issues, and transhumanism. I will be interviewing futurist and science leaders. I will be reviewing their books and projects. I will be exploring the philosophy of ending human aging and embracing indefinite lifespans.
One theme in my blog will always remain prominent. If, as a society, we choose to begin spending our energy and resources on health and longevity, then we will soon achieve the promise that life extension research, transhumanism, and human enhancement can bring us. We will soon become all that the human being is capable of becoming.
My goal of this blog is to quicken the coming of the day when there will be no more origami paper cranes on anyone's lawns ever again.
Zoltan Istvan is an award-winning journalist, futurist, and activist. You can find him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook,and LinkedIn. Zoltan is also the author of the extraordinary but controversial #1 Philosophical bestseller novel The Transhumanist Wager. Available in ebook or paperback, you can buy it here.