As originally posted at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Jan 26, 2012 http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/stambler20120126
A series of activist events for radical life extension recently took place in Israel.
They began in December 2011, with the arrival of “Let Us From Now On” – the first journal in Israel dedicated to the promotion of unlimited life-extension. The interdisciplinary literary and popular scientific journal is printed and online, and is edited by Oded Carmeli, Reuel Shuali and Merav Yachin.
The journal board believes radical life extension means radical life affirmation, and conversely, that the affirmation of life means the end of death. It also believes in the power of modern art and science to affirm life, and it believes there are no grounds for inter-personal, inter-religious or inter-national conflicts among the living. Everyone living has the same primary interest: Radical Life Extension. As the journal manifesto states, “Let us write life-extension.”
On January 13, 02012 (the first zero is added intentionally “to avoid an intellectual Bug2000”) the first issue of the journal was launched at the Milk Club, in Tel Aviv, in a free-spirited celebration of poetry.
On January 20, 02012, at 12.00 am, the journal, in cooperation with the Israeli Transhumanist community, held a demonstration next to the Trumpeldor Cemetery at the center of Tel Aviv. The demonstration was titled, “Against Deathism and For Radical Life-extension.” (It was originally planned for January 13, but was postponed due to heavy rain.)
The event was the world’s second demonstration of this kind (the first took place in Moscow on September, 2011, organized by the Russian Transhumanist Movement).
Approximately 30 people attended. The majority were representatives of Tel Aviv artistic intelligentsia – the union of art and science was one of the demonstration’s explicit goals.
Holding the demonstration next to a cemetery was an issue – to some people it appeared “uncommon” with several people explicitly stating that they would not be attending due to the location and its assumed sensitivities.
To dispel some of the apprehensions, this is an old historical cemetery, which has hardly had any burials for decades. Moreover, the demonstration was held next to the cemetery, on an adjacent street in one of Tel Aviv’s busiest areas. Eventually, we did dare to enter the cemetery itself to read poetry near the grave of the founder of modern Hebrew poetry, Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934). There was not a single soul there beside us.
Other locations could have been chosen: a nursing home, the parliament, a place of significance for the history of medicine or for communal survival. However, the present place was chosen due to its symbolism, as a reminder of what we’re actually fighting against, and as – apparently – the only way to raise interest in the issue of radical life-extension in an atmosphere preoccupied by much more “urgent” and “normal” concerns.
The place is symbolic on several accounts. The cemetery is named after Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920), the general who allegedly said that it is “good to die for your country.” Our message to that is, “it is not good to die, period.” Moreover, radical life extension is for everyone, without difference of nationality, race or creed – this was simultaneously a pacifist event. As the demonstration slogans explicitly stated: “There are no conflicts among the living” and “We shall not die for the grave of Joseph” (the biblical Joseph).
Another dignitary buried in the cemetery is Max Nordau (1849-1923), one of the founders of the modern movement for Jewish settlement in the land of Israel. He wrote a review on Jean Finot’s book “The Philosophy of Long Life” (1900), one of the earliest books that placed the pursuit of radical life extension and development of the human species on a modern scientific basis. In that review, Nordau wrote:
“The author studies the great problems which have for so long troubled humanity. And if he, like his numerous predecessors, does not succeed in solving them, he presents them with a science whose range will astonish the reader, and with a philosophy so smiling that it succeeds in giving to life innumerable attractions.”
And this was our message precisely.
As Chaim Nachman Bialik himself said in one of his poems, “After my death, eulogize me thus: There was a man, and look, he is no more. This man died before his time. The song of his life was cut in the middle. Pity! He would have yet another song and this song is lost forever.”
So perhaps, there was no more suitable place to hold a demonstration for radical life extension.
The speakers were unanimous in their solidarity with this pursuit, yet emphasized different aspects (I am taking the liberty of translating):
The high-tech entrepreneur and futurist Yanki Margalit, the founder of “Aladdin Knowledge Systems”, said:
“To want life-extension is not something lyrical, it is something which is happening and which people are working for. I don’t think it will be an exaggeration to think that our children and the children of our children will live hundreds of years. There is nothing illogical about it. … I want to praise tradition, the tradition that increased human life expectancy from 20 to 50 to 80 years. What a wonderful tradition this is, the tradition of research, science, development, progress, foresight. We have to continue this tradition. What has been, will be. This process has to continue – 80, 100, 200 years, and who knows what next? But that will apparently be the lot of our children, not ours. We belong to the generation of Moses. And if someone proves me wrong, I will be happy. Wishing us all success.”
The editors of “Let Us From Now On,” the poets Oded Carmeli and Reuel Shuali, read from the journal manifesto :
“If enough of the living free themselves from the tyranny of the dead, we will all finally direct our spiritual, material and scientific resources to that which each of us wants and has been shy to demand: Life. Indefinite Life Extension…. It is a clear-cut fact, that those who follow their ancestors should expect a similar fate. Unlike the dead, there are no interpersonal or international conflicts between the living. All interests are in line with the one common interest: prolonging life. The lifestyle should serve life. The living should serve life. The living should write life. Let us from now on write the prolongation of life.”
The poet Jeremy Fogel, one of the contributors to “Let us from now on,” said:
“I came to speak of the prophetic words of Nietzsche. … Are we able to imagine ourselves living forever? Can we master our mental and spiritual powers to withstand the idea of immortality? And even more than withstand it, will we learn to want it? How? … The answer is quite simple: Art! Art is the healing sorceress that follows the history of humanity from its earliest moments. It is art that allows for the continuity, the affirmation of life and return.”
Prof. Gabriel Moked, a writer, professor of philosophy at Ben Gurion University and editor in chief of the journal “Akhshav” remarked:
“The struggle with death has been at the center of our poetry. And I think of two of my friends, who are not with us any longer, David Avidan and Yona Wallach. For them this was a crucial issue, and I think that Oded Carmeli [the editor of “Let us from now on”] is a worthy continuer of this tradition. … There is the so called “natural” approach that says: “What shall we do if our lives are very long? Won’t we be bored? I want to tell you that I am never bored. … I also reject entirely the so called “natural” approach saying that life and death are inseparable. No. There will be a breakthrough in biology. The matter is rather trivial, a matter of manipulating proteins and cells. We may not solve all the great philosophical and religious problems… but we will live very long. … You know the Latin proverb “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” (the art is long and the life is short). I hope that not only the art but life too will be long.”
Ilia Stambler (myself) an historian of life-extensionism at Bar Ilan University and an activist in the Israeli Transhumanist community, had these comments :
“I am excited and honored to be at the world’s second demonstration for radical life- extension… It is possible and necessary to fight death. Death is not written in stone, and death from aging, as death from any other cause, is not written in stone, but is subject to intervention. … As one researcher of aging said, ‘Almost everyone thinks we need the battleships and almost no one thinks we need the old men.’ Here we demonstrate against this attitude. Here we pronounce the ideal of radical life extension.'”
Shortly after the demonstration, a mini-conference was held on January 22, in the evening, in Soda Bar in Tel Aviv on the topics of Transhumanism, Singularity and Life Extension. The conference was held in the “science at the bar” format (smoking not allowed, drinking and the rest allowed), to acquaint the broad public with life-extension research and philosophy, under the heading “We have just started, are we already tired?”
At the conference, the historian Yoval Noah Harari from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem presented the topic “A guide for beginning gods”; Ilia Stambler (me again), a medical historian from Bar Ilan University, presented “The past and future of life extension”; poet Amir Menshahoff read “In the middle of the way”; Cochi Cohen, a lecturer in biotechnology and life-extension research activist, presented “Radical Life Extension: With or without the parents”; poet Oded Carmeli read “The death rate of birth givers is 100%”; Noam Maoz, a researcher of the molecular biology of aging from Bar Ilan University presented,”The battle against aging: current approaches of mainstream science”; poet Roy Caspi read “God in Allenby. The habits of summer evenings.” The evening was hosted by the poet Reuel Shuali.
Special thanks go to the Tel Aviv Cinematheque director Uri Aviv, the film-maker Roy Cohen, the author Asaf Shtull-Trauring, the Hava Lehaba editor Merav Yachin, the art designers Eidan Epstein and Nataly Kirilov, and all the other wonderful people who helped and attended!.
Thus, in these events – the journal launching, the demonstration, and the mini-conference – the issue of the pursuit of radical life-extension was publicly raised, perhaps for the first time in our country. Though only several dozen people took part physically, thousands of people were notified of these events. Furthermore, the events were, or will be, in the Israeli media: “Haarets” newspaper, “Time Out Tel Aviv” magazine, Ynet video, a forthcoming documentary, and more. Even though no well-formulated demands were presented to officials (that would be too early and completely in vain), the events significantly raised the awareness of the subject of radical life extension and this is already a great achievement.
Perhaps an even greater achievement is the absolutely amazing support and solidarity of the international Transhumanist community!
Greetings were extended to the demonstration by Natasha Vita-More, Chair of Humanity + (World Transhumanist Association).
Greetings were sent by Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer at Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) Foundation
Further greeting came from Prof. Frank Tipler of Tulane University, the author of “The Physics of Immortality” who was at the time a guest of honor at Tel Aviv University:
Massive expression of support came from the Russian Transhumanist Movement, the organizers of the world’s first demonstration for radical life extension, including greetings form the movement leaders, Danila Medvedev, Valeria Pride, Alex Turchin, and even from Russia’s youngest Transhumanist, the 10 year old Sasha Melanchenko.
Additional support was expressed by Dr. James Hughes, Chair of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies , and Hank Pellissier, Managing Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Plus, we received support from Justin Loew, President of “Longecity – Advocacy and Research for Unlimited Lifespans” (formerly Immortality Institute), and Eric Schulke, Longecity director; Didier Coeurnelle, co-president of Heales – European Healthy Life Extension Society, and Joshua Fox, a fellow of the Singularity Institute.
In view of the demonstration and the journal launching, interviews have been granted to “Time Out Tel Aviv” by David Kekich, President of Maximum Life Foundation, and David Orban, a director of Humanity + and faculty member of Singularity University.
Thank you so much for your wonderful support!
In solidarity with the cause of radical life extension!
More details (in Hebrew and English), including the full demands of the demonstration, the journal manifesto, venue updates, pictures and annotated videos, can be found
at the site of Humanity + Israel.
I want to conclude with comments by Danila Medvedev, head of the Russian Transhumanist Movement:
“These are new times for Transhumanism, the times when Transhumanists go to the streets, to cemeteries, to city squares and loudly pronounce what they are striving for. First of all, we strive that the prolongation of life will become a reality. Because without the preservation of life, we cannot speak of other realities and other goals. We demand the beginning of research for the prolongation of life, for the struggle with aging, so every person will be able to use all currently available technologies to avoid death, and to help the near and dear ones to avoid it as well. And we are happy that not only in Russia, there have started political activities related to life extension. This activity begins in the necessary format – not just by negotiations with politicians or science officials, but by going to the streets. Because no great change in human history has been realized without common people first demanding it from the government and from the society. This is the way discriminatory laws have been abolished, this is how the economic situation changed, this is how wars have been stopped. In the same way we will achieve the prolongation of life. Because this is not just a scientific question, this is first of all a social task. As long as the society calmly accepts the consumerist miracles it is offered, and does not think about the future, does not think about the possibility of human beings becoming something more, as we Transhumanists speak about it, do not think about life extension – so long the society will not place priority on scientific research. I am therefore very glad that not only in our country, but now also in Israel and hopefully soon also in other countries, Transhumanists go to the streets, in the format of a demonstration, and in a language understandable to the politicians and to the society speak of what we demand. Wishing you success in your political struggle. We are with you.”
Ilia Stambler is an Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and a doctoral candidate at the department of Science, Technology and Society at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. His recently completed dissertation concerns the “History of Life-extensionism in the 20th century.”