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Against immortality: On the ethics of living forever

In Real Life magazine, Jasper Avery argues that living forever—especially in it’s techno-enable, Silicon Valley form—is fundamentally unethical. Avery suggests that science, as a methodology and worldview, is unqualified to ethically evaluate questions around death and immortality. “Dying, as an experience,” writes Avery, “is not something that science is equipped to say anything meaningful about.” Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

If we indulge these dreams of science enthusiasts and Silicon Valley technocrats to assume that biological immortality is attainable and getting closer every day, we must ask questions about how it will function as a piece of social technology. Fighting for the right to death in a mortal society is hard enough as it is; the legal battle for the right to euthanasia is proof enough of this. It is impossible to imagine how complex the issue will become if immortality is ever achieved.

I’m not interested here in the obvious problems: the logistics and politics of an egalitarian distribution of the right to immortality, assuming that it is a medical procedure; or the organization of labor with an undying workforce, assuming the capitalist mode of production still exists. These are just the fundamental flaws of capitalism with a new paint job.

My interest, instead, is in the utter metaphysical poverty of scientism, which is fundamentally unable to address ethical questions. Adopting science as a worldview, instead of a methodology, means accepting philosophical positions such as physicalist materialism and logical positivism in the same breath that one denies those positions have any meaningful content. Science, the methodology, is a descriptive project. An ethics informed exclusively by this methodology is a twisting, self defeating object — one that denies that ethics exist in a meaningful (i.e. physical) sense, but still tries to manipulate and understand them. This strange project can provide us with only one compelling normative ethical belief — that it is unethical to die — which endows scientific practice, particularly medicine, with the ability to furnish endlessly elastic moral arguments against death. It threatens to use its institutional power to steal from us our right to death.

Image via MIT Technology Review.