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The Man Who Fights Death

Bob Ettinger deanimated over the weekend, at the ripe old age of 92.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

July 28, 2011 - 12:00 am
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In the past, one could have said “everyone who is bitten by a rabid animal dies,” or “everyone who gets cancer dies,” or “everyone who has contracted AIDS dies.” Technological advances have conquered these problems, at least to a degree. Why not, at some point, death itself? It may not have happened soon enough for Bob Ettinger but to declare that it didn’t is to miss the point. Following his own advice, along with his mother, and his (two) wives (which may make for an interesting relationship for them all if his theory pans out), he has put himself into an ambulance to the future, where he hopes to find better medical care than offered by the present.

One might think that it would be a concept that would be embraced by conservatives who, based on their rhetoric with regard to abortion and euthanasia, would want to conserve nothing more than life itself. But William F. Buckley, founder of National Review, couldn’t get his head around it:

Once, Mr. Ettinger told the New Yorker, he shared a stage with conservative commentator William F. Buckley.

“He was aghast at everything I said. He thought it was immoral, unethical, unsanitary, against the will of God!” he recalled, laughing. “Buckley understood nothing.”

“Liberals” don’t much take to it, either. The science fiction great Isaac Asimov was notoriously opposed to the notion, at least for himself, even though he agreed with the scientific merits and, along with Frederik Pohl, actually urged the republishing of Ettinger’s book on the subject. He refused it himself on the grounds that he wanted to live a “normal” lifespan. And this would be consistent with his (implied) view expressed in (e.g.) Bicentennial Man that one of the things that defines our humanity is our mortality.

If there is a political philosophy that is congenial to the notion of indefinite lifespan, it is libertarianism, and the connection between the two has long been noted. And Ettinger, after all, wasn’t just the father of cryonics as it came to be popularized, but it could be said that he fathered transhumanism itself with his book Man Into Superman.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Traditional conservatives tend to believe that individuals ultimately belong to God, and modern “liberals” tend to believe they are units of the state, or should be part of Gaia’s circle of life. Only libertarians believe that individuals belong to themselves, and want to preserve themselves and their lives as long as happily possible, which also explains their attraction to transhumanism, because they also don’t make as much of a fetish of the human condition as do conservatives.

So, Robert Ettinger, transhumanist, life-extension pioneer, rest at last  in peace.

For now.

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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