Hank Pellissier: Hi Ilia. To start off, can you give our readers some biographical info about yourself? We know you are an IEET Affilate Scholar, but what else? Thanks.
Ilia Stambler: I was born in the city of Balti (Belz), Moldova, and lived for most of my youth in the city of Balashikha near Moscow, Russia. I moved to Israel in 1990 at the age of 18. Both in Russia and Israel, I took courses in bioengineering and biology. But my BA and MA are in English literature from Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. For more than ten years I worked as a scientific and technological writer and translator on biomedicine. Recently I completed my PhD dissertation at the department of Science, Technology and Society of Bar Ilan University. My topic was “A History of Life-extensionism in the Twentieth Century.” I started this research as a way to contribute to the cause of life-extension which, I believe, is one of the most important causes one can undertake. And now I am looking for new ways to promote the cause.
Hank Pellissier: How did you get the idea to start the Longevity Party?
Ilia Stambler: I grew up in Moldova and Russia where the ideas of life-extension were relatively quite wide-spread. The world’s first institute “For the Study and Combat of Aging” was established in Kishinev, Moldova, before WWII. And in the 1980s, there existed in the Soviet Union the all-state “Life Extension Program,” involving more than 80 academic institutes and university departments, dedicated to “control the rate of aging.” I grew up on such ideas and continue to uphold them.
Specifically, regarding my involvement in the Longevity Party, I believe Tolstoy had the strongest influence. My MA thesis was entitled “Heroism and Heroic Death in Nineteenth Century Literature.” Its main part was contrasting Tolstoy’s a-heroic social model, as epitomized in the Epilogue to War and Peace,with Thomas Carlyle’s heroic vision in On Heroes. And the thesis mainly consisted in agreeing with Tolstoy’s ideas, namely, that there is no such thing as a “heroic death” and that all deaths are tragic and unnecessary, and furthermore that there is not even such a thing as “heroes” or “leaders.” Tolstoy gives a wonderful example: if men want to carry a log, they all have to pull together. The so called “leader” may urge them all he wants, but unless they all decide to pull the log, it will not move. Hence, everyone shares the responsibility for the action in an equal measure.
I believe these are the ideas fit for the longevity party. First of all, there is no such thing as a “good” or “justifiable” death, whether it is death in battle or death from aging. All causes and cases of death should be struggled against, including aging. And secondly, we all have to work together to achieve this purpose.
I have to qualify that I started nothing, lead no one and represent no one, either officially or unofficially. All my views are exclusively my own. But I do pride myself on being an active member of the longevity movement or longevity party, understood in the sense of Meriam-Webster’s definition as a “group participating in an action.” In this sense, the longevity party has existed since very long before I was born and will exist for a very long time yet. But I am indeed happy and proud to participate in “carrying the log.”
Hank Pellissier: What is your vision for a global international Longevity Party?
Ilia Stambler: That will depend on the exact definition of the Longevity Party. In the most general sense of a “group participating in an action” that is working to achieve longevity for each and all, I can only hope that this group will grow ever larger and that people everywhere will research and advocate for life-extension in any way possible.
In a more narrow political sense, the Longevity Party can be understood simply as a group of people who are finally ready to take political action for life extension, in any political way imaginable and everywhere – through lobbying, law proposals, petitions and open letters, group and public gatherings, demonstrations, votes of confidence, networking and perhaps many other ways. Any particular affiliation is not necessary for such a political effort, it may be pursued through any and all political parties, as well as through non-governmental public organizations, or just as private and grass-roots initiatives. The different streams are not mutually exclusive, but mutually reinforcing.
In my view, the most general goals should be expanding and optimizing funding for healthy life-extension research and promoting the currently known measures for healthy life extension, for the young and old alike. I hope such research and health measures will be promoted politically as widely and actively as possible.
And in the narrowest sense of an “officially registered political party,” my hope is first of all that it will really be established. Indeed, there are many political venues to fight for life extension. Yet a dedicated longevity party has a place and benefit of its own. One of its major benefits is that it can involve massive participation (unlike more academic or elitist initiatives) – with people discussing, voting, acting – under a common banner and within a defined framework. The second is that a party can promote international cooperation. There has been a long, successful tradition of international party associations, which proved valuable to its participants. I believe that a particular association for the advocates of longevity from across the world will be highly encouraging and beneficial. And the third advantage is that such a party can goad other parties to take the issue of life-extension on board. Now it is simply not in the political lexicon. The LP can serve as a catalyst to introduce the issue of life-extension as an integral part of political discussion and public action.
Particular actions and forms will depend on people’s level of activism. It is unclear to me when and where a longevity party will be first “officially registered” – it will depend on the number of interested people and funds. But some form of political involvement will be possible at any time and everywhere, even with a single participant in a country.
Hank Pellissier: What response have you gotten so far?
Ilia Stambler: Some people simply dismiss the idea, as some people dismiss the very idea of life-extension. They don’t think that aging is a disease, or that life extension is possible, or that death from aging is undesirable, etc. Or else, they don’t think of their mortality at all (acting as if they are already immortal). For whatever reason, they are not interested. One of the main points of creating this party would be to raise the general interest in the topic of life-extension.
Still, many people are inspired by the idea. Some are interested, but raise important and valuable criticisms, concerns and suggestions that need to be addressed.
Some people worry that this is just a “single issue party” and as such it would have difficulty to compete with parties with presumably well-rounded and encompassing programs. It should perhaps be stated from the outset, that there have been examples of highly successful “single issue” parties. Yet, crucially, “life-extension” is in no way a “single issue,” as “life” is not a single issue. The pursuit of life-extension will involve the entire social infrastructure, yet impart a particular emphasis. Furthermore, particular policies can be straightforwardly established as compatible or incompatible with the longevity party’s main purpose. Just think what policies would be likely to shorten or prolong human life, and you will have the longevity party’s position.
A related concern was that, even though people may agree on the common goal of longevity, the party may be torn apart by disagreements in other areas. For example there may be a rift between proponents of “government programs” and “free enterprises.” At this point, one can only say that the common goal of promoting longevity is enough of a unifying force to reconcile any such seeming contradictions. With this realization, we can strive to balance various tendencies and proclivities.
Another concern was that most of the people involved in the longevity movement (whether they identify with the party or not) are amateurs in politics. That is certainly true to some extent and we will have a lot to learn about the workings of the political system. But we should in no way underestimate our capabilities. The idea of life-extension is a worthy cause to pursue, and someone has to pursue it. And if there were no new-comers and enthusiasts in politics, there might just have been no politics at all. Hank Pellissier: What practical Longevity Party steps have you taken in your own nation - Israel?
Ilia Stambler: As I mentioned, the particular actions will depend on the level of activism and involvement. With the current level of activism, we were able to hold some discussions and formulate some documents, and did some lobbying in the parliament. http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/stambler201207171
With a greater level of involvement, more actions will be possible. Still the start has been made. All this international political effort, however small its degree now, simply did not exist just a couple of months ago.
Hank Pellissier: What is your prediction for the future? when will immortality be achieved? if ever? will it only be for the rich ? will there be conflict about that?
Ilia Stambler: Immortality will not be achieved ever, it is impossible logically. One cannot say “I achieved immortality” as one cannot say “I counted to infinity.” The things that are possible are rejuvenation (restoration of the structural and functional state of the aged), radical life extension (living far longer than we live now), perhaps even unlimited life extension (having no real constraints to the life-span). But, in any sense, immortality will always be “potential” and never “actual”. But we need to work to gain that “potentiality”, now we are not even close.
I have great difficulties in estimating any specific time frames. There are no theoretical constraints to “potential immortality.” But there are many severe practical constraints. Their resolution will only depend on the amount of effort directed toward it. The solution may arrive earlier or later, but if nobody works for the solution, it will never arrive. Also, the pursuit of longevity is not an “all or nothing” pursuit, any incremental improvement is welcome, and such improvements can and do occur at any time.
I don’t expect at all that radical life extension will only be available for the rich or any other select group. This is an extremely unlikely scenario for a whole variety of reasons. For one, now the means for radical life-extension do not exist, and for them to appear a communal effort will be needed. And when they do appear, generous people will take care that it reaches everyone or envious people will take care that it does not reach only a few. I believe there can be no conflict in the pursuit of life-extension, life-extension is a unifying task of humanity.
Hank Pellissier: What do you see as the best path to Radical Life Extension? Genetics? Nano? etc? What nations are currently leading the research?
Ilia Stambler: I believe that the path to radical life extension will consist in developing the means of maintaining homeostasis, in other words maintaining stability and balance. There can be innumerable forms of homeostasis on various levels of organization (nano-scale molecular, micro-scale genetic, macro-scale tissue up to the whole organism). And the stable homeostasis can be maintained by innumerable methods. But the notion of a stable homeostatic balance should be central, hence the importance of the computational apparatus capable of estimating and prescribing the right balance.
Today, the US is without any doubt the world leader in life-extension research, simply in terms of investments in the field, more than probably all the other nations altogether (still even this amount cannot be considered sufficient). I believe one of the social paths to life-extension is to spread the effort more evenly among all the countries of the world.
Hank Pellissier: What help would you like to get with your endeavor?
Ilia Stambler: All we can ask for is for people to get involved: start local groups, both live and online, prepare and discuss programmatic documents, attempt to lobby politicians. If not politically, just get involved in life-extension in any way – through research, donations or just discussions with friends. Together we will create the necessary social pressure for the goal of life-extension to move forward.