Journal of a Futurist - 9 August 2004
The Future of Death
Body, mind, soul, a people, a Parliament
Its all around us, isnt it? More than ever in our face and on the news, and Im not just talking about famine, war and ailing friends. Theres a shift in the wind. Death itself is under attack. Scores of scientists at the edge are aiming to still the hand of the Grim Reaper, to put him out to pasture, as it were, his blade rusting in the setting sun.
A rising star in the Wests ever expanding immortalist firmament is Aubrey de Grey, a computer scientist who works with a Cambridge genetics team to unravel the genome of the fruit fly - his day job. The rest of the time hes busy adapting the principles of engineering to winding back aging, not just slowing it down. His "Eureka!" moment came, as explained to Fortune Magazine, when he asked himself a question: "What would it take to bioengineer a non-aging human?" The light dawned as he scribbled a remarkably short list - only seven things had to be prevented, mainly toxic byproducts of metabolisms that accumulate in the body over time. He realized that we could bloody well fix them all. We could go in and periodically clean up the seven deadly things before they cause problems." As far as de Grey is concerned, and many others, aging is a curable disease.
THAT HAPPY STATE OF ESCAPE VELOCITY
Do I hear the youngsters quaking in their Ugh boots? Granny may never take her last trip, poised as she is to benefit from engineered negligible senescence. Some of de Grey's proposed fixes are already in the works, according to Fortune, such as regenerating withered tissues with youth enhancing stem cells. Other radical gerontologists extol the potential of nanotech to rejuvenate our organs from the inside. For Cyborgians, the end of death lies in silicon & steel, which can augment our bodies, extend our memories and eventually host our uploaded consciousness. Many knowledgeable observers, including myself, notes Ray Kurzweil, feel that within ten years well add more than a year per year to life expectancy. So as we get older, human life expectancy will expand at a faster rate than were progressing with age.This happy state is known as "escape velocity, in which years of life are added faster than time can extract them.
The term for this buzzy aspiration is transhumanism the quest to become posthuman by any means necessary, usually with the aid of bio-tech, robo-tech, nano-tech, wishful thinking and lotsa pharmaceuticals. The focus of Aubrey de Grey is on utilising stem cells, proteins and enzymes, reportedly building persuasive arguments that apparently win respect from skeptical boffins. A tingling taste of transhumanism can be found at www.betterhumans.com, which features the thoughtful & polished prose of George Dvorsky, the president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association, a nonprofit devoted to encouraging the use of technology to transcend limitations of the human body. But what of the limitations of the human mind?
BREAKING MY PROMISE
Admittedly, its sweet to see that not all scientists are soaking up funds from the defence industry in order to devise ever nastier weapons of mass destruction, even if it is only to prolong the lives of the rich. However, this flurry of enthusiasm for the indefinite extension of human life in the west is being played out against our cavalier curtailment of human life in the East. I keep promising myself to let go of Iraq, to move on, to rest my hopes in the re-building capacities of its resilient citizens
but no. Its Saturday night in Sydney and Baghdad is burning again. From tanks, Humvees and helicopter gunships, US soldiers are again slaughtering the people they promised to liberate.
Najaf Today, Reuters
Truly, America is the most bloodthirsty nation on the face of post Stalin earth. Its military, its government, its corporate carpetbaggers are sinking into such a swamp of deceit, denial and depravity that fair minded people the world over, including its own better informed citizens, can but recoil in horror. Its as if the heart of darkness has become an American franchise, a Satans Starbucks, specialising in torture, invasions, illegal incarcerations, aerial bombardment (wedding parties a specialty) and war crimes.
Side dishes include cluster bombs, Geneva Convention busting, mini nukes and in the words of disillusioned marines - shooting anything that moves, often women and children. Military outlets ring the globe and will shortly span the stars. Its movie & media industry is, for the most part, a relentless engine of propaganda.
AS IGNORANT AS HE LOOKS?
Exceptions, such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Day After Tomorrow, are delightful, yet mild. Michael Moore steered clear of Guantanamo Bay, the neo-hawk Israeli connection, the cold blooded killing of wounded Iraqis (as can be seen in the unedited version of the Fahrenheit clip from a helicopter cockpit). Even so, what do we make of the hysteria this doco unleashed?
So much so, that even someone as clever as Christopher Hitchens is reduced to personal abuse I never quite know whether Moore is as ignorant as he looks, or even if that would be humanly possible. In Australia, Moore was castigated for obesity, for lack of sartorial flash, for not showing stock footage of the twin towers tumbling down, for not being objective, as in, say, the fair and balanced media of Rupert Murdoch. The right wing rage against Moore is best understood in terms of psychology. Those who shouted for this invasion are being forced to confront its bloody outcome. The responsibility for each explosion, each death, each maiming, each catastrophe, can be sheeted home to those who clamoured for war. This is unbearable, so it is masked by denial and buried in the unconscious. Fahrenheits jaunty probing aroused intimations of guilt, which is transformed into rage and flung back at Moore.
At the time marines began shooting up Najef, the city of Hiroshimar commemorated the 59th anniversary of its Atomic incineration. Total deaths attributed to the bomb are now put at 236,062. Of course, most of you are thinking, well, it put an end to the war. That too is what I was taught.
A VERY PLEASANT WAY TO DIE
When President Truman announced the dropping of the bomb, he described the target as an important military base, though well aware it was a thriving city. Truman said the US wanted to avoid, as much as possible, the killing of civilians. The bomb was detonated 600 meters above the Shima hospital in the center of the city during morning rush hour. 100,000 people were instantly obliterated, and well over a hundred thousand more were to suffer slow and agonising deaths. Military censorship ensued that such effects were hidden from the American public (until one plucky journo made his way to the horror-scene; another story). General Grove assured Congress that nuclear radiation caused no undue suffering in fact, they say it is a very pleasant way to die.
For those of you who still believe the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima helped end the war, there is no higher rebuttal than the official July 1946 report on the result of the air war against Japan by the US Strategic Bombing Survey : Japan would have surrendered even if Atomic bombs had not been dropped, notes the report, [nor] did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender.
[Source: A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist, (Granta Books, London, 2001.]
The day before incinerating Nagasaki, the allies signed the London agreement, which made crimes against humanity punishable in an international court. Awkwardly, the fourth Hague Convention of 1907, banned the bombardment of civilians. However, the American prosecutor Telford Taylor declared that since air bombardment had become a recognised part of modern warfare, such acts had become customary law. As Linqvist points out: rather than ruling that the allies especially the allies had committed this kind of war crime, the American prosecutor declared the law had been rendered invalid by the actions of the allies.
SUFFERING TERRIBLY AT THE HANDS OF THEIR CAPTORS
In 1963 President Eisenhower, the Allied commander in Europe during World War II, recalled how he had opposed dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. He told the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, that he was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.
At last weeks ceremony in the citys Peace Memorial park, the Mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, called for a ban on nuclear arms by 2020, noting that the egocentric world view of the US Government is reaching extremes. He cited its resumption of research into ways of making mini nukes potable user friendly, in defiance of international law and sanity.
How utterly unsurprising to find that Australian terrorist suspects Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks have suffered terribly at the hands of their American captors, according three former detainees of the Guantanamo Bay (Fergus Shiel, SMH, 5/7/04). A joint 115-page statement by the Englishmen - who claim they were routinely abused, assaulted, threatened with death and deprived of food, water, sleep and medical care - recounts conversations they had with the two Australians:
"[Habib] used to bleed from his nose, mouth and ears when asleep ... He got no medical attention for this [despite asking]. Hicks was hooded and beaten on a ship and later denied medical attention for a hernia unless he co-operated with interrogators. He used to get interrogated every two or three days, sometimes every day." It is believed he was forced to make admissions.
The Australian Foreign Minisiter, Alexander Downer, has dismissed this testimony as not objective, even though it coincides with statements from previously released captives of Guantanamo. Our Foreign Minister and his Ministerial colleagues have their heads so far up Uncle Sams posterior, they think his shit tastes like caviar.
Talking of which, according to Seymour Hersh, who first detailed the torture of US held prisoners for New Yorker magazine, young male inmates of Abu Ghraib have been filmed being sodomised by American soldiers. "I'm not done reporting on all this," he recently told a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The boys were sodomised with the cameras rolling, and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking. And this is your government at war." Alexander Downer is likely to claim the camera lacked objectivity.
As the supreme manifestation of Australian sovereignty and the soul of its democracy, the operation of Federal Parliament takes precedence over the government of the day. Parliament is managed independently, the Speakers are elected by the members of their respective Houses and not by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Parliament decides its own rules and procedures on behalf of Australian voters, who elect its members.
At least, thats how it has always been, until Prime Minister John Howard handed the keys to a foreign power on October 23/03, the day when the White House came to Our House.
KILLING DEMOCRACY BY STEALTH
Heres a summary of what happened on that fateful morning, drawn from Margo Kingstons latest book, Not Happy John (Penguin Books).
For the first time ever
- Members of the Australian public were banned from entering Parliament House.
- Citizens were banned from assembling on its vast, grassy perimeters.
- A visual barrier was erected at the Parliamentary entrance to prevent members of the public from observing the arrival of President Bush.
- The use of a public address system outside Parliament was banned.
- Overall security control of the visit was handed over to the Americans, who were allowed to bring their loaded firearms into the House.
- US Security demanded an advance list of names/home addresses of everyone likely to encounter Bush, including those invited to Howards private BBQ.
- While Australian media teams were prevented from bringing cameras into Parliament, in accordance with strict, long standing rules, US crews were surreptitiously allowed to enter the chamber without being searched and to film at will. The Green interjections & Liberal roughhousing was recorded by CNN.
- Australian crews were prevented from filming the Presidential motorcade in Canberra, often being moved on by police at the insistence of US authorities.
- The US demanded so much security during this visit, that Federal Police dressed up public servants in uniforms, to inflate the numbers. Several of these bogus cops were deployed outside the US Embassy.
- Another kind of impersonation was carried out by John and Janette Howard. After welcoming George Bush at the security-shrouded arrival in Canberra, the couple emerged from Air Force One onto the stairway and waved jubilantly to a crowd which wasnt there. While pretending this was a State visit, it was actually a partisan working visit, for Howards political benefit, for which Australians footed the bill
Why did Parliament consent to the abuse carried out in its name? Because its elected members believed the reassuring lies the government had told them in advance. In the forthcoming election, lets hope our citizens do not make the same mistake.
This month's death toll of Iraqis in Baghdad alone has now reached 700 - the worst month since the invasion ended. But we are not told
And I go down to visit the friendly, tragically sad staff of the Baghdad mortuary and there, each day, are dozens of those Iraqis we supposedly came to liberate, screaming and weeping and cursing as they carry their loved ones on their shoulders in cheap coffins. Robert Fisk