The political challenge
In this post I navigate the boat of Open Lifespan to the dangerous waters of politics and looking for land to anchor it nearby. This is going to be a longer exploration but what makes our adventure much easier is that we have a great compass in our hand and only one direction to look for: life-bound. Open Lifespan measures all politics with one measure: how can it support, maintain and amplify human lives. Let’s dive in.
The Economist’s 175th anniversary issue edition makes the case for reinventing liberalism by publishing an essay that is called a manifesto for a liberal revival. They say liberalism as a political philosophy cannot live by its glorious past, it needs to ‘promise a better future’. They think it’s time ‘to rekindle the spirit of radicalism’ and they claim that the ‘true spirit of liberalism is not self-preserving, but radical and disruptive’. In short, some new big ideas are needed, some intellectual fresh plasma transfusion to rejuvenate the liberal creed. However, when reading through their offering carefully, recommendations for new-ish liberal alternatives through different domains, like free markets, tariff systems, immigration, open societies, welfare states, new social contract, a ‘liberal world order’ the curious mind has a problem finding those big, radical, disruptive new ideas that would reinforce and amplify the liberal values, like individual freedom, self-dignity, diversity, continuous, gradual progress and constant search for the common interest.
The new foundation
Let me offer here one such idea that could form the foundation of liberal reinvention.
The idea is Open Lifespan, an open-ended, indefinite lifespan. I will also call it, simply ‘Open Life’. It is the opposite of our current, closed lifespan. Open Life is a way, we can frame our mortality, and also avoiding the trap of immortality. Open Lifespan is based on Open Healthspan a technological possibility to counteract ongoing biological aging processes in the human body, to keep age-associated functional decline and increasing mortality continuously at bay.
I’d like to show how Open Lifespan can be the main foundational and structural principle of a reinvented, renewed liberalism, the cohesive centre glueing together different aspects of the creed, from which different policies can be extracted. But am remaining mostly on the theoretical (philosophical) level here.
The foundational value of liberalism is individual freedom, the source of self-dignity, and openness.
Open Lifespan as a philosophical concept is fundamentally built around the value of individual human life. Open Lifespan as a choice to pursue is an individual choice, one that can be found on a free marketplace of ideas. Open Lifespan is not something kids learn about at school or being told to pursue at church. It is still rarely (but increasingly more) a conversational topic at the family table.
Those wanting to pursue Open Lifespan are placing individual human freedom at the top in the hierarchy of political values.
The Economist dubbed its global conversation initiative on the role of markets, technology and freedom as Open Future and I see Open Lifespan, a philosophical concept rooted in science and aiming for the new technological reality of Open Healthspan, as a guarantee to reach and maintain and nourish an open future.
Let us now briefly try to consider the Open Lifespan angle on the 5 Open Future themes The Economist offered for its essay competition and add one more: Open Ideas, Open Markets, Open Society, Open Progress, Open Borders.
I actually planned to participate in this essay competition with this little piece here only the contest was for people between 16 and 25 years old, and am long past that age. Also submission time is long past but hey here we are.
Open Progress – technology. This is easy as Open Lifespan is directly dependent on developing Open Healthspan technologies, so any kind of political, economic commitment on part of Open Lifespan makes technological progress a number one priority.
Open Ideas. The Economist frames this question in terms of free speech and the practice of it but here I go back one step (how the ideas are generated and disseminated in the first place) and ask about the access and availability of ideas crucial to technological progress. And here it comes no surprise that any kind of Open Healthspan technology must rely on publicly funded biomedical research, so Open Lifespan philosophy should commit to at least the Open Access component of Open Science. Please see here the recent initiative by 11 European research agencies mandate scientific publications (by projects funded by these agencies) be made freely accessible by 2020. This is a cause Open Lifespan must get behind.
Open Markets – free trade and competition. In order to develop Open Healthspan technologies both competition and free trade should be maintained and extended. When it comes to competition The Economist essay highlights that concentration of corporate power is a trickier problem and there’s a need for ‘radical new intellectual approaches’.
The emerging longevity industry (the seed of the Open Healthspan industry) provides here a curious example, relevant to understand the role of innovation, competition and free trade to prosper.
In order to highlight the technical challenge involved in breaking the closed lifespan barrier to reach open healthspan, let us consider the complexity of the problem to be solved, and the complementer diversity of the services to be implemented. If one looks for a scientific reason: what is known as aging is an umbrella term better to be thought of as agings involving a handful of hallmark processes, that are fundamentally separate processes despite being interconnected on many levels. Achieving Open Healthspan necessitates a sequence of interventions needed to act upon all these hallmark processes to counteract them.
So the longevity industry is a curious one; no one company will have sufficient initial resources to crack this problem alone but many will have necessary individual factors.
The longevity industry is still in its infancy. The economic rules of this new industry are not written yet, nothing is set in stone, lots of free space to write trajectories into.
On one hand intended longevity monopolies will face huge obstacles then and a new kind of openness, convergence and camaraderie need be invented. On the other hand, there might still be needed hard rules to block any such attempt to monopolise multiple hallmark technologies by individual companies, institutions, whatnot.
In order to develop true Open Healthspan intervention technologies, innovation cannot be limited, halted or even slowed down by monopolistic attempts. Open Lifespan is not a zero-sum game.
Open Society – diversity. Open Lifespan is a guarantee for a diverse life trajectory with diverse roles played, concurrently and consecutively. Closed lifespan nurtures closed identities, especially closed group identities. Open Lifespan will challenge most layers of these identifies and require a malleability of identity, that we can call an Open Identity in the limiting case.  A particularly important position Open Lifespan can embrace is that of anti-ageism, please see Fighting aging and fighting ageism: two sides of the same coin?
Earlier in the post called Open Lifespan and knowing our age in Rawls’s Original Position I argued that the Open Lifespan assumption saves Rawls’ crucial justice as fairness argumentation. This is a theoretical conclusion, dealing with the inner things of philosophy. But keep in mind that John Rawls defined probably the most influential version of neo-classical liberalism in the last half a century or so. Concerning the political consequences I concluded there that Open Lifespan leads to a more just society than Closed Lifespan as justice as fairness has a bigger chance to succeed in a society where age cannot be used as a ground for discrimination.
Open Borders – immigration. Here am only going to offer a hint in the form of an analogy to show the compatibility of Open Lifespan with Open Borders and factor in the thoughts on Open Society above. If you subscribe to the concept of Open Lifespan and anticipate diverse life trajectories what can you expect in terms of staying in the same place or even same country for hundreds of years? Chances are people living open lifespans are going to become literal immigrants more than once leaving their country of residence for new and greener pastures. They can be considered life migrants then. It’s important to see, to avoid unwarranted opposition, that this position does not include at all a position concerning current global refugee problems. There are different political, economical and other reasons behind the trans-border movements of people, but discussing those are way beyond the reach of this post.
Utopia, leave that term alone, unless it makes you tick
Let me close with a possible counter-argument of using Open Lifespan as a central concept in reinventing liberalism. The Economist assay is eager to demarcate the centrist liberal position from the non-liberal left and right. They write, and I cite the whole section as am going to use the other part as well:
Unlike Marxists, liberals do not see progress in terms of some Utopian telos: their respect for individuals, with their inevitable conflicts, forbids it. But unlike conservatives, whose emphasis is on stability and tradition, they strive for progress, both in material terms and in terms of character and ethics. Thus liberals have typically been reformers, agitating for social change. Today liberalism needs to escape its identification with elites and the status quo and rekindle that reforming spirit.
The counter-argument then can be phrased as Open Lifespan is a Utopian telos, so cannot be central for redefining liberalism, as it borrows heavily from the left, so violates political boundaries.
My first answer is that even such a prominent liberal political philosopher as John Rawls has expressed explicit utopian views. Please just read for a start the 5 paragraphs of 5.6 Reconciliation and Realistic Utopia in the John Rawls entry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
out of which I only cite one:
“By showing how the social world may realize the features of a realistic utopia,” Rawls says, “political philosophy provides a long-term goal of political endeavor, and in working toward it gives meaning to what we can do today” (LP, 128).
Not sure how hard The Economist essay writer(s) had studied the works of Rawls or other liberal philosophers, but it looks to me that some elements of the utopian thinking cannot be considered discredited in liberal thought at all, unless you want to consider Rawls a non-liberal thinker.
My second and more considerate answer concerning the potential Utopia objection against Open Lifespan consists of 3 characteristics of Open Lifespan that make it really unlike other Utopias known hence make it very hard to put this concept under the same umbrella term as other historical precedents. So my current answer here is that I don’t really care about whether others consider Open Lifespan an Utopia (who knows for some that is an added extra) as these characteristics take the teeth out from the inherent dangers in the concept or just makes applying it to Open Lifespan useless. Here are the 3 comments:
The Economist piece says ‘True liberals contend that societies can change gradually for the better and from the bottom up’. Open Healthspan is already happening and lifespan (just like life expectancy) can only be opened up gradually as nobody start at year 200 but need to push through the years one at a time. So there’s only one way to introduce these technologies underlying Open Lifespan and that includes a gradual, lengthy process. It is about changing two fundamental parameters of human life, it’s health and it’s length. On the contrary, discontinuity and radical change are strong parts of most utopias known. In the light of this Open Lifespan seems like a progressive reform process, embodying the reforming liberal spirit, the one The Economist folks are talking about in the above paragraph.
The Economist provides this as an explanation why liberalism has a problem with Utopian telos: ‘their respect for individuals, with their inevitable conflicts, forbids it.’ Open Lifespan is not about one right or good way of life but instead it’s about enabling all possible ways of human lives. See Open Society section above talking about Open Identity. Open Lifespan is literally grown out about respecting the lives of the individuals. This is a very liberal starting point, utopia or not.
Strange as it sounds but Open Lifespan is about conserving life if viewed from an unbiased angle. It is about conserving, maintaining human life using what we are familiar with as human life as its starting point. Open Lifespan is life conservatism at its most revolutionary.
Revolutionary life conservatism, just what your inner centrist needs
Being a revolutionary life conservative, no it’s not an oxymoron and am not trying to be highly dialectical here. What am saying is that Open Lifespan is a centrist political position, just like liberals like to think of themselves being in the middle compared to left and right.
But even more than that, Open Lifespan might be the big, radical, disruptive idea liberals want to reinvent their and revitalise their dying creed.
As for people already committed to Open Lifespan, it is the invitation into an Open Future.
The point is to show that Open Life provides a new foundation, a new argumentative ground to derive liberal values and principles. But Open Life itself is not a thought that can be labelled politically in an unambiguous way, cause it is not an essentially political thought but a philosophical concept deeply bound to an underlying scientific/technological scenario.T hroughout this blog and book I will investigate the compatibility of Open Life with different political philosophies, amongst them liberalism, libertarianism, communitarianism, and conservatism. It is a poly-political approach, shall we say.
 And it is also unlikely that one country or region could be in a position to have all the players having all the necessary technologies. To think of an analogy showing the magnitude of this enterprise*: If you take the following 6 top technology companies, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Tencent, Alibaba and combine them into one unit you might be able to develop, say half of the technologies needed for breaking the closed lifespan barrier, but half is only just a half and is not sufficient for the purpose. The point is to have an idea about the ballpark.
 On the therapeutics side a company is lucky to be able to innovatively work on 1, and incredibly lucky to work on 2, of such hallmarks but in order to offer those services to individuals to achieve significant effects it should develop and offer a combined service.
 As Tim Wu said: “I think if we have a tech economy entirely premised on the idea that monopolists may one day buy the underlying thing, it really limits what can happen,”
There’s a lot to think about here carefully as things unfold, especially when it comes to buyouts, so to prevent things going the way they did in general technology, partly responsible for the general anti-tech backlash too.
 We are not talking here about the metaphysical concept of numerical identity and also not the deep philosophical challenges of personal identity where numerical identity plays a crucial role. We are going to investigate those questions in the context of Open Lifespan later, but that is going to be a strictly philosophical context.