In 2016, an American real-estate investor named James Strole established the Coalition for Radical Life Extension, a nonprofit based in Arizona which aims to galvanise mainstream support for science that might one day significantly prolong human life. Standards in modern medicine are allowing us to live longer now than ever before. But that is not Strole’s concern. What good are a few more measly years? He is interested in extending life not by days and weeks, but by decades and even centuries, to the degree that mortality becomes optional – an end to The End. “The deathist paradigm has to go,” a line on the Coalition’s website reads. “It’s time to look beyond the past of dying to a future of unlimited living.” It describes its supporters as “early-adopting advocates, numbering in the thousands”.
Life extensionists (or longevists, or immortalists) fit neatly into two types. The first are rationalists: scientific researchers at the coalface of gerontology, the study of ageing, chipping away at the many technical difficulties of ending entropy. Strole is the second type. A businessman, he has no formal scientific training, but is nevertheless resolutely committed to the cause, eager to rally behind new findings. He hopes to live indefinitely, or at least until 150. But he is ultimately reliant on researchers finding a way. Consider him less a gerontological groupie than a politely optimistic mega-fan, sitting on the sidelines of science, willing on a major breakthrough.
He isn’t alone. Life extensionists have become a fervent and increasingly vocal bunch. Famously, the community includes venture capitalists and Silicon Valley billionaires, non-gerontologists all, and nearly all men, who consider death undesirable and appear to have made so much money they require infinite life in which to spend it. But now mere mortals are joining the throng, heads filled with fantasies of forever. Humans have lusted after immortality for as long as they have been alive. So far the quest has been unsuccessful – we still die! But good news: paradise is reported to be closer now than ever before, and private clinics and online pharmacies are promising to help get us there, “there” being the future, all of it.
Strole has been an evangelist of human immortality since he was a child, when his grandmother died, and he felt “a pain you can’t even describe, it’s so deep in your gut.” He was 11, still new to the world, and he came to think of death, like most of us do at some point or another, as deeply unfair.
In the early 1970s, when he was in his 20s, he began touring the US as a public speaker, sharing what was then limited gerontological research, but nevertheless extolling its possibilities and advocating the anti-ageing benefits of a positive mindset: “Isn’t life great? You can live forever if you really try!” Because Strole is not scientifically accredited, he mostly based his patter around inspirational healthy-living tips, much of which would now fall under the umbrella of common-sense wellness: exercise, eat well but not too much, look after yourself. But still his message seemed radical, and he was not always well-received. Audiences wary of Strole’s ideas condemned him for testing God’s will, or disrupting the natural order. His concepts ran counter to the common world view – that we live and then we die. Particularly aggravated spectators referred to him as “the devil”. Every now and then he received death threats.