steve aoki, dan bilzerian, a giraffe and the search for eternal life
At a party in a Beverly Hills mansion an unlikely but fascinating trio of figures came together to prove that if life is worth living, it's worth living longer.
What happens when you mix Dan Bilzerian, Steve Aoki, and a giraffe? This is not the beginning of a joke, but rather a recount of an unlikely but fascinating trio that unexpectedly hosted a party at Dan's - the "King of Instagram" - palatial mansion in Beverly Hills last week. I rocked up with my good friend Maria Konovalenko, fresh off the plane from our hometown, San Francisco. Although excited to experience the kind of party that makes news in Los Angeles, we arrived extremely late. Hours before, we were arguing at our AirBnB over one of our favourite topics, which also happened to be one of the main causes for the party: biological research into the extension and expansion of life.
The party had some seriously beautiful guests, but Maria was not like most. She is the Vice President of the Science for Life Extension Foundation, a PhD candidate in the Biology of Ageing, and a prolific activist for biological research. Her core aim in life is to understand the basic foundations of ageing, and to contribute to the research necessary in slowing or even stopping the ageing process. Ageing is, quite literally, the degeneration of our individual bodies, causing us to become more susceptible to health problems such as cancer, heart disease, alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. For many of us, the idea of 'a solution' for ageing seems extremely counterintuitive. We all age. This process doesn't present itself as questionable. Yet, by understanding the ageing process, we understand the foundational frameworks of our biological make-up and therefore contribute to understanding all diseases better. Honestly, we still know very little about our bodies. At the cellular level, we're still trying to work out why so many of the ailments that harm us come to be. With this lack of knowledge, most modern medicine relies on alleviating symptoms as opposed to preventive care. We currently live at the inception point of the preventative medicine era; an era that Maria is fighting to bring to the public's attention as quickly as possible.
I will always remember the first time someone told me they wanted to 'fight ageing'. I found the guy offensive. What sort of hubris leads a man to believe he has the right to even suggest overcoming the one process that's promised to all of us from birth? I remember seeking refuge in my room, lying on the bed and thinking of all the things he said over and over again. Why was I having such a strong emotional reaction to his perspective?
I was so horrified at the strength of my reaction to the life extension advocate that I spent some time re-evaluating my argument. Then, one by one, I realised none of my propositions for concluding that life extension was 'insane', 'gross', 'disgusting', or 'egotistical' were actually valid. They were all marred by an extreme social and cultural bias. Just because we have traditionally thought of something in a particular way does not necessitate its validity. Just because we have accepted ageing in the past as the natural course to life, doesn't mean to say that this belief is still valid today. Accepting ageing is totally illogical if we do not accept cancer, or accidents, or any other cause of mortality. In the end, I couldn't find any difference between disease and the notion of ageing. This perspective wasn't about trying to be 'immortal' (a word I think we all need to roll our eyes at), but about love. If I loved life and, indeed, the lives of those around me, why would I not want to enjoy it, healthier, and for as long as I possibly could?
There are a lot of categories for this type of thinking. Having come to the exact same realisation as Maria, I often see us labelled as 'transhumanist' or part of the 'Singularity Movement'. I've always read these words with a sense of irony. These hopes for the future - humanity, living longer, better and happier? Well, these goals are not confined to a specific group or 'cult'. Way back in the 18th century, the Founding Fathers fought for humanity's right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I smirk lightly at trying to categorise people fighting for these things - nearly 250 years later - in different terms. Does fighting in pursuit of these projects not just make us… Americans? Humans?
Let's get back to the Giraffe.
There is a growing movement bringing attention to the research behind life extension. To me, it's a group that propounds the idea of reframing healthcare towards the goal of being as healthy as possible for as long as possible. But also there has been more and more discussion about the case for life expansion. The idea here is that a unit of life-time, which is the currency of life extension, can vary, quite starkly, depending on how you may choose to utilise it. We are creatures of habit, falling into the same routines day in and day out. It is often hard to imagine, but there will come a day when our next days won't come. And, if we have the luxury of knowing when this day will come, we will look back, at whatever timeframe we had - whether it was 20 years or even 200 years - and we will wish that we had lived our lives with the same sense of adventure and curiosity we were born with. If we don't attempt to expand life, there is little point in extending it.
Steve Aoki is a Grammy-nominated DJ and Music Producer, famous for his crazy antics, both on-stage and off-stage. His love for life has made him one of the highest grossing electronic music artists on the planet, performing for millions internationally as one of the most heavily toured artists to date. Unknown to most, Steve is both an undeniable champion of life expansion as well as one of the most prolific campaigners for life extension. Understanding that the depth of his life's experience is limited by time alone, in his latest album Neon Future he pens lyrics such as "Life has limitless variety… But today, because of ageing, it does not have limitless scope." I remember watching Aoki play his album to thousands in Las Vegas, dancing in merchandised T-shirts with phrases such as RIP Death billboarded across them. Unlike most of the transhumanist and singularity movements, Aoki has picked up on the best sell for life extension by reminding people how much fun there is to be had in being alive.
The LA party had a purpose. For all the champagne, the mermaids, the giraffes and the dancing, there was a real passion for life. Set up by the Steve Aoki Charitable Fund, the profits from the Dan Bilzerian party went to life extension research. Let's extend the party of life from ending. Let's make the afterparty go on for as long as possible.
We hear, time and time again, from people in the life extension movement that death is very, very bad. But, what I love and value, is the unbelievable and refreshing movement of life expansionists coming together to celebrate how wonderful it is to be alive. The reason I got behind life extension is because I couldn't possibly imagine having enough time, even if my time on this earth was limitless, to experience all the beauty and wonder in the world. It is incomprehensible to imagine fulfilling every curiosity, and exploring every idea. At the moment, there will never be enough time to see all the different landscapes of the world, to climb every mountain, to fly over every inch of paradise that we call the Earth. I think of all the animals I don't even know exist, of all the cultures I haven't experienced, of all the lands I've still left to see. I think about all there is to learn, and all the problems we need to solve in the world.
Life is a beautiful thing. But we have to take preventative steps to ensure we get to enjoy the ride. Aware of this, Maria is currently curating a Longevity Cookbook to help people take preventative measures to ensure long term health. Instead of launching it at a biology conference, she decided to launch it at a huge party. Why? Because, like Steve, she understands that the best pitch for life extension is bringing people together and reminding them of the fun we can have and share in our lives.