To every people according to their language

by Yair Halberstadt3 min read4th Oct 20212 comments

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Life ExtensionConversation (topic)RationalityWorld Optimization
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Here is an approximate transcript of a conversation I had with a friend, who is an Orthodox Jew.

Transcript

ME: Imagine the US government announced a Manhattan project to reverse aging and end death forever. It's estimated this project will cost 5% of GDP. There's no guarantees it will be successful, or if successful how long it will take, but the majority of domain experts agree that 50 years is a pretty good median estimate.

Suddenly all the people between the ages of 20 and 50, who currently accept their death as inevitable, will do a quick bit of mental arithmetic and realize that 50 years is a bit too close for comfort. There'd be calls to spend 10% of GDP and get it done in 25 years, or even 50% of GDP and get it done in 5 years! I'm not saying that either of those strategies would work, but they highlight how all of a sudden a light bulb will go off in peoples minds, and people would be frantically trying to escape death and aging.

So if we know that once we realize there's a possibility to escape death we will be desperate to clutch at it, and right now there's at least some chance that such a Manhattan project could be feasible, we should push for this Manhattan project right away. Let's not wait till the government announces it and we realize how much we always wanted it!

FRIEND: I'm not sure I would be frantic to support such a project - in fact I'd probably oppose it. I believe it would fail anyway since God wants people to die.

ME: But God doesn't inherently want people to die - (according to Orthodox Judaism) before the fall from Eden people were meant to live forever, and people only die as a punishment for Adam and Eve's sin. And in the time of the Messiah, people will live forever.

FRIEND: Yep, but God hasn't bought the Messiah yet.

ME: Do you believe that the Messiah is meant to be bought by people, or by God?

FRIEND: I've only ever heard that people are meant to bring the Messiah through creating world peace, and building the State of Israel. It's always been clear that it's God that's meant to end death.

ME: Well obviously people have always thought that, since it seemed that ending death would be impossible for humanity to achieve. I assume everyone assumed the in-gathering of exiles would be miraculous before Zionism and the creation of the state of Israel. But now that it finally might be within Humanity's grasp, wouldn't it make most sense, and be most consistent to say that the Messianic times as a whole, including world peace and an end to death and disease, are all meant to be bought about by human effort?

FRIEND: That's actually a really beautiful vision! I really like that idea!

Thoughts

When you try to persuade someone of X, it can sometimes seem like you reach an impasse when it turns out that they have fundamentally different beliefs and values to you.

There's often a temptation to try and convince them that their fundamental beliefs are incorrect, so that you can build on that basis, and reach the conclusion you were trying to.

That almost always fails, and so instead you get angry. "Stupid person! How could they possibly think Y? And it's not just a harmless belief - as a result of Y they don't believe X, and that's going to doom us all!"

Needless to say that's not helpful either.

Far more effective to enter the mindset of the other person, and see if X could still make sense according to them. So long as you treat their views with respect, it's often possible to unite people with very different fundamental beliefs with a common cause.

In this conversation I didn't try to dissuade my friend of their religious philosophy. Instead I showed how the idea of fighting death could slot right into it. And it worked a treat!

Note that I wasn't deceiving them by pretending to agree with their religious philosophy - they are perfectly aware of my differences of opinion. But they appreciated the effort to go with what they believed in rather than fighting it. And it ended up bringing us closer together...

Continuation

FRIEND: Is this a vision of the Messiah you could buy into?

ME: Actually yes it is - I wouldn't necessarily agree with the theological underpinnings of such a vision, but if there was a movement with this as their vision I would be happy to join, given how the aims fit right in with mine, and the story it's telling might not be true, but at least is moving and beautiful.

FRIEND: I'm so glad that we can both agree such a mission!

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It will be essentially a Secular Judaism, where the scriptures only speak of the common values to be achieved by human effort, and not about future miracles. It will be a vision that some secularized Rabbis may even agree to. 

Great post! I’ve had similar conversations as well. Sounds like the kind of messiah Maimonides might have bought into given his rationalist philosophy. Just speculation as I’m unfamiliar with his actual writings on the messiah.