Bloodthirsty Silicon Valley vampires won't stop: It's time to stake our claim

In the quest for longevity, research funded by the wealthy belongs in the hands of the poorest

By Rae Hodge

Staff Reporter

Published August 27, 2023 10:00AM (EDT)

Blood bag (Getty/pictorico)
Blood bag (Getty/pictorico)

It's no secret that, for years now, the ultra-wealthy — including Silicon Valley tech moguls like Peter Thiel and Bryan Johnson — have taken up the Elizabeth Báthory method of obtaining eternal youth: young blood. Despite Johnson's recent admission that his costly indulgence in pseudoscientific young blood transfusions offered "no benefits" — so he has stopped injecting himself with the blood plasma of his son and other young folks — the quest for immortality among the rich is far from over. While it's true that the rich have thrown millions-upon-millions of dollars into these frantically vain bunk-science investments, the rest of us actually have far more stake in death-defying discoveries. And we should be willing to claim them. 

Most of the science behind young blood transfusion is bunk — that much is true, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But there's still just enough scientific reason to keep looking for a blood-based answer to ease the strain of age and illness, and more research keeps coming. 

In April, research from Harvard Medical School found promising results in an anti-aging experiment where the lives of elder mice were extended up to 9% by connecting their circulatory systems to those of younger mice. On Aug. 24, a trio of studies found that older mice showed regenerative and cognitive improvements after being injected old with certain blood platelets from younger mice. When these kinds of findings beckon from the periphery, it's not a stretch to assume that, if there's a scientifically viable way to reverse aging, the wealthy are determined to fund it and find it. 

Above his pitches for proprietary health-nut dietary blends, Johnson's slogan of "Don't die" hangs like an apotropaic talisman on his social media banners. But it reads less like a command and more like the desperate cry of grief too often heard in hospital rooms and gun-silenced school hallways. It's a casual assertion of privilege that even Paris Hilton's fake "stop being poor" t-shirt couldn't beat. And more than a decade of this nonsense has been playing out in the tech trades and in luxury-lifestyle ad-copy. 

"There are all these people who say that death is natural, it's just part of life, and I think that nothing can be further from the truth," Thiel told Insider back in 2012, framing our apparently not-so-inevitable mortality as a problem to be solved. Patent absurdity, of course, as much then as now — no matter how many 3D-printed organs we churn out, how long we extend our telomeres, nor how many quaffs of plasma we down.

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"There are all these people who say that death is natural, it's just part of life, and I think that nothing can be further from the truth."

There's an obvious bone worth picking here, of course. Continued research into emergent branches of regenerative medicine is still a worthwhile pursuit despite the anti-aging hokum, particularly given the need to advance therapies around stem cells, immunomodulation and transplantation. Any non-wealthy family that's weathered the devastation of Alzheimer's disease and fought the US medical industry can tell you why this kind of research is valuable beyond what it can offer any vain billionaire fleeing death. 

Even among the trembling frailty of the vain, however, one can find still find philosophical room for grace. In the geologic time scale, humans barely exist for the span of a breath and, for most of us, that's just long enough to be born into a cruel world and suffer its grief. I don't begrudge a man his fear of dying, his raging refusal to go quietly, nor his defiant tilting against its windmill. 

Slimy as some of these blood-sucking west coastlings can be, it's hard to imagine any villain so foul that — if he astonished the world with some proof of his immortality — his crimes would at all lessen the gravity of his victory over death. After all, the last time anyone around here heard tale of a man who couldn't be killed, the news triggered 2,000 years of people asking how he did it. 

"Jesus fed bread and wine for an afterlife without guarantee," tweeted Johnson. "I feed you Olive Oil for continued life and money back guarantee."

The intoning of memento mori seeds a joyful duty toward the pursuit of human longevity as an act of grateful humility before the wonder of life.

Thiel, Johnson, and every rich jerk with $8,000 to blow on a teen blood bag — none of them will escape death (for that, O Lord, we thank thee) and if any of them do something saintly in the extra days they've bought, the next pint of A-positive is on me. But even if they waste every hour, the unwitting blood-suckers are still the de facto philosophical opponents of something I hate slightly more — religious fundamentalist death-cults with apocalyptic politics, hellbent on fomenting feverish martyr lust among the vulnerable. Enemy of my enemy, in this case. 

And whether the entitled elite understand it or not, their fearful grappling with mortality is at the heart of the world's richest religious traditions — built, without exception, by the poor. On its better days, the intoning of memento mori seeds a joyful duty toward the pursuit of human longevity as an act of grateful humility before the wonder of life, a devoted awe for all we have yet to learn about this world's splendor and science — and all the precious knowledge we may yet preserve and teach. 

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Longevity, itself, is neither the point nor the virtue here. Rather, both are found in what that longevity affords. One more day of unmerited grace in which we might enflesh in this world slightly more mercy than the suffering we cause. One more day to reach toward the unknowable with a student's hand and a teacher's mind — to chop more wood, carry more water. One more day to cast down the mighty, lift up the lowly and send the rich away. 

All of which is to say that, grave as our poverty may be, we poors have got more stakes in the matter than the rich — and the rich should keep those stakes sharply in mind when refusing to see the grave.

By Rae Hodge

Rae Hodge is a science reporter for Salon. Her data-driven, investigative coverage spans more than a decade, including prior roles with CNET, the AP, NPR, the BBC and others. She can be found on Mastodon at 


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