Monday, September 22, 2014

Who Would Want to Live Forever?

Everybody seems to want to extend human life. Government wants to do it, with the Nixon's War on Cancer. Women want to do it with their absolute faith in health care.

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, also hails every new news item that promises to extend human life. And now we learn that PayPal guy Peter Thiel has a foundation dedicated to the extension of human life.

OK, I get it. We humans long for eternal life. That's why our gods promise it to us when we die: not only eternal life, but eternal life in Paradise, at least for the good guys.

These people are all forgetting that death is an essential part of life with sexual reproduction. It only works if the Old Ones die off. They must die off to leave space for the Young 'Uns. Otherwise we get what we have now, Old 'Uns hanging on at enormous expense through the good offices of Social Security and Medicare, and blighting the youth of the Young 'Uns who are forced to pay for the support of the Old 'Uns while also trying to earn a living, buy houses, and raise families.

In the old days people died. They died being born, but now we have aseptic neo-natal care. They died as infants, but now we have pediatric care. They died of the usual infectious diseases, but now we have vaccination. They died of water-borne diseases like typhoid and cholera, but now we have sanitation. They died of plague, but now we have quarantine. They died of famine, but now we have global transportation.

They died of heart attacks but now we have stents. They died of cancer but now we have surgery and chemo.

Now people are living long enough to suffer from dementia and just flat out atrophy. And everyone is all agog to learn of cures for Alzheimer's.

Where are the environmentalists? Why aren't they putting a stop to all this nonsense? Why aren't they telling us that all this "progress" is killing the Earth, that extending human life span completely upsets the natural, organic trajectory of human life.

Well, of course, in a way, they are. They want us to stop having babies to avoid "overpopulation." They want us to reduce our "carbon footprint." And 100 years ago, in the heyday of eugenics, they were eager to cull the "unfit."

But they are not crazy. They don't suggest we should stop medical research and cut health care.

Here's my beef with all this. As a 68-year-old, I definitely feel that I'm done working for other people. I'm just too old and crabby, and a full day's work is too exhausting. But then I don't want to live into my 90s and become either physically weak -- so that I can't stand up and walk about -- or mentally weak with some sort of dementia. I'd just as soon be cut off in my mid 80s while I still have some physical strength and still have some short-term memory.

And then there is the question of money. If you are talking about 25 years of retirement, from the mid 60s to 90 or so, who in the world will have the energy and the cunning to manage their money all that time? Don't tell me government: politicians have been stealing from the entitlement "trust funds" ever since they were first created. And corporate pension plans aren't much better.

The fact is that you can't forecast 20, 25 years into the future. Someone has to take the hit when things go wrong. But under the current entitlement system the Young 'Uns are expected to pick up the slack when the forecasts of the politicians turn out to be a crock. When old line corporations buckle under the weight of their pension promises, it is the current employees that take the hit. That is what I call generational injustice.

Really, if we are to extend lifespan then people need to work longer. And that means we need to reprogram the genetic life trajectory so that people keep their energy longer. But would that really be a good idea? Would it be better than shorter lifespans with each new generation stepping up to the bat earlier?

My point is that nobody has really thought through what we are proposing when we call for increased lifespans, let alone living for ever.

Because my take on disease and aging is that it is all part of Nature's organic plan. We are born with soft baby skin and boundless energy, and we die, 80 year later, weak and tired, with hard scaly skin. That's not a process of decay.  That is genes turning on and off. That is Nature's program for our lives. And every generation we shuffle the cards with the wonders of sex.

What happens if we live forever and we don't shuffle the cards? What happens if old geezers hang on for decades and decades throttling the naive Young 'Uns with their cunning and their selfishness?

I will tell you what I think will happen if we discover the fountain of youth and decide to live forever. It will be the end of the human race.

But then, what of that? Every species lives its hour upon the stage and then goes extinct, leaving space for the rest of Creation.

I will tell you what I think about people that want to live forever. They don't have enough children. Glenn Reynolds has one, and Peter Thiel has none. Of course they want to live forever.

But when you have children that seem to be smarter than you are, and when you have grandchildren, and one looks to be a good software developer and one looks to be a good writer and one looks to be a social genius and one looks to be a kind carer, and one looks like a future beauty, who needs to stick around forever, taxing them and bothering and controlling them all to death?

Perhaps Hillary Clinton will have the last word. "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

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