Who Wants to Live Forever?
Since we were capable of doing so, humanity has searched for a way to escape the inevitability of aging and death. A “fountain of youth” has been mythologized since Herodotus in the 5th Century BC all the way up through alchemists and Ponce de Leon’s failed attempt to find it as a protracted excuse for colonization of Puerto Rico. Mainstream religions, and many outliers, believe and support the idea of an “everlasting soul,” even when not tied directly to a living physical body. But even these doctrines, save a few from the Eastern sect, fight ardently against natural aging. Or perhaps it’s the prospect of the natural pain and suffering incurred from the aging process into death that they pray against. Either way, the vast majority of humanity will hope for everlasting life but cling desperately to remain firmly in this material plane we occupy.
As with so many aspects of living in this world as a conscious human, aging and death and our relation to them as entities to be dealt with, have troubled moral and ethical guideposts that differ for many of us. The general consensus is that life is overall good, with the unforeseen and vastly unknowable benefits outweighing the known suffering of life. The pessimistic opposite of this is that the known pain and suffering of life, and death, make living a slog to be tolerated with distraction or ended prematurely. Between these two poles lie the differences and moral ugliness implied by vastly prolonged life.
The Elite Lead the Charge
Say you’re playing a game that you’ve become expert at winning. Not based on skill at the game, necessarily, but at knowing exploits and the general base mentality of those you’re playing against. You started out maybe needing a bit of luck, but that need dwindled as time went on and you became more practiced and exploiting the game to your will. Eventually, no one would want to play with you because, they don’t need to anymore. You’ve created the perfect circle of perpetual game winning. The reward rush outweighing anything that could possibly compare, the game becomes your life. Why wouldn’t you want it to go on forever?
This perpetual need for winning, and winning forever, is what has led the obscenely wealthy to invest in a myriad of life-extending scientific research. Musk, Bezos, and their brethren in Silicon Valley are searching for ways to extend life, possibly forever. Money itself being an imaginary simulacrum for value, those with most can help with research the most, especially in such brand-new fields. These, however, brings us to our first blatant moral roadblock when considering life extension: the very real possibility of it being available only to the wealthiest of the wealthy.
The public face of these walking dollar signs will say behind chattering teeth that it is for the “good of humanity,” “ageing is a failure in evolution,” “imagine being free of the pain of death.” These statements can be taken any number of ways, but I would imagine that regardless of the doctrines you follow, they sound pretty good. Who wouldn’t want less pain as they grow older? Hard to argue against, yet that is what I’ll do.
Time Won’t Change Us
Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her treatise on ageism, The Coming of Age, “Society cares about the individual only in so far as he is profitable. The young know this. Their anxiety as they enter in upon social life matches the anguish of the old as they are excluded from it.” Now, granted, the “anxiety” faced by today’s youth is far greater than that of those when the book came out in 1970, but the quote rings truer with time. Now, MORE emphasis is placed on the benefits of the young, being young, and fighting aging. We are all still victims of a timeline that isn’t natural, but one that has been prescribed and ingrained in us by marketing and inferred social standing. None more so than women. The phrases “50 is the new 30,” “glow-up,” and the constant need to follow fashion trends, even within niche cultures of society, are constant.
Some may argue that with extended life, these social norms would fade, leading to a more inclusive future for all. To this, I ask, why not now? What would be the magical moral and consumptive change that would happen if we were to, say, gain the ability to live to 150? Would the way society conducts itself in view of the elderly or feminine dissolve altogether or would the timeline remain the same, just moved down the road a bit? This seems far more likely, given our capacity, at this very moment, to make these changes but refusing to do so.
Frankly, we’re likely already too far gone on this front for it to even be a consideration, but it is used as a façade for the good of extended life, so let’s discuss. A major argument those have against actively working to change our effects on the planet’s climate is that “we won’t be around to see the change, so why bother?” Or, as the first sentence of this section implies, but isn’t recommending, is that this fact is a reason to do NOTHING. As with previous pieces, I’m a firm believer in attempting to do the moral and ethical good, even when it amounts to nothing.
As with ageism and sexism, those in power who are the leading drivers of climate change, have the ability to do actual good, possibly, right now, but refuse to do so for fear of lost profits. With these same elites pushing for anti-aging research, chances are high that nothing will be done, matters will only get worse and, if they are successful, people can live forever on a husk of a planet.
The Right to Death
By far the most contentious aspect of the possibility of immortality, is the fact that then, as now, maybe everyone doesn’t want to live longer. Advances in medicine and the emergence of psychoactive drugs fill many people with hope for the future. An easement and a reason for continuation. Even given these, however, continuation is not ideal for every person alive right now. “I think life is alright, so everyone else must as well,” is one of the most dangerous assumptions, in my opinion, permeating society. Far too much of our energy is spent on the misnamed “right to life” and not enough, in a global sense, of its opposite.
While I don’t want to be misunderstood here, I feel it is important to note that I’ve attempted to end my life, near successfully, and while I’m on a different bent now, my beliefs that led to such acts remain firm. That being said, I am also not encouraging the ending of one’s life, in so many words. I simply think that from a truly moral and ethical standpoint, if we’re going to fight adamantly for universal access to healthcare, which we should, we should fight equally as adamantly for the choice to opt out, which we do not. More on this in a later piece.
Science fiction writer, Paolo Bacigalupi, wrote a brilliant episode of Netflix’s Love, Death, and Robots, that deals with the implications of the elite having access and the choice of drug-induced prolonged life living in a city above a rewilded earth wrecked by overpopulation and breeding has become forbidden. Meanwhile, those who choose to opt out are left below, with new children being assassinated to ensure the elite’s supremacy by force. One of these assassin’s ends up having a change of perspective when he finds a child in the care of a woman below. While the episode’s message of the beauty and sanctity of life are wasted on me, the message is a glorious one:
Just because we COULD live forever, doesn’t mean we all would want to. And even if we did, the moral bankruptcy of humanity would police it every step of the way. We have the ability to make these positive changes now, and since we as a species continue to work against it, extending life would only prolong our suffering.