Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Case for Opting Out of Life Extension

When I was young, I fretted over longevity. I did the math, and it seemed clear that I'd start aging near the point where serious life extension would become possible. It seemed entirely likely that I'd find myself on the wrong side of the most heart-breaking cut-off in human history. We'll all die some day, at some point, but there was an excellent chance I'd be in the last sad wave of stooped, sick old people. Just my luck!

The transformation has already begun (though, as with many fundamental transformations, we barely notice it). I remember when 70 year-olds sat glassy-eyed clutching tea. Now, I know plenty of clear-headed, active, healthy 80 and 90 year olds. Living to 100 is no longer a spectacular achievement.

Life extension research seems poised to really pay off in the next couple of decades. Indeed, it will probably be too late for me. But I've changed my mind. I'm no longer distressed about missing that cut-off, because I've recognized the coming catastrophe. People somehow miss the self-evident truth that human society is predicated on churn.

Many of us now work an extra decade or so. And even more of us are working effectively into their 60's than ever before, holding onto full power and position, overturning the previous tradition of the gentle denouement, where we pushed the senile old windbags gradually aside before finally showing them the door.

That's not a polite way to phrase it, but we need a clear-eyed awareness of how things are changing. And one momentous recent change is the sense of unprecedentedly narrowed opportunities among our current crop of young people. There are many factors, but the previous generation's disinclination to step aside at the usual time is surely one of them. So what happens when humans work - failing to pass on our assets and our power - into our 80's, 90's, 100's, and 110's? You don't have to be Nostradamus to foresee that outcome.

You may have noticed some tension in our body politic these days, on both right and left. Income inequality is a huge, toxic problem, poisoning society in all sorts of ways. Same for power inequality. As the Olds enjoy greater and greater lock on both, and maintain that lock for longer and longer, there will come a tipping point when the imbalance becomes parsed in these terms. Youngs aren't going to like it. The energy and momentum of Occupy Wall Street, and the anger of Bernie and Trump's followers may be recalled as minor foreshadowings once a generation is clearly seen as refusing to step out of the way.

I'm okay not watching that collision play out.

Morality question: is opting out of life extension tantamount to suicide? Must we live the lengthiest possible lifespan available to us in order to be considered sane and virtuous?

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