I don’t want to live forever.
I bring this up because yesterday my boss was talking about how we are at most 30 years away from curing death through some sort of regenerative DNA therapy or something; he was in particular certain that cancer has no more than a few years left to live. From there, it’s a straight shot to curing pretty much everything else — heart disease, obesity, diabetes, you name it — and presumably aging, too.
Let’s just assume we manage to cure cancer — completely cure it — in the next 30 years, and while we’re at it, we wipe out heart disease and diabetes, too. First off — awesome, way to go world! That is a really awesome accomplishment, and I unironically applaud you for it, despite what I’m about to say. Second off, what comes next?
I attribute this argument to my brother, who once pointed out that in a world where the average adult human would not expect to live into their 60s3, you could not imagine the existential horror of unavoidable prostate cancer4 or slowly, confusingly wasting away as your brain eats itself from Alzheimers. In a world where, if you’re lucky, you’re going to die from being old and slow and bled out by a saber-toothed cat or put out to sea on an ice floe by your immediate family, it’s hard to imagine a world where those dangers no longer exist, and — again if you’re lucky — you die painfully of gout and liver failure from the copious quantities of alcohol you’ve consumed5. Now we’ve purified water6, and people die from 70 years of eating too much and cancer and brain autocannibalism. Imagine what terror lies beyond treating obesity and cancer and Alzheimers? If living to your 80s causes your organs to literally give up, what does living into your 120s cause?
But let’s just say for the sake of argument that whatever comes next isn’t terrifying or painful. Maybe whatever we use to cure our modern ills also — and cheaply7 — cures all future ills as well. Now imagine you look like this for the rest of your incredibly long life.
“Aha!” you say as you read this, “Your boss said some sort of DNA therapy! Perhaps that cures aging as well!” Then you notice that I mentioned that earlier and that this post is entitled “Forever Young,” as though I, too, had thought of this exact line of argument. It turns out you’re pretty dumb, and you probably shouldn’t have said anything at all.
Let’s say we do also cure aging. We don’t lose our teeth or our eyesight, and our skin stays wrinkle-free and healthy looking, and our hair stays dark, and we suffer nary even a split end. But is any sort of DNA therapy going to actually reverse aging? Presumably it would use our DNA at time of treatment, and since DNA degradation may contribute to aging, it’s not unreasonable to think that we may only be able to stop aging rather than reverse it. We’re talking about something that’s 30 years away, so if you’re in, let’s say, your late 20s8, you’ll be in your late 50’s by the time this treatment comes around. And you’ll be stuck there. Forever.
On the face of it, that’s not so bad — I’d much rather be stuck in my late 50s than, say, pretty much anything later than that. My parents are in their early 60s and they’re not doing so bad. But it’s not like everyone will be stuck in their late 50s — everyone born after you will stop aging whenever they feel most beautiful, which will damn sure be younger than their 50s. And there’s just more and more of them born every day, and they all stop aging at 25. Now you’re part of some sort of weird protected class because you were born in the Years Before Aging Stopped and are therefore ugly and gross, and an increasingly large percentage of the world is young and hot and sexy and not you.
If they do cure aging in the next 30 years, millennials are in one of the unluckiest generations to have been born in the history of time — and that’s a history that includes thousands of generations where making it to adulthood was an accomplishment.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say they really cure aging — maybe you don’t get to freeze time in your 20s, but generally speaking your body doesn’t wear out, and any damage already done can be repaired. Awesome, right? Yeah, super great.
Except for the resulting demographic crisis. Ignoring for a moment the obviously issues, think about your grandparents’ generation. They were the Greatest Generation, except for all those times they fought vociferously to keep society segregated and how they still use words like “negro” and blame the occasional local mishap on a Jewish conspiracy? And it’s fine because they’re old, and back in their day, that was the norm, and hell, they’re gonna die soon anyway? Now imagine they never die and they always vote and they’re you now. Sure, our generation has come a long way on accepting people’s differences, but it’s almost guaranteed that in 60 years we’ll be like way sexist/racist/classist/-ist-against-something, like robots, or people who are in love with robots, or people who are in love with people instead of robots, or schizophrenics9 — and that will keep happening, as each new generation fights some new social battle against the mounting legions of preceding generations, forever.
This of course ignores the really obvious demographic issue, which we’re already facing: we have enough problems funding social security now that people live to be 80, just imagine how bad it will be if no one ever dies. Maybe we won’t need social security, though — maybe everyone can keep on working, tirelessly, forever.
Great, not only are we toiling in endless perpetuity, remember how hard it was to get a job out of college, applying to job postings for “entry level” positions with like 7 years of required experience? Now imagine being born into a world where everyone’s been doing their job for hundreds of years. Good luck climbing the ol’ corporate ladder!
But maybe we won’t need to work at all! Ignoring completely the population crisis that would result from a world in which no one died (not to mention in which people stayed fertile their entire, interminable lives), imagine how mind-bendingly boring it would be. Lord knows I have enough trouble keeping myself entertained for three hours after work each night10. While it sounds awesome to be able to do whatever you want 24 hours a day seven days a week, imagine being able to do that… forever.
It’s the only thing that sounds worse to me than having to work forever. Now imagine a world where, instead of saber-toothed cats or liver failure or breast cancer or dementia or just being, like, really old, the leading cause of death is ennui-induced suicide. That’s why I don’t want to live forever.
- Rest assured, I do ↩
- After all, you’d have to be pretty smart to outrank the incomparable me ↩
- To say nothing of the 40% of humans who didn’t live into their 20s ↩
- Much less the existential horror of having a robot crawl up your butt to cut it out ↩
- In much of the past, alcohol was safer to drink than water due to poor sanitation of public water sources ↩
- Everywhere but Flint ↩
- Right now medicare and medicaid alone are expected to cost 15% of GDP by 2040 ↩
- Since I have maybe three readers, all aged 26-28, this seems like a safe assumption ↩
- We think it’s awful that previous generations classified homosexuality as a disease and tried to treat it ↩
- Not to mention weekends… hence the blog ↩