Documenting the Coming Singularity

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why Are We Cool With Age-Related Death?

Though it is unusual for me to post more than once a day on this blog, it is not unheard of. Today is one of those days when I have something on my mind and just need to get it out to you straightaway. Having a sandwich for lunch, Fox News on the TV (without sound), ALERTs popping up one after the other. Bridge collapse: What caused this catastrophe? Teens shot: Terrible tragedy. Mine explosion: What went wrong?

What struck me was the evidence of society's alarm at death's newest acquisitions, but only when they are from unnatural causes. Death can take as many as it wants by natural causes and no one cares a whit. Why is that? Why do we show such passionate concern over improving bridge safety, but none at all over aging? Looked at another way, it seems we want everyone to get their 80 years' worth. But no more. (Wizened and toothless 120-year-old exceptions excepted.)

Don't people realize that the number 80, roughly speaking, is not written in stone? It's only the current life expectancy, and only in this country. Would you have been upset with anyone wanting more than 60 years in the 1930s? Or more than 40 years in the 1850s? Why is one number more appropriate than another?

Why are age-related deaths acceptable and others not? I'll give you my take on it. Because we have been conditioned to believe that age-related death cannot be avoided, we have sanctified it. We sanctify what we believe is inevitable. But I believe, as Dr. House yelled in one episode, "Death is never dignified! Ever!"

I know there was an episode of Star Trek, though I can't remember which one, in which people would go off to the death chambers when their number came up, docilely and without complaint, because they had been conditioned to think of dying as an honorable thing to do in an overpopulated world. Rather than try to solve the overpopulation by other viable means, they kept marching to their demise like lambs to slaughter. Of course Captain Kirk set them straight in the end.

I know what people say are their reasons for not wanting to extend their health-span. The say they would get bored? How do they know that? Unless they are already bored at 30. But that's their problem, not the world's. They say people would go mad. Again, how do they know that? Has anyone tried it? I think if you enjoy life there would be nothing to cause mental collapse. They say there aren't enough resources for everyone. Well why don't we figure out how to solve that? Why are people so unwilling to live longer?

I'll tell you something else that I think may be involved. Religion. If we live much longer, we sort of show that God may not be there after all. Didn't he say in a fit of pique that the sum of our years shall be 120 and no more? If we can bust that limit, what does that say about God?

Your thoughts on all this are invited.

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Anonymous said...

First out I do think you make a good point when connecting religion with the unwillingness to live longer. The next step in "playing god" would be to actually raise the dead, or create life, so maybe this unwillingness is due to a fear of opposing some unwritten law of nature, or rather an abstract fear of a god.

I'm always glad to hear people questioning such a fundamental value of the human race (not to play god, that is), which will hopefully stir up a discussion on the topic. Allthoug I am not a revolutionary but rather a reformist I would strongly emphasize the importance of not promoting such change (to increase the human life-span) too fast, but in a pace with which we actually understand what we are doing. But on the other hand, my rather conservative opinion just might be caused by a societal fear of opposiong some unwritten natural law. ;)

bmahfood said...

Yes, the "playing god" prohibition on scientific inquiry has been around for a long time. If there is a god, and we were able to usurp his role, maybe he isn't a god, after all.

Matt said...

By imposing an artificially slow pace on life extension advancement, you end up effectively sentencing people to death.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Genesis mentions several people who lived longer than 120 years, after God said that...