May You Live to Be 120—But No Older

2018-01-29 – The billionaires now want to live forever. And some of them are apparently spending their fortunes to make it happen.

I get where they are coming from, particularly if they are Christian, for according to the Gospel, Jesus told us: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25)

If you’re a billionaire and your faith tells you that St. Peter won’t exactly be welcoming you to heaven when you die, I guess it makes sense to go for the next best thing: temporal immortality. (And, I suppose, this is a decent option, too, if you don’t believe in heaven at all.)

But is immortality all that it’s cracked up to be?

So I started thinking about what it would mean to be old. Really old. Hundreds of years old. And it’s not really pretty.

My first thoughts coalesced around memories I have of old people’s homes. My mother was in one for a few years before she died. When she first arrived, it was a pleasant environment. The healthy residents sat around the common room and played cards or kibitzed with friends or they attended classes or they went shopping or occasionally out to a show. Once in a while someone’s kids would show up and their faces would brighten and they’d go off to dinner together or to a family event. Life was good. Until the inevitable happened.

But what if the inevitable wasn’t inevitable? And what if the various infirmities that eventually afflict the elderly were all cured? (Because that’s what these billionaires hope to do.) Wouldn’t schmoozing with your pals get a little old after a couple of centuries or three?

“Enough, Manny! You’ve told that story a million times! . . . Literally!”

So maybe society would change. Maybe you wouldn’t retire. Maybe you’d continue working. But for what? You won’t need money to raise kids. Your kids are already 725 years old and your grandkids aren’t far behind. And your great-grandkids. Etc. Etc. You don’t even know your descendents.

You won’t need health insurance. Everything’s been cured. And your mortgage was paid off 693 years ago. So all you need is money for food and clothes and entertainment and travel. Since you haven’t been paying for kids or health insurance or mortgages, you’ve saved up enough that the interest on your savings more than covers everything you need. So you don’t need to work.

And if you do work, the younger generation is going to be pissed. You had your shot at the top jobs and now they want their shot.

And forget the great-great-great-great-grandchildren! You won’t even know who they are. If you did, you’d be getting cute baby pictures every day of the week and you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. And you wouldn’t want to know all the awful things they are doing. You know the old expression: “Grandpa would be spinning in his grave if he knew about this”? Only you won’t be in your grave.

So we’re back to schmoozing.

People don’t realize how tied we are to the cycles of life. It’s embedded in our genes. Our lives are like stories. They have beginnings, middles, and ends. As children our minds are focused on learning the ropes and making meaningful social connections. As young adults we look for life partners, we build a career, we have children. Once the kids are grown, we look forward to grandchildren and we wind down.

Wind down.

What’s after winding down? We’re not programmed for that.

But Steve, you say, hasn’t society already been adapting to longer life spans?

The answer to that question is no. It is true that we have been adapting to longer life expectancies, but that’s not the same as adapting to longer life spans. Human life expectancy once was only 40 years, but life expectancy is an average. If you have one individual who dies at age 1 and a second individual who dies at age 81, the average is 41. Low life expectancies prior to the 20th century were dragged down by infectious diseases that killed children. The people who remained could still hope to live a long life. Maybe even past 100.

And that was the wish that my Yiddish forebearers had for each other: “May you live to be a hundert un tsvantzik!” “May you live to be a hundred and twenty!” That was the age that the Bible said Moses attained and that was generally considered to be the absolute maximum life span.

And it still is. With all the changes in life expectancy, the maximum human life span remains 120.

The billionaires know the difference between life expectancy and life span, and they are aiming at knocking down the 120-year barrier. (They probably don’t care about life expectancy. Early deaths are for “losers.”)

It’s just greed, of course. They were never satisfied with more than enough things than they ever could enjoy. Now they want more than years than they could ever fill.

I’m in no hurry to leave, of course, but that’s not for me.

(Check out my blog on the similar hope of futurists to someday upload our consciousness to the cloud.)

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