Life extension beyond 100 years . . . is this really a good idea?

Life extension beyond 100 years . . .
Is this  really a good idea?

At the risk of possibly commiting heresy against the quasi pseudo-religion of transhumanism, here’s a thought for consideration, not often mentioned in regards to these anti-aging proponents.

Time and again, I’ve met with most of the major  anti-aging “usual” suspects, including Ray Kuraweil, ranging from the Extropians to the Foresight Institute, the Singularity and NBIC conferences, and so on.

Mostly the focus is on the technical and medical aspects of extended longevity, up to and including various cybernetic enhancements and medical nanotechnology applications.

What few seem to be interested in discussing is the obvious 800 pound elephant standing quietly in the corner – how do we afford to stay alive for such an extended period of time, who should or would be allowed access to such exotic life extension technologies, and  how does this paradigm fit into a planet that is already over populated?

What I’m getting from these various endeavors is that there will come a time when the super elite will indeed have their access to exotic life extension options . . . but for the vast majority of ordinary citizens, they will never see any of this, or even be aware of such.

This will sound harsh, but please bear with me just for a moment . . .

I have spent many years working with various futurist and technology development “think tanks” and institutes, and one of the main, if not the main challenge facing the world is over population.  Lifetimes are increasing, that are completely out of sync with the career, retirement and social security types of programs that were designed many decades ago, when life spans where much shorter, and in many ways, life management was a simpler, family related sort of enterprise.

From my perspective, I would much prefer to have fewer years, but make the amount of years I am “allotted” very high quality, healthy and productive years.

In many parts of the world, including here, the economic development, financial practices and retirement related policies that may have made sense 50  – 75 years ago are simply not possible in today’s world.   Those days are gone, and the current trend is going to steadily accelerated away from those “traditional” times.

As a reference point, the planetary sustainable equilibrium threshold was crossed in the mid 1980s.   What this means is that in most of the industrialized world, the combination of available resources and economic policy has already entered into a realm where not everyone can be employed, let alone be cared for with high end medical options and extended “retirement” support.

Trying to pretend all of these support programs and policies from decades ago will continue on in perpetuity is no different than blindly believing in the latest trendy religious movement.   No matter how one tries to somehow put a fluffy polyanish spin on this situation. these hard realities are already rapidly accelerating toward profound catastrophic consequences.

What many people seem to not realize is that 80 – 85 % of all health care costs are incurred with people 65 and over.  These costs, and complexities of health maintenance and support increase radically with age.

Most of Europe has already crossed the irreversible event horizon of more people being supported with public assistance than people actually contributing to the system, and we will be crossing that very same economic event horizon in just a few years.

Everyone knows this is coming, but no politician dares to approach this volatile topic, as the facts about this entire realm of governance and public assistance is going to completely collapse, unless some very radical, and difficult choices can be made, and made politically viable.

Where I live here in Berkeley, there are a number of assisted living and elderly care facilities.   I often encounter some of these folks, and my heart goes out to them.

Many are  struggling with pain, various forms of arthritis, impaired vision, partial mobility and so on.  I watch these folks with their daily struggles, and sometimes offer a bit of help when I can.

But 15 – 20 years from now, there are going to be many more millions of folks approaching this age, and very few will ever be able to afford the aforementioned exotic life extension technologies.  

In fact, what will happen is that many families are going to be faced with crushing costs and economic chaos as they attempt to deal with aging parents and relatives, mapped against an economy that will be in a diminished state.  Those big corporate party days of the “big 80s”, the dot com bubble of the 90s, and the post Y2K get rich quick real estate schemes are gone, and they are not coming back.

Most of our current employment is in relative short term service sector related jobs, and the days of working for the same big company for an entire career, and then receiving a pleasant company pension and retirement support are completely gone, and those days are not coming back.

We are facing a different world, one which the current elders I have mentioned will never know or even understand, and that’s fine.   They are the last remnants of a population, a culture, and a world, that made sense in their time.

But the world we are heading into is going to be very different.  Not only are these “traditional” career, retirement, and social security expectations not going to really exist as these older folks understood such to be, but realistically, many families just aren’t staying together for multiple generations as was once the norm.

People marry, divorce and remarry multiple times, a concept that was almost unthinkable for many folks from a previous time.   The concept of family cohesion, the elderly being cared for by their children, and so on, is going to become evermore complex, and for the most part, irrelevant in many situations.

Having said all that, I circle back to my original thesis.

Life extension with advanced science and exotic medical technologies will no doubt be available, but to whom, under what conditions . . .

What I see coming is a new sort of social caste, an inner circle of elite entities, the power brokers, industrialists, top level politicians and policy makers, religious leaders, and so on, who will become even more removed from the realities of daily life than they already are, with their artificially enhanced lifespans. 

The “unwashed masses” will simply become the expendable Borg drones, grinding away at short term jobs with no real lifelong attachment to any specific corporation or entity (thus eliminating traditional pensions and retirement benefits), expected to die off at a predetermined age, and an expensive nuisance should they try to live longer than their social caste rating justifies.

You think this sounds too radical?  

Think again . . . what I have cited above is already occurring in various parts of the world.

The life extension related therapies and medical technologies will simply be yet another commodity, catering to the elites who can afford such, or will even be allowed such.

Well, as you might expect, this isn’t exactly a popular perspective when I  raise these issues at various life extension related events, but it is the “inconvenient truth” that is looming overhead in the not too distant future.

Thoughts for consideration . . .


~ by charles000 on August 30, 2009.

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