The Benefits and Problems with Immortality. The article discusses how will immortality will effect our governmental, cultural, and religious institutions.
This article continues from the previous article entitled, The Benefits and Problems with Immortality. In the previous article, the topics presented were "who would benefit from immortality," the lack of redistribution of wealth, the elimination of State sponsored retirement, dealing with criminals and limited resources, and the overall devaluation of life were all discussed. Recall that the idea of immortality that was considered was in terms of living a long time in the nature of thousands of years. The method explored to accomplish this was the eventual set of medical breakthroughs that would allow us to replace are dead, injured or old bodies with new ones while having memories stored and later uploaded into our new brains much in the same way as we currently transfer computer files from one computer to the next. This article will take the issue to the next logical step: How will immortality effect our governmental, cultural, and religious institutions?
With Immortality will our political institutions stagnate?
Today, governmental institutions only survive if there are people, both in positions of power and in support of that power, to allow for them to continue. Let us provide a simple real life example to illustrate the point. At the writing of this article there is a wave of political unrest in the Middle East. Countries such as: Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Libya, to name a few, are experiencing political and social unrest. Political structures are being replaced. Governmental institutions are being challenged by social and political turmoil and unrest.
In the case of Libya, a civil war is raging as the guardians of the “old” dynasty are resisting the change that the populous wants. Those vested with power are refusing to relinquish it. The result is death and destruction as the two sides are fighting over whose side will win.
Power has the potentiality to be extremely addictive and self-destructive for those who use it unwisely. However, power can either be transferred willingly and peacefully, as in a society that encourages free elections and the transfer of power, or power is taken via civil unrest and disobedience or ultimately revolution and war!
Now, add immortality into the mix. How would power transfer when those in power refuse to relinquish it? History is rife with examples of forced exchanges of control and power. The current example of Libya illustrates the problem. If Col. Muammar Gaddafi, his lieutenants and followers were immortal and refused to hand over power to those seeking a different form of government, how would there be a change? Gaddafi is intent on holding on to power and will only relinquish it upon his death and the total destruction of his political infrastructure. Gaddafi is no different than other notable historical figures like Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Napoleon, and Genghis Khan that fought bitterly to hang on to power at the expense of millions of “mortal” lives!
One major problem with immortality is those who are corrupted by power will do anything to remain in power and the ultimate tool to remove them (that is death) will no longer exist!
Our culture is built upon the cycle of life from birth to death. How will Immortality affect it?
The basic element of our culture is the family. One of the basic functions of having a family is to have children. The obvious purpose is to continue the species. Simply put: as people die off new ones are born to replace them. Advances in our society have allowed for people to live longer lives and this has resulted in an ever increasing growth in global population. Therefore how would introducing an extremely long lifespan (practical immortality) affect the dynamics of global population?
Some would argue that the planet has only finite resources to comfortably support a fixed number of people. With the introduction of immortality, the need to have children to replace people who have passed away would be greatly reduced or eliminated.
The problem is: If the planet can only sustain a finite number of people then at some point that population level will be reached. Then hard choices will need to be considered.
1. Do we severely restrict people from having offspring?
2. Do we limit the benefits of longevity to only a selected few?
3. Who is to decide who lives, who is born, who dies?
4. More importantly can we trust our leaders and our governments with such important decisions?
Will our society stagnate if there isn't a constant flow of youthful and new ideas...?
What does it mean to be old and what does it mean to be young? Is growing old simply a result of our aging bodies or could it be how we think and look at the world around us? If people are able to replace their old and injured bodies with young ones, are these people old or young? If someone lived 200 years and is currently residing in a 20 year old body, how old would that person be: 20 years old or 200?
As we grow older, how we view the world around us changes. A 20 year old does not see the world in the same way as an eight year old. In the same way, an 80 year old sees the world differently than does a 20 year old. The sum total of our experiences and knowledge create a process in which our way of thinking matures and changes how we understand and see all that is about us. As people get older, they develop a mindset that, as time progresses, becomes more entrenched and less resistant to change. This is not to say as you become older your mind stagnates and refuses to consider or accept new ideas. It simply means that as you get older you develop preferences and become accustomed to routines. When you are young you really haven’t developed preferences and routines since everything is all still new and fresh.
With youth comes change with age come acceptance of the status quo. The question is: If immortality limits the number of people being born to maintain the finite resources of this planet then will that, also, limit the easy introduction and acceptance of new ideas that we now enjoy thanks, in part, to our youth?
Is immortality compatible with those religions that promises afterlife rewards for their followers?
There are numerous religions that offer their followers the reward of a blissful afterlife upon a lifelong adherence of their “church’s” teachings and perpetual damnation for those failing to “follow” those rules. How will immortality weigh in the battle to maintain a religious following? It has been said that you can divide religious followers into two groupings: One group follows their “church’s” teaching regardless of whatever rewards or punishments they may receive in this life or in the afterlife. The other group is motivated by such rewards and punishments. For the latter group, the perpetual postponement of afterlife punishment may entice these people to forgo their religious beliefs or, at the very least, practice those beliefs less frequently.
Simply put: If you do not fear the consequences of your bad actions, are you truly going to avoid those actions especially if those actions are what you desire to do?
A final closing thought.
Lastly, this article only presents points of discussion and topics of future, if ever, interest. However, as our medical advances and technology increase, our society will eventually face the dilemmas that artificial prolongation of our natural lifespan brings. When that day comes, these, and many more, questions will need to be examined and considered. Until then such discussions are left purely in the realm of mental entertainment and speculation!