This article deals with The Benefits and Problems with Immortality and compares the likely future problems with today;s real problems.
If you made it past the "title," you are asking what the author is taking about the benefits and problems with immortality. Immortality doesn't exist. Unless one is talking about the afterlife which this article clearly is not. For some the question is premature. It is like asking a Roman Gladiator, two thousand years ago, what he thinks about the Apple IPod Phone. However, while the article's topic is farfetched, the problems of extended lifespan, the precursor to immortality, are increasing with each generation.
Let us make a few basic assumptions in this article. First, we will limit the discussion to the United States and look at the ramifications in this country. The fact is the problem will transcend national boundaries, but for simplicity let's look at the effects on one nation. The second assumption is we will simply consider immortality on a small scale, like a few thousand years. We wouldn't want people to outlive the lifespan of this planet or the universe itself.
Lastly, we look at each benefit and problem and compare it to today's precursors.
How would we achieve immortality?
That is a good question which has no answer. We can look at history for clues. As recent as the turn of the 20th century, the average life expectancy for someone living in a Western Nation was in the mid 40's. Other people around the world had shorter life expectancies. The reason was simple: their lives were harsher with less advanced medical care. In comparison at the beginning of modern civilization, the average life expectancy was within the mid 20's. Today the average life expectancy is in the mid 70's. Again, this is for someone living in a Western nation like the United States.
To put it simply: It took over 10,000 years to increase the life expectancies from the mid 20's to the mid 40's and a little over 100 years to increase it from the mid 40's to the mid 70's. The logical conclusion is, as advances in science continue, that the possibility of achieving sufficient medical breakthroughs that can one day prolong our existence to 1000 years is not that much of a fantasy!
For the sake of a simple solution, let us say we are able to quickly create complete replacement bodies with our full memory intact in case our current bodies are damaged or killed. The continuous replacement of old and injured bodies will allow for immortality.
Is this idea farfetched! Not really! Given enough time, human ingenuity will solve many of the intricate problems that immortality faces. Today we have the technology to create replacement limbs, skin, and artificial hearts to name a few.
Who would be able to become Immortal?
The United States is a nation based on capitalistic ideals. These ideals are simply grounded in that having the ability to afford something, assuming it is not restricted or illegal to possess, allows one to own it.
With that being sad, the first group of people to own immortality will be the rich. Like any new technology, the price when it first comes out will be expensive. Plus periodic maintenance costs.
One Result: The Rich Will Live For Ever!
Yes, that is true. Today in the United States the top 1% own 60% of the wealth in this nation. There are no laws against how much wealth one can own. This country is based upon capitalistic beliefs that the creation of wealth is a perfectly acceptable endeavor. In fact, we as a nation admire people who become financially successful. We wish we were one of them. Why would we pass laws against being that to which we as a nation strive to become!
The down side is rich uncle Bob will never kick the bucket and his eagerly awaiting descendants will never have a chance to cash in on all his money. The entire concept of wealth redistribution due to death will forever disappear. Think, if you will, how much richer the Forbes 400 will be if they are young and forever healthy people living thousands upon thousands of years accumulating wealth and power! Do you think that maybe the top 1% might own more than 60% of the nation's wealth after a few more “traditional” life spans under their collective belts!
No More Retirement... No More Social Security... Being able to work for thousands of years!
What is retirement? It is a reward after an “earning lifetime” of work. People work 20, 30, 40, or 50 years and their bodies are worn. They want to enjoy their remaining years earning a pension, annuity, or social security check. If people can live for thousands of years, why would the government pay them after they reach a fixed retirement age? In fact, today the United States government has an incrementally increasing retirement age. If immortality becomes real then logic would dictate that social security as we know it will end.
Now, you can work 500 or 1000 years at McDonalds flipping burgers or refilling empty shelves at Wal-Mart.
Some would say that given more time people can improve their lives. That is true for those that are hardworking and ambitious. These people would have improved their lives, and do improve their lives, without the benefit of immortality. The real question is what happens to those people who are destined never to succeed? We all know people who live their lives with one foot already planted in the grave. Can you imagine those poor souls living futile lives for thousands of years!
Will there be an Immortality Safety Net?
At first the rich will buy it. Then the affordability will work its way to the middle class. Lastly, you have the poor. The one's that can least afford it. Who will pay for it? Today people complain about social welfare helping the poor for a few years with food stamps, job assistance, vouchers, and alike. Can you imagine the cost to provide millions with immortality.
Today, one of the largest expenditure that the United States government has is entitlements... social security, medical care, and other social programs. Having poor people live for thousands of years and depending on the government’s social safety net would bankrupt even the richest nation.
Would the hard choice of rationing immortality be a real possibility? Compare that same thought to a modern problem of rationing health care! At some point, it won’t be affordable? What then will happen?
What to do with Criminals?
Today if you sentence someone to death, they will eventually die in prison. Our country has no real system of rehabilitating criminals. They are imprisoned, they do their time, and they are released. What would you do if a person is sentenced to 500 years or life imprisonment? If today it costs $1,000,000 to house a prisoner for 40 years then how much do you think it will cost to house them forever!
Today criminals are not killed because they are sentenced to prison for hundreds of years. The infirmities of age will eventually kill them. However, if you are providing them with immortality then they will live forever and be a perpetual burden on the government's penal system.
Some might say that they do not deserve this wondrous gift. Others would argue that depriving them of immortality is no different than today's argument of depriving a prisoner on death row a life saving treatment.
What to do with limited resources?
Today there is no such thing as rationing of resources. The government does not force its citizens to conserve. In fact the opposite is often the case. Recessions are currently solved if people go out and buy. The more people consume the more is manufactured. The more is manufactured the more people are working to earn more money to buy more and the cycle repeats itself. Today if you can afford it you buy it; if you can’t you don't. This country consumes far more then it produces.
If the entire economic structure is based on consumption and not conservation then what will happen when the resources are depleted. The question is who will be the barer of limited resources? Will the pain be equally shared by everyone or will those that are rich and powerful be able to enjoy the greater excess at the expense of the poor! By the way, is that not what is happening today?
With immortality will there be TRUE equality of age, sex, race, creed, etc?
For as old as humanity has been around people have managed to find ways to differentiate or discriminate against other classes of people. In most cases it’s been out of maliciousness and in some cases it’s explained away at protecting a defenseless class of people.
Think for a moment you’re a black woman and you decide you next body will be a white male. Who is to say that you need to spend thousands of years in the same racial or sexual class? Maybe you want to be taller or more endowed in your next “reincarnation.” Will the government prevent this? People spend billions of dollars changing who they are today by plastic surgery. What will be the difference? The possibilities are endless.
Lastly, what if want your next body to be a “protected” class. Today people who are small children are seen as a protected class of people and are not allowed to do certain things. What if you want to relive your life again and start at 13 years old? Does that mean you cannot drive your car, drink a beer watching the game, go to work, or have sex with your 25 year old wife?
Will immortality actually remove all barriers to age, sex, race, creed, blond hair, being too tall, being too short, or whatever it is that makes you different form everyone else?
What happens when caution and death is devalued?
Today if you drive in the United States and forget to wear your seat belts you are cited. The reasoning is that your negligence has consequences. The government has many rules on safety to which citations or imprisonment is the consequences of failing to follow the rules.
However, are these rules necessary? If the purpose is to protect people from injury and death then how useful are these rules if people are immortal. What if you drive your car into a wall and die? You can replace your car as easily as you can your body. It wouldn't be too far of an idea whereas people would try to “see” what it was like to die or become seriously hurt just for fun.
The world is full of daredevils. The limiting factor is that their errors of judgment can result in serious injury or death. Take away the consequences and you eliminate the fear of doing incredibly stupid acts.
Will the government intervene on how many times you can damage your body or kill yourself? Today we tax smokers for their unhealthy smoking habits. Will there be a tax on death or a tax on injury?
Its fun to consider something that is not real and to postulate the “what if's.” As technology progresses and people are able to live longer and longer the inequities of life will become more and more pronounced. Will there be an end to wealth redistribution as the wealthy become wealthier and the poor remain so for an eternity. Will immortality be a right for all or for a privileged few? Will we be forced to ration the precious resources as our population increases or will those less fortunate be forced to ration? Will immortality create equality among all or inequality among the haves and have not’s?
While these questions are pure fancy, the fact is that these same types of questions are being asked today. How will this country deal with the ever increasing cost of entitlements? What about the problem of the disappearing middle class as this nation becomes polarized between the rich and the poor? What about the issue of ever shrinking resources? Are the solutions to these problems reserved for future generations or is it our responsibility to solve them?
Yes, the problem posed by this article is pure fancy, but the precursors to those future problems are real and exist today! For part 2 click here The Benefits and Problems with Immortality II
A good article to read more on this topic is from Ann Davey entitled: When will it be possible to live forever