(Original appearance on my Patreon page, 04 July 2017)
To understand our ancestors and the Natural Lifers, voluntary and involuntary, throughout the Solar System, you must understand first that they are all dead.
For our pre-Longevity ancestors, that’s literally true. But I mean something more profound than a simple observation of the state of being of those who formerly lived and died. I’m talking about people and whole societies that were and are dead in the depths of their souls and worldview from birth.
We share with them the technical fact of mortality. We, too, will all die. No matter that our organs, unlike theirs, continually rebuild and reengineer themselves from the inside, that we enjoy continual in-depth health monitoring built into our surroundings, clothing, bedding, skin, flesh, bones, and blood, every single moment of every single day. No matter that our brains and memories are tended like gardens and backed up like documents.
Sooner or later the Reaper will reach us. It happens. Statisticians and actuaries disagree amongst themselves but most give us between five and fifteen thousand years before chance delivers us a body-obliterating end. It happens to an unlucky few every year already, in fact, among the tens of billions protected by Longevity.
But our ancestors (and today’s Natural Lifers) grew up assuming that their lives will be over very quickly indeed, and that there’s nothing of consequence they can do about it — which never stopped them from trying to micromanage a few extra years our of their short spans. Few ever succeeded in truly taking a view longer than their own lifespans, and usually that longer view consisted of trying to lock the future into living in the comfortable past of their own youths. For most, “long term” consisted of thinking a bare handful of years ahead, literally. No more than a person could count on their fingers.
Imagine what it’s like to be born inevitably and rapidly terminal. After the normal human childhood frenzy of learning, you must hurry on, hardly pausing. Spend your twenties in frantic acquisition of career skills. Your thirties and forties in frantic acquisition of expertise and professional networks. And then you have perhaps twenty good years to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor before the inevitable decline of body and mind begins to steal that hard-won enjoyment back. You’ll be very lucky to live beyond ninety without Longevity. Ninety years. That’s it. And in the past, there wasn’t even the option to change your mind, which many Natural Lifers do around mid-life when the recognition of immanent mortality really solidifies.
Short-lifers hardly had time to accomplish anything, and they were the entirety of society for most of human history. A society built around the recognition of swift and certain death. For them, everything must be a headlong rush, even the most careful and thoughtful long-range planning.
And a personal failure at any stage of life often meant a literally fatal delay of ambition and enjoyment of life success.
No wonder schadenfruede and sadism and suicide and Amok and warfare were rampant.
Not that those things are extinct in Longevity society. But they’re enormously rarer, aren’t they? Because we not only have reason to plan for the long term, but we know we’re here for the long term. We know we are alive and will continue to live, deep down in our flesh and bones and blood and souls. Tomorrow is coming for us, but short-lifers could never be certain that even tomorrow would come for them.
We’ve got more to lose, more to gain, and more to hope for. Just this first half-millennium of Longevity has revealed a slower progress, which the Natural Lifers jeer at, but it is deliberate and broad and lacks the error-forcing frantic quality of ephemeralism. We’ve more caution in deploying new ideas, but enjoy an unprecedented range of pure research and great reliability in the new developments we add to our lives. For why would a person facing ten thousand years of life worry over a decade or two spent chasing a dead end? But the prospect terrifies Natural Lifers, because two decades in a dead end is a waste of the bulk of an advanced professional life with no chance for recovery. It’s also easier for us to admit errors, for that very reason. A twenty year long mistake is a blush for us, but the ruin of everything for them.
As they point out slower overall progress, Natural Lifers are also quick to point out other shortcomings and controversies within Longevity — sometimes with justice, but often out of that schadenfreude mentioned earlier.
In our society it is easier to consolidate wealth and power for those willing to devote all their centuries to doing so — and so far we have several prominent examples of that. The definitions of “career criminal” and “life sentence” have shifted in ways our legal systems have still not fully adapted to. There is still enormous debate and controversy among creatives and legal minds over what copyright and fair use should look like when a creator might live longer than the current age of all human civilization to date. Mental illness and attitudes toward it are also experiencing a sea change — it seems that over a lifetime of centuries we all are statistically certain to experience mental illness in one or several forms.
While these are all real concerns and ramifications of Longevity, none of them are reasons to ignore the advances of technology and rejoin the Natural Lifers. None of them are reasons to embrace a swift death, surely.
Every human advance has brought new benefits and new difficulties hand in hand. Cheap, powerful ion-drive spacecraft changed our entire society and outlook on life. The internet changed everything with its advent. So did the motor vehicle. Rocketry, airplanes, telephones, electricity, railroads, rifles, gunpowder, crossbows, credit, printing presses, steel, aqueducts, sewers, iron, bronze, domesticated horses, writing, agriculture, brewing, fire. Every one of these innovations, and more besides, radically changed human history, society, worldview, and reasoning. Every single one. We adjusted to them.
We’ll adjust to biological immortality too, and all the new innovations it brings us.