Immortality for humans is just around the corner. You may not believe this, but regardless; the threat that longevity poses to personal freedoms is real. New research into fruit flies is extending the life of these organisms by 2-3 times their normal average life span and the research indicates that we may be able to allow these flies to live indefinitely, remaining mature and vigorous effectively forever.
Scientists have found that aging can be manipulated within a species through genetic manipulation, through manipulation at a cellular level of DNA strings called telomeres and through the manipulation of diet. To scientists, aging is simply a “disease” and like a disease, cures can be found that slow or even completely stop the disease.
But what implications will this have for society as a whole? To answer that question, we simply need to apply logic and reason to deduce what a world of immortals will look like and despite what you might first believe, the picture is not as rosy as it might first appear.
To really understand the intricacies of the effects this will have on society, you have to understand that when I say “immortal” what I am really talking about is a stop to the aging process. I am not talking about bringing people back from the dead or anything like that, people will still be susceptible to death long after “immortality” is available. This point is absolutely crucial to understanding the effects immortality will have on our society.
First, we must understand that the instant that human immortality is available, or at least if longevity is extended to a few hundred years, everyone in the developed world will quickly become immortal. It will be fast, as in it will happen within just a few years. Why? Simple economics.
Think about it, people today can get a 30 year home loan of $100,000 for a monthly payment of about $800/month. Now, let’s say that when the procedure for immortality is first introduced that it is expensive, as in $1,000,000. Now, if you are going to live forever, then you could take out a $1,000,000 loan over 300 years at an interest rate of say 1% and you would effectively have a house payment to contend with in order to become immortal. A pretty small price to pay! Every bank in America would give out a loan for this amount because you effectively have forever to pay it off!
As a majority of individuals within a developed nation become immortal, or a minority of individuals organized into an effective lobbying group, there will be swift social changes made to protect that immortality. The primary result of this will be an effort to eradicate other, preventable causes of death. The primary driver for these changes will come from the immortals themselves but also from the insurance companies. The reason the insurance companies will get involved is due to the loans that individuals will need to take out to secure the treatment in order to become immortal. Similar to how car loans work today, banks will require a life insurance policy that will effectively pay off the loan in the event of one’s death. Hence, it is a no-lose proposition for the banks, if you live forever, then you will continue to pay on the loan until the loan is repaid. If you die, your insurance policy will pay off the loan.
This inevitable series of cause and effect will result in the systemic elimination of things that can cause pre-mature death. Chief among these will be cars. Car accidents account for a staggering number of deaths each year, deaths that the insurance companies will want to prevent. Thus, cars will be outlawed, as will other things that can cause premature death such as smoking, alcohol, obesity, motorcycles, airplanes, guns, etc. Anything and everything that could possibly cause premature death will be outlawed or at the very least become heavily regulated.
The reason these things will be outlawed follows exactly the thinking of today’s social reformers in the institution of seat belt laws, helmet laws, child seat laws, etc. The thinking is that there should be absolutely no choice involved in whether or not to wear a seat belt or a helmet because if you do not use such a protective device, then everyone’s insurance and health care premiums go up as a result. People not wearing seat belts or helmets and the like cost the insurance companies more money and thus the insurance companies lobby to pass these kinds of laws “for the children”.
Furthermore, procreation will become heavily regulated. If everyone is living forever, then if the current, nearly non-existent procreation regulations are not amended, the world will quickly become overpopulated. Therefore, it will be inevitable that the government will need to regulate all aspects of procreation including provisions regarding how many children, what types of children and when children are born.
Thus, what you will end up with is a society in which individuals may very well live forever, but it will be a society where you cannot do anything except walk around and be safe. By becoming immortal, you will effectively agree to submit to the will and control of the banks and insurance companies. And even if the price of immortality shrinks to the point that it is cost effective to have the procedure without mortgaging one’s life, those that submit to the procedure will have a vested interest in protecting their lives, which again leads to the elimination of all preventable causes of death.
Which begs the question, “Who wants to live forever?”. In the near future, you will need to make that choice. Do you live forever in a world in which nearly all of your personal freedoms are sacrificed, or do you live for a short time in a society ruled primarily by personal freedom?
Immortality will bring with it a schism within society between those that value longevity versus those that value personal freedom. These two ideologies are fundamentally at odds with one another and will drive a rift between the two segments of society such that there will be two societies within developed nations. I believe that the schism will be so fundamental to one’s individual beliefs that it will drive the creation of new nation states. In America, there will be a nation of immortals and a nation of non-immortals, each nation state populated by those individuals that either believe in the mantra of immortality or the in the mantra of personal freedom.
I think that this fundamental argument has application to today’s society. The added safety of a society has always and will always result in reduced personal freedoms. At what point does this cause a revolt among those that value personal freedoms above the safety or cost-effectiveness of society as a whole? That point may be even nearer than human immortality, which I believe is at most 100 years away. You and I will need to make that decision within the next 25-50 years and in fact are making those same, fundamental decisions today. So…who wants to live forever?
Originally published May 2003