Changing Human Life Span Means Changing Human Society - For the Better

I received a characteristically interesting email from James Clements just recently, and thought it well worth sharing. The links are mostly added by my hand as a part of an ill-formed habit of annotating the work of others via HTML:

About 20 years ago, I read Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw's Life Extension Handbook. It was a revelation to me that scientific advances might, in my lifetime, allow us to live hundreds of years. One of the first things I thought of (having matured during the Vietnam War protests, Civil Rights, and Watergate) was that if we could change the average human lifespan from 70-80 years to 700-800 years we would likely change Society for the better in at least the following ways:

1) The Environment. Who would want to ruin the environment and rape and pillage the land if they had to continue living here for so long?

2) Education. The longer one lives the more easily they can improve their minds through cumulative education. Instead of cramming learning into an 8-16 year period, it would likely be spread out with intervening work over decades. Who would want to work all their life at menial labor if they knew that they could go back to school, improve their mind and pick up new skills, and then have decades or centuries to practice their new trade? Why wouldn't this process just keep repeating over and over?

3) War. There's a reason why the disposable members of the Army are primarily made up of 18-22 year olds - they do not fear death as much and if they think about old age, they think that dying young might be preferable to growing old and decrepit. But, who would want to die young fighting in wars when their lifespan could otherwise be hundreds of years? I truly believe that LIFE will become more precious, not less, when the vast majority of people live hundreds of years. Also, you see it around the world; mostly countries that have a preponderance of young people in their population go to war.

Countries are much less likely to go to war, have civil wars, or high crime rates the older their median population is: There are 25 countries in the world today whose median ages are LESS THAN 18 year old! And, when you look at this list, they are poor, violence ridden countries full of young people who have no hope and nothing to lose.

Upon consideration of the matter for a number of years, my attitude has not changed. I believe that Mankind would radically change for the better if our lifespans increased significantly. We would likely not reach any kind of Utopian state anytime in the foreseeable future, but we could certainly be a much kinder, gentler, and more prosperous place.

What we're doing will change Human history for the better.

The time preference imposed upon us by the present span of our lives determines the shape of our society.

Time preference is the economist's assumption that a consumer will place a premium on enjoyment nearer in time over more remote enjoyment. A high time preference means a person wants to spend their money now and not save it, whereas a low time preference means a person might want to save their money as well.

A future we will not live to experience has less value to us, so we feel more able to despoil it in any number of ways - the victory of short-term gratification over greater long-term gain. If you look back in history to ages of much shorter, disease-ridden lives, the actions of the time often seem as though the world was populated solely by madmen and the drunk - but in large part, this shape of history was formed by the short time preferences of those who lived it.

To expect to be alive, healthy and in your 40s is a luxury that all to many of the people who ever lived did not have. But most people today have no expectation of being alive, healthy and 100 - the actions, choices and contributions that form society reflect this view of the future. What if you could expect to see a healthy 150th or 200th year? Or live all the way to 800 in good health, for that matter. How then would you prioritize and act in your life? Quite differently than you do today, most likely.

We have a fighting chance at engineering our way to actuarial escape velocity - the point at which medical science increases healthy life span faster than we age - within our lifetimes. To seize this chance, we must gain the support of tens of millions of earnest folk and raise a mighty research infrastructure to rival the cancer establishment in size, dedication and scope. This can be done - it has been accomplished in past decades for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, diabetes and other conditions.

We can do this for aging, and thereby change the world for the better.

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I think there are typically economic reasons behind the decrease in crime rates currently in medically advanced first world countries.

Young people have easier legal opportunities for advancement and achieving a mate to fulfill their evolutionarily built-in programming, and do not feel as much pressure to take illegal shortcuts.

However, would this trend stand up in a society that had ultra-wealth combined with very extended lifespans? I can imagine in some such scenarios that beyond their younger years some healthy, bored middle aged folk might actually desire to participate in risky, yet non-lethal activities. In current societies indeed there is a large amount of "adventure tourism" done by middle aged wealthy folks.

Could such adventuring eventually extend to some crimes, perhaps bank robberies, hacking, etc. where an extreme thrill can be achieved without causing physical harm to others, and if you were caught might only result in a jail period that would represent a tiny percentage of your long lifespan?

If you had already achieved other life goals, and knew you could easily recover your lifestyle after being incarcerated, it might be an intriguing decision for some people.

Posted by: J at September 21st, 2006 8:50 PM

I find with educated people what catches their imagination the most is when I tell them you could go back to school, and pursue that doctorate you always wanted. You don't want to do it now because you maybe only have 10 years of a career left, but with hundreds of years you would no doubt do it.

Posted by: aa2 at September 22nd, 2006 12:49 AM
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