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Are You An Amortal? May 8, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Longevity, Transhumanism.
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An interesting article up in the Observer takes a  look at a rapidly growing subset of the elderly: the amortals.   Divorced from traditional notions of age-appropriate behavior these are the type of people who go hiking Mount Everest for their 70th birthday or who decide to marry partners 40 years their junior (looking at you Hugh Hefner).

So much of the talk regarding longevity revolves around the technical solutions to the problem that it actually quite refreshing to see people discussing both the type of person who can successfully live long into their golden years.  First and foremost is the fact that these people, whatever their age, do not see themselves as old.  No age for them is too old to start a business or enter a new relationship and retirement might as well be a dirty word.  In fact many of these people see the current effort to raise to retirement ages in a very different way than most of us:

Retirement isn’t a proposition that appeals to amortals unless life after work promises to be busier and better than the life before. And the impulse to keep working isn’t such a bad thing, given the changing profile of the world’s population. In Europe, the 60-pluses are projected to make up 37% of the population by the middle of this century. In some countries, two-fifths of citizens will be in their seventh decade or beyond…

Amortals are more inclined to celebrate the lifting of compulsory retirement ages and to deplore the ageism that seriously disadvantages older job seekers.

That brings us to a disturbing fact.  Society is not prepared to deal with large numbers of amortals.  Everything about us from our economies to our social benefits is based on the idea that people stop working once they reach 60-65.  This worked very well 50 year ago when the general trend after retirement was to take up golf for a few years and then die but it is completely outdated in an age where the average person has at least a decade, and most likely quite a bit more, to look forward to after the pension checks start coming in.  One only needs to look at the debt crises afflicting most of the developed to see the first waves battering our shores.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.  The fact that people are living longer means at least one very good thing; people have more time to enjoy their lives.  This is one thing I greatly appreciated about the article.  Too often in the transhumanist community I feel like our desire for longevity is little more than an adolescent urge to thumb our nose at death, to spit at the Grim Reaper (see Ray Kurzweil).  It is wonderful to see people for whom the desire to live is borne out of nothing more than “joie de vivre.”  People like this are living counter-arguments to the tired objections one sees whenever the debate over immortality is brought up;  “but won’t we get bored?”, “who wants to be old forever?”

Attitudes like that are not only poorly reasoned (no transhumanist advocates growing decrepit) but are also obsolete.  They were born in a time when the lines separating the young, the mature and the elderly were clearly demarcated.  That is no longer the case.  As our lifespans lengthen we are coming to understand that no age is too old to better ourselves, to set plans for our future, to set out on a new adventure in life.  So I ask again, are you an amortal?

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