So You Want to Live Forever

In one of my recent posts I touched on the concept of living forever, and why we may or may not want to do so. Because one of my besties is quite enamored of the idea of living forever, I’ve been thinking a lot more about it and whether or not I would want to. But there’s an element to this that I hadn’t fully explored that hit me yesterday in a giant pile of “how did I not think about this?”

Is it ethical to live forever? If it is, how could we ethically enact a system that would allow people to live forever without ingraining oppressions even further? What are the possible repercussions of living forever, not just on an individual’s life, but on society at large? Even if we want to live forever, there may be good reasons to hesitate pursuing the technology that would allow us to do so.

On a larger scale, I suppose we have to question whether giving humanity a better chance of survival as a species is a good thing. There’s no particular reason to think that humans are all bad or all good. We haven’t totally destroyed the world yet (which is cool) and we’ve invented some amazing things and we are conscious and have culture and thoughts and emotions all of which are incredibly interesting and in many ways beautiful (is beauty a value we want to subscribe to?), but at the same time we’ve drastically reduced the amount of variety in the world (variety does seem to be a value to me), we’re short sighted, we may fuck up the planet enough that nothing can live on it anymore (and life, particularly conscious life as the universe’s way of recognizing and admiring itself seems to be an important value to me), and we are self centered and cruel in intentional ways that nearly no other species is…so it’s kind of on the fence for humanity.

Based on the mediocrity of humanity, it doesn’t seem as if there’s any particular ethical push either to live forever or not (unless we assume that we would leave a void that a superior species would fill, and I don’t see any evidence for that). So what about the logistics of living forever?

The first consideration that springs to mind is overcrowding. If people are living forever and still reproducing, where do we put all of these people? What happens if/when we run out of resources? There’s always the possibility that at this point we’ll be terraforming other planets and it wouldn’t be a concern, but without that outlet, it could mean lowering the quality of life for everyone if we continue overpopulating the planet. Another alternative would be to make people stop having babies, but ethically speaking I really can’t condone controlling someone’s reproductive system (see: eugenics and all the things that are wrong with it).

If we can get past overcrowding, another difficulty would be that one of the ways humanity progresses is through new minds that have different starting premises from their parents. This generation almost takes it for granted that marriage equality should and will happen, whereas the previous generation is far more hit or miss on that. People’s brains are far more malleable when they’re young, and it seems quite likely that changing our opinions becomes more and more difficult the older we get (this is not to say it’s impossible). It’s possible we may hit a limit to our ability to remember or even process new information. Before we attempt living forever we would likely need more information about whether or not human brains can continue to develop indefinitely (yes we can grow new brain cells. Slowly. Maybe the forever livers would have to forsake all things that can cause brain damage of any kind).

There are probably two considerations here: the quality of life of the individual who is living forever and whether that is constrained by the human brain (which we could potentially enhance), and whether or not we would be able to continue to improve society with individuals who grew up in worse times hanging around. While consideration 1 is somewhat important, as long as immortality was freely entered with the knowledge of how it would affect one’s brain, I can’t see it as nearly as pertinent as consideration 2.

Say we develop our technology to a point wherein the human brain and body will not decay in our immortality. We download our consciousness into robots and live forever that way. We’re capable of learning and processing new things, growing, changing, and developing indefinitely. How do we decide who gets to live forever? The technology would most likely be expensive and not available to everyone. Should we allow rich, horrible people to live forever? Should there be a mechanism to monitor who takes advantage of the technology so that people who are criminals or a drain on society (whatever the hell that means) or mean or unintelligent or whatever else we deem “not as good” can’t live forever?

Most likely any mechanism like this would feed immediately into systems of privilege that already exist and we’d end up with even older, richer white men. There is no feasible mechanism that would keep society progressing and healthy with some measure of equality in how people are allowed to live forever. Perhaps it would be a lottery system, but it’s hardly an ideal system that potentially could leave us without some of our best minds and humanitarians.

Overall the whole concept of living forever means trying to solve all of today’s ills before we could find a way to equitably distribute eternal life (haha that’s no big deal right?), so if I were given the opportunity, I don’t know that I’d be able to feel ok with myself if I took it.

What other considerations do you see?

Featured image is Arwen for choosing to give up immortal life (like a boss).

 

An Argument for Meat Eating

Ooof. I just got done reading an article about how ‘happy meat’ doesn’t count as actually caring for animal rights, and the only way to care for animal rights is to be completely vegan. I’ve heard this argument before, and I still don’t buy it. First of all, I rarely hear any argument that really sinks in about why killing or eating an animal is inherently wrong.

It seems to me that things that are harmful are: things that cause pain, either to an individual or group, or things that keep another individual from attaining their goals. This is adapted from Peter Singer, a secular philosopher. The reason it’s wrong to kill a human being is because they have an interest and a preference for remaining alive. Animals don’t have that forward thinking (or at least most of them don’t. I don’t advocate killing dolphins or octopuses or chimps or elephants or other highly intelligent animals). So really the major harm in killing animals is potentially in cause emotional or physical pain to other animals, or in the pain that the individual feels as they are dying.

Now most of the animals that we eat are not highly aware or conscious. Obviously they can feel pain, but there is little evidence that cows form personal attachments to each other, or that they worry about death. So the most important thing to worry about with the death of most mammals is whether it is a painful death and whether they are raised in a kind, happy way. That is the whole essence of happy meat: ensuring that these requirements are met. So far as I can tell, there is no residual harm if those pieces are met.

That said, there may be some other considerations such as environmental factors, but those are a whole different ballgame because meat does not inherently mean less environmentally friendly. I’m strictly arguing for the morality of eating meat as such.

At its root, my whole position on meat eating stems from a notion that will probably freak some people out: life in and of itself has no inherent value. The value of life comes from the experiences within it: positive feelings, pleasurable sensations, kindness, compassion and connection with others, or a sense of fulfillment. I do not believe a life without any of these things has value. Of course I also believe that no human life is truly without any of these things, and so I believe that removing the possibility of those future good things from someone who anticipates them and has a vested interest in them is wrong. Animals do not necessarily look forward to those things in the same way, so if we can ensure them while the animal is alive, we have done all we can be expected to do. All of that said, I am highly pacifistic, a vegetarian most of the time (I only eat happy meat), and in favor of huge reforms of the meat and farming industries.

Also stay away from octopuses. Because octopuses are geniuses. Don’t hurt the octopuses. I mean seriously, look at that little cutie up there.