Just finished reading Trouble with Lichen, by John Wyndham, which considers the practical consequences and effects that would come from discovering a way to significantly prolong life. Again, his books take a slightly different stance from the one I expect, and in this case it is probably because most people cannot get past the initial shock and judgement about extended life to properly consider how it would change society, and the different benefits that it could bring.
People split into two camps; those who think it is a great thing, and those who think it is terrible. There are few who would remain ambivalent in the face of such a large change, although the way our health care is advancing, we are already slowly and gradually pushing the limits of ‘natural’ age.
One of the central characters suggests that the extra time could allow humanity to develop solutions to the many problems we currently face, and could even increase the level of equality between the sexes. She argues that, by directly facing the consequences of our actions, and not just knowing that what we do will negatively impact some abstract future, we will be more involved and motivated to stop harming ourselves and this world and instead spend our time thinking about how to improve things.
While this has some logic to it, I’m not sure whether I’m convinced. Of course some people would realise that they must change their behaviour immediately in order to ensure their continued survival and happiness, but some people already do that. Whether enough people would realise, and change, in time to save ourselves, is a different story.
People are already faced with consequences in our current short(er) lifetimes. We still mainly ignore them, and carry on doing whatever we want, with little heed to the future. Humanity seems to be stubbornly disinclined to plan and act for long-term gratification, even though this is one of the things which is meant to separate us from other animals, and from small children.
So, although it demonstrates the lack of faith I have in human kind, I am not sure that the clear-thinking minority could override tradition, ignorance, and reluctance to any kind of change. Additionally, for certain individuals at least, the amount of damage they could inflict over a lifetime would be expanded, leading to more for those with hope and forward thinking to repair.
Thankfully, there hasn’t been such a discovery so far. I think we would misuse and abuse any extra time we were afforded, and so am firmly in the ‘it’s unnatural!’ opposition camp. I don’t think longer lives would help us to lead better, or happier lives, and the problems surrounding a longer-living race are so large as to overwhelm any benefit of the scientific progress.
What do you think?