Human beings like feeling safe. The unknown always presents a certain percentage of risk, though probably much less so today than in the past. Back in the days of our primitive ancestors, leaving an old way for a new one might more easily have led to death than it can today, so it’s no surprise that we have evolved to be suspicious of novelties coming our way; this might well be one reason why enacting change is not very easy for our species.
Sometimes, what we already have is not the best arrangement; other options might prove better, though they do come with some uncertainty. Will the new option really bring benefits? Will it be worth the cons of discarding the old way of doing things? How much work will it take to move from the old way to the new one? Will the new way only bring benefits, or will it have challenges and problems as well?
For our aforementioned ancestors, the choices to be made were relatively simple but had potentially life-threatening consequences. Should I try this new berry that I’ve never seen before? Should I trust this stranger? Should I venture into this new territory? In such primitive times, it’s likely that the boldest among them didn’t live long enough to pass on their boldness, making diffidence toward novelty a valuable trait that we still possess today. The only problem is that this isn’t the Paleolithic anymore; choices are not so clear-cut, and atavistic instincts are largely inadequate to properly weigh our options in present-day complex situations, as we live in an age when change is constant, fast, and often dramatic and inevitable.
However, as said, we like feeling safe; and the old, which we know inside out, provides us with a sense of security, appeasing our ancient instinct without respect to how much the new might be better than the old. The current state of affairs of human life fits this description perfectly.
Safe and deadly
The fact that our health declines with time, eventually killing us, allows us—or, more precisely, imposes upon us—to organize our existence in a rather tight schedule. There’s a time for learning and growing up; a time for working, starting a family, and having children; and, finally, a time to become gradually more sick, retire, and die. This is nothing but the human version of what nearly every other creature does—be born, grow up, reproduce, maybe live for a little while longer, and die.
This schedule is not the best—after all, according to it, you’re going to die—but it does give you some sense of security in that it tells you roughly what is supposed to happen and when. Maybe if you were the only one on the planet following this schedule, you’d question its desirability, but since everyone around you is pretty much on the same schedule and everyone has learned to accept it as normal, you too are okay with it—or you were before getting into life extension—and anything that might disrupt it, such as the prospect of rejuvenation, undermines the sense of security that it gives you. That’s probably a reason why we’re still here debating whether life extension should or shouldn’t be a thing—rethinking how human life is organized is just too much for some people, and they’d literally rather die instead.
What would we do if we no longer had only a twenty-year window to have children? How would things change if you could start a new career at age 80 and keep at it for another 20 years? Some people find these concepts upsetting, and they’d rather forget them and stick to the original plan. Some others, used to the idea that older people have grey hair, bad health, and very few years ahead, might be confused to look at an attractive, young-looking man or woman and think “This person is 95 years old.” They might find it weird to be unable to tell someone’s age range at a glance or think that someone’s grandmother is a professional athlete.
In a world like this, expressions such as “old age” would lose meaning; if you’re as healthy in your 90s as you were in your 30s, there’s no reason at all why you should be “young” at 30 but “old” at 90. Words such as “elderly” and “aged” will be rather meaningless once rejuvenation therapies become reality. You could be older than someone else, but you couldn’t really be “old”. Just a few generations after the rise of comprehensive rejuvenation, there will be people around who’ve never seen what an “old person” looks like other than from old photos or illustrations. They will listen to the stories of their grandparents—every bit as biologically young as anyone except children—telling tales of the era before rejuvenation, and they will marvel at how life must have been when our days were numbered, our health a finite commodity, and our attitude toward this multimillenary, relentless tragedy rather cavalier. They might think we were insane just as much as we think slave drivers were. Probably, though, they’ll be thankful to the people back then who pushed for the status quo to change, sparing them a grim descent into illness, loss of independence, and death.
Close, but not there yet
We can paint the benefits and the challenges of this hypothetical brave new world in rather broad strokes as we imagine an end to the long tyranny of aging; its details are far from being set in stone.
This future world, though, is not very hypothetical at all in that it is quite probably destined to come into being. Our actions today, including your individual contribution, will very much decide when it’ll happen, and, indirectly, who will make it and who won’t; whose life will be spared and whose will be lost.