At times, meeting people feels like going to the theater. Conversations tend to revolve around the same topics and can sound so cliché that they seem scripted. Of course, it depends on the people—close friends tend to be far more genuine than that—but if you pay attention during a conversation, a certain topic will pop up several times: aging.
Depending on the age of the people involved, the way they discuss aging will be different. Teenagers probably won’t even touch the subject; it generally starts creeping up in conversations once working life has begun or is about to begin. At this stage, chronological and biological aging are mostly conflated; responsibilities, more demanding schedules, and abandoning student life are all seen as hallmarks of growing older, when, in fact, they are only signs of growing up and are not absolute.
Still, it is largely true that we become more busy as we get older, independent of biological aging. This is, in fact, a common complaint that subtly slips into most “grown-up conversations”; this is especially true in the case of parents, whose free time is understandably even more curtailed. Wouldn’t we all like to have more time?
If you asked this question rhetorically, you’d get away with it scot-free. Everyone would probably nod approvingly, make a comment on how they’d love to have more time for their hobbies or their families, and that would be that. If you asked the question more seriously, you wouldn’t have it so easy.
Try it. Ask people if they would like to live longer, perhaps even much longer, so that they could have more time. Initially, they’ll say that the problem is quality, not quantity. If you live longer, you’re older for longer, and the prospect isn’t all that attractive. At that point, you can ask them to assume the existence of a magic anti-aging pill available to everyone. (Paradoxically, appealing to their suspension of disbelief is likely to prove more successful than providing evidence that rejuvenation is possible.)
Once you’ve convinced them to overlook all the problems they think that such a pill would cause and to focus only on the benefits, you’re bound to still face some skepticism. They will concede that time does fly, and that, in principle, it would be nice to have more of it; however, they have been carrying a lot of clichéd baggage for their entire lives, and it’s difficult for people to let go of that.
Nearly everyone grew up in a cultural context in which the fact that human life is limited is depicted as a blessing in disguise. There really isn’t any proof, or even convincing evidence, that living longer than we do now would wind up being demotivating or boring, yet it’s something that people commonly believe. Interestingly, there are also countless inspirational quotes reminding you that your time is limited, so you should make the most of it. These two attitudes seem to be somewhat contradictory in that the former suggests that the value of life tends to diminish with time, while the latter instills a sense of urgency to make every moment count because you’ve got only so many moments and they’re all equally precious. There seems to be no room for boredom in this view.
Both of these standpoints are wrong. First, there is no reason to assume that you will be tired of life after a predefined number of years; maybe you’ll be tired of it at some point, but it does not make sense that everyone would do so at around the same time nor that the average lifespan is just long enough to not be boring.
As for the second standpoint, as avid a lover of life as I am, there are dull moments, moments that I’d rather forget, moments that don’t count at all, and moments at which I’d rather lie down and slack off than “live to the fullest”. I am okay with that, because life is made of ups and downs. We’ve got needs that periodically require taking care of. That’s why you don’t want a party to last forever; after a while, you need quiet and privacy. Later on, you’ll feel more social again.
This is the point at which people are likely to draw a false analogy and say that life is just like that party: at some point, you’ll want to leave. The analogy doesn’t work because a party is a very specific event, whereas life is a changing sequence of events, some of which are regular and predictable and some that are not. (Also, unless the party was really bad, when you leave it, you won’t be thinking, “I never want to be at a party again.” When you leave life, what you are thinking doesn’t really matter; you won’t be coming back anyway.)
The second standpoint is not entirely without merit, though. Life should be enjoyed. This doesn’t mean that you should expect to be hyped all the time, but if you have a choice between enjoying any given moment and hating it fiercely, why not the former? If you can maximize your own enjoyment without harming anyone, why not? That’s something to think about in general and something that people who are skeptical about life extension should ask themselves. Being sick hardly helps you enjoy yourself; so, if you want to maximize your enjoyment, you want to stay disease-free as much as possible. This is the point at which people need to understand that elimination of disease and life extension are one and the same: you can’t really have one without the other.
Maximizing your enjoyment also entails extending its duration. There is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy something for a long time, and only the beneficiary should get to decide how long is long enough. If you’re playing a game of golf for two hours and really feel like you want to go on for another two, how would you like it if I came along and decided for you that you’ve played long enough? That’s pretty much what happens when people tell you that the human lifespan is long enough—they’re breaking into your private golf course and telling you that you ought to stop playing. It’s none of their business, really.
As life extension technologies would likely allow us to live much longer, they would allow us to maximize our enjoyment by maximizing its duration; of course, this is only a possibility, as your enjoyment of your extra time depends very much on what you do with it. This is the point at which another objection is likely to be brought up: Are the extra years granted by life extension going to be more of the same old stuff?
I don’t have the foggiest clue, because it depends upon a number of unknown factors, one of which is you. Whether you firmly believe that a dystopia is lying ahead for humanity or that a utopia awaits us instead, you can rest assured that the world is going to be different, not just in the far future but even ten years from now. If you’re afraid that you’ll spend your additional years doing the same old boring job, I’d say that you’ve got a problem with your job, not with life extension. I am not even going to go all Star Trek on you and speculate that we won’t be needing jobs N years from now; I am just saying that you might want to think twice before gambling your life on the assumption that whatever lies ahead is not worth the trouble.
I love being alive. It’s not always great, but the good moments are worth it. I do what I can to maximize my good moments and minimize the bad ones. If I am concerned that the future might have bad surprises in store, I work to change that. That’s why I’m into life extension; aging is not just bad, it isn’t much of a surprise, either. I have reasons to believe that the future will be bright, but I don’t take it for granted. You shouldn’t, either; you should find a way to help ensure a bright future for humanity so that we can all look forward to living much, much longer.