I recently came across a startling passage in the book “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari, a historian with a PhD. from Oxford. He predicts that by the year 2050 we will become a-mortal, that we will live indefinitely as long as we manage to avoid a catastrophic accident in an isolated location. Our limbs and organs will be periodically replaced, and our minds rejuvenated; Death will lose it’s capital D status and will no longer be the determining factor in our life choices.
I won’t live long enough for this to happen, but my children and grandchildren might. Their ideas about purpose and meaning will be radically altered if this sea change actually occurs. The main problem of being alive will shift. Now we worry about making our lives meaningful in the short and uncertain time that we have been allotted by fate. Then our descendants will have to choose what to do to fill up the abundant time given to them.
Contemplate an endless stretch of years to work, love, and play. Would we have to make over our lives every fifty or seventy years out of sheer boredom? When we have our major organs retreaded every half century will we trade in jobs, dismiss spouses, and search for new locations? Imagine walking into a strip mall medical facility and ordering an all-in-one special: “I’ll take the liver transplant and brain defogger along with an educated, leggy brunette and a move to Seattle. Wait, wait. I’ve been hetero for a little too long. Give me a short, blond guy, kind of butchy. I feel like being dominated for a while.”
What if we become intensely bored with accounting but have few other talents? We can become reeducated and take up archaeology or linguistics, but what if we’re lousy at them and fail constantly? Personal economics might force us to return to our “home field of endeavor”, and we would be doomed to learn tax law and fill out forms indefinitely. We’d never be able to retire as our golden years would never arrive. And even if we are gifted with many talents, won’t they be exhausted if we live long enough? “I’ve been a painter, a writer, an actuary, gambler, judge, architect and a scientist. Geez, what’s left? I haven’t tried dog walking and male prostitution yet. Hmmmm. I more of a cat person, and I look hideous in spandex….Decisions, decisions.”
Traditional religions would most likely fall to the wayside. Most trade on the question of whether there’s life after death, but that issue will lose a lot of potency if the fatal moment no longer looms. Buddhism might be the exception, but I wonder if the attraction of living in the moment might fade when there’s a nearly endless supply of moments. Funerals will be sporadic, exceptions to rule, and the mourners will be preoccupied more with judging the deceased’s folly than in wondering what will happen to his spirit now that it’s left the a-mortal coil. “What was Bob thinking when he tried to milk his pet Black Mamba for venom while driving his sports car at 150 mph on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the middle of a sleet storm? He was just asking for it.”
Philosophers and theologians have been fond of pointing out that death gives life its meaning. It’s like the sidelines and goal lines in football. The game makes no sense if there are no boundaries to focus energy and action. Death forces us to make choices, to measure the current worth of our lives, and motivates us to improve our life’s value. Our time here is a precious quantity, and we can’t waste it. Death also offers us a respite from endless worry and suffering. Freud’s Death Wish is really the hope that the shitstorm of living will finally end.
Some will argue that suffering will end once death no longer holds sway over mankind. What is there to fear once the Grim Reaper is forced into semi-retirement? Any injury or malady will only be a temporary discomfort. Life will be a paradise….
But consider the possibility of having ten mother-in-laws roaming around trash talking you behind your back, or several fatal attraction-esque former mates stalking you and demanding your attention. “I will not be ignored! Ignored! Ignored!” Imagine the tangle of children and grandchildren, some of whom you like and enjoy, but others you wish to avoid for a very long time. They’d find you eventually and demand money, gifts and favors. There would be no escape.
I predict that a new death cult would arise. It wouldn’t be one that dealt with the inevitability of death, but one that would tempt it.