(Image Source: KJ Design)
I had a convo with a friend earlier this week about life and death. At some point, I asked, “Why on Earth would anyone want to live forever?” She responded by talking about accomplishing life goals, building relationships and making memories. “Oh no, I’m not saying ‘Why not just die and get it over with'”, I paused and continued, “I mean, I think most people desire a long, healthy life. But to never die? Never? While the people you love most do die? The world you know fades away? Like, live just to not die?”
I thought of my grandmother who has buried her mom, husband, siblings, three of her kids, and a grandchild. To be clear, Grandma doesn’t have a deathwish, and is quite active at 86. But she doesn’t dread death, either. In speaking with my friend I realized, neither do I.
But we aren’t Silicon Valley billionaires, who, according to this Wired story, are trying to do away with the Grim Reaper:
SILICON VALLEY IS coming for death. But it’s looking in the wrong place.
After disrupting the way we love, communicate, travel, work, and even eat, technologists believe they can solve the ultimate problem. Perennially youthful Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced last year a $3 billion initiative to obliterate human disease. Among his many crusades, Paypal co-founder and Drumpf advisor Peter Thiel aims to end mortality. (“Basically, I’m against it,” he has said.) Alphabet has a whole company devoted to curing this most intractable of inconveniences.
And they aren’t necessarily crazy to try. Since the 19th century, average life expectancies have risen for everyone (though not at equal rates) thanks to advances in science and technology. But over the past two decades, deaths attributed to inequality, isolation, and addiction have risen for both men and women without a college education in the US. In particular, as Princeton economists revealed today, white middle-aged men with a high school education or less, hit disproportionately by the Great Recession, are dying of despair. Well-heeled techies obsessed with life extension have little to say about these problems, suggesting a grim blind spot: Are they really trying to extend everyone’s lives? Or just those of people already doing great?
You may recall I posted on the increase of morbidity amongst middle-aged White Americans a couple of days ago. If not, check it out. It’s a long, but fascinating read. Back to Wired:
As surgeon and author Atul Gawande explains in Being Mortal, funding improvements in palliative care—making people in extreme pain or at the end of their life more comfortable—would much more meaningfully address the problem of death. You make death less terrible and inevitable by making life less painful. Silicon Valley’s simplistic life extension arithmetic—you improve life by adding more years—glosses over the complicated social forces eroding or hampering the quality of life for so many people.
“What would it mean to design against despair or isolation or loneliness?” asks Russell. “I have to think that just making another social media messaging platform doesn’t get us there.”
Matthew 5:45 says that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Or in other words, good and bad happens to us all. This is life.
I’ve said now for over 4 years, since my sister Jos died, that it’s not death that scares me. It’s dying- or that last period of life itself which is all too often incredibly painful. I’d rather these techies put their millions into fixing that… because no matter what, to live is to die.