A general health and wellness craze has seen a resurgence over the last few years. This manifests in a variety of practices including styles of eating, sleeping, fasting, exercising, and pill popping. A major reason for this health push is to look good and feel good. But I’d argue a lot of it is related to the emergent popularity of Human Longevity science. Or the quest for extending the length of human life.
There are a growing number of people who focus their time on this field. That is, they spend time trying to figure out how to extend the useful life of people. To clarify, this is not the same as trying to resolve immortality. Instead, it’s the pursuit of understanding the aging mechanisms of the body and trying to stop, slow down, or counteract these mechanisms with different practices. The ultimate goal being to meaningfully extend a persons life.
At face value, no one would argue that extending the average human life is a bad thing. On the contrary, the push for human longevity has started an overwhelmingly positive trend in health and wellness. But what gets lost in these conversations are the potential negative consequences that could arise from any major human life extensions successes.
What happens to the job market if people live longer? How about housing? Or like in the controversial case of Joe Biden, what if our leaders are in office later into their lives but suffer more cognitive deterioration? What about the funding and administration of social welfare programs with benefits for retirees, like Social Security? The point – we haven’t had a public conversation about the 2nd and 3rd order consequences of human life extension.
Here are some thoughts to get the conversation flowing.
Simple Human Longevity Facts
The top 3 causes of death in the US according to the CDC as of 2017:
- Heart Disease
- Accidental Death
The CDC’s study shows that the top 3 causes of death account for an overwhelming 75% of the deaths in the US. Heart disease and cancer account for nearly 50% of deaths in both men and women and accidental death accounting for nearly 25%.
Accidental deaths are overwhelmingly more common in younger populations while older populations (65+) are more likely to die from internal issues such as cancer and heart disease.
What this means is that solutions targeting the prevention and cure for both heart disease and various cancers could meaningfully extend the average lifespan. It’s not a leap to assume a mixture of preventative medicine and advances in treatments could effectively eliminate these illnesses in the next few decades.
The bottom line is that human longevity is a practical science. It’s not theoretical.
Longevity is a Challenge to Societal Frameworks
While the thought of curing cancer and eliminating heart disease is wonderful, I can’t help but wonder about the longer term societal consequences. In the short term, new technological advances typically come to market priced high to recover R&D expenses. This effectively means that the wealthy benefit first while lower income people get priced out.
Imagine a scenario where for 10 to 15 years, the wealthy have access to longevity tech that the rest of the population is priced out of. They’ll live longer while the rest of the population stays the same.
Inequality will more than likely get worse as the wealthy have early access to the tech. Why? Because the wealthy will have an opportunity to compound wealth for longer and increase the leverage of generational accumulated advantage. The velocity of change becomes greater for those that compound longer. The compounding change vs the rest of the world is an exponential change, not linear. What this means, is that the rich will get more rich, faster. Creating a wider gulf of inequality.
And therefore, access to longevity tech for some but not others has massive implications. The question we should be asking is how can we make sure human longevity solutions are immediately available to all and not the few that can afford it.
Longevity and the Definition of Human Beings
Another point of discussion – doesn’t death provide human beings with a fundamental aspect of our humanity? Fear of aging and a fear of death has a massive psychological impact on our actions. On how we interact with one another. On our cultures, traditions, and rite’s of passage. Fear of death, and a fear of aging, and the acceptance of both are important parts of what makes us human. If we achieve meaningful life extension it’s important to acknowledge that these changes to aging may start to erode a major element of our humanity. Perhaps erode is too negative a word – maybe it’s best to think of it as a positive change?
I’d argue that this longevity science enters the realm of human induced evolution. The psychological implications will most assuredly have profound impacts on the culture norms, mores, and value systems of society.
Longevity, the art of extending our lives may in fact fray an element of what makes us human. This is an important conversation to have as we push the boundaries of what is possible with life extension.
It will certainly have an impact on how we approach family making. If we live longer, what are the consequences to population size? Will we have less children and see the size of the population fall? Or will we see overcrowding because less people are dying while still having the same rate of children?
This challenge likely doesn’t matter unless the average human lifespan is increased by say 10 years. But what if a meaningful breakthrough takes place and we effectively extend life by 30 years?
I’m an advocate for longevity science. I’ll be one of the first people in line for any therapies that are brought to market. But I do think it’s important to think and prepare for the inevitable consequences of human life extension. At the moment, it doesn’t seem like these questions are included in the public discourse. So rather than wait for the conversation to start, why not think through them and prepare for their eventuality on your own?