Longevity and the Human Condition

I’m having a back-and-forth with one of my friends and thought I’d share some pieces of it for perusal and maybe some discussion.

One Hand: I’ve read from several sources that with a healthy lifestyle, it is actually natural and normal for human beings to reach the age of 120 (the people of Okanawa are a good example). But how practical would that be on a large scale? As long as the western world is polluting the air, water and food, eating processed food, not exercising, creating stress in the pursuit of status and material gain etc. the extension of human life will only be achievable artificially and where is the quality of life in that? What would be the point? Can people even afford to live to 100 and beyond? What would it do to our economy? I don’t know what the current situation is in the US, but the Canadian medical establishment is on the verge of collapse because the cost of medical care is so extravagently expensive. Add to that a large population of centenarians needing replacement body parts, organs etc., how is it possible to sustain? Certainly an interesting subject to ponder.

The Other Hand: I have to disagree that the artificiality you cite as being necessary to the extension of human life would be a bad thing. How natural are antibiotics? Or living inside of heated dwellings with clean running water?

I read an interesting article about a year or so ago where a fellow with “Doctors without Borders” was working with folks in very remote locations where “modern” life had not yet encroached. Very contrary to his expectations he found that valium was a popular drug being dispensed there. It seems that stress and anxiety was a normal part of life out there, at rates very comparable to what we first-worlders experience. The only difference being the foci of the problems.
I think we can all relate, look at how worked up children get over simple things. They have no taxes, no job obligations, yet their concerns and worries are as real to them as ours are to us. I would put it to you that folks are either anxious or they are not. It is part of the human condition and very likely always will be.

I agree with the considerations that you raise about increased longevity. But don’t forget we’ve already dealt with many of these issues before as the average lifespan has been steadily increasing decade by decade. It’s now just a question of degree. Other cultural shifts have just as much potential for messing up actuarial tables. One that comes to mind immediately are partners in lesbian couples that can now benefit from each other’s pension and health schemes. I see many rate-setters scrambling to come up with revisions to such plans to keep them viable in the light of such new reality.

I recall that, in the 70s, there were dire warnings that the planet would never be able to support X billion people and we’d all starve in the early 2000’s if not sooner. Technology has a brilliant way of putting the lie to such doomsaying and I suspect that is a trend that will only continue.

I have a fixed confidence that both human civilization and the biosphere are much more incredibly robust than we allow ourselves to conceive. There will always be tragedy and problems on a small scale, but the larger context will end up accommodating and even booning from the break with old patterns.

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