When asked what surprises him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama replied:
Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money, then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health, and then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present. As a result he doesn’t live in the present or the future and he lives as if he’s never going to die, then he dies having never really lived.
Today’s revelation that medical researchers predict that drugs will be available within decades to slow the ageing process and extend the human life expectancy to 150 and beyond is alarming on a few fronts.
Firstly, the headline that accompanied the report: New drugs offer hope of life to 150-plus. Hope? For what? 150 years of worrying about where the money for the drugs is going to come from? Hoping that you’ll be able to fit into 150 what you apparently can’t fit into 80, 90 or so? Hoping that the last 50 or so of that lifespan won’t be spent wondering what happened to the first 100 and finding yourself unable to function well enough to make up for the lost time?
Secondly, this is a construct entirely of the developed world and, albeit I imagine subliminally, aimed at increasing the social hegemony of the west. Will life-prolonging drugs be offered to people in developing nations so that they, too, will be able to fulfil their potential without the constraints of chronic disease and debilitation? Of course not. These drugs will be expensive and therefore available only to the wealthy. After all, in a world dominated by a virulent culture of consumerism and greed, only the wealthy have a right to live longer.
Thirdly, will humanity be served in any positive way by doubling the life expectancy of people in the wealthy nations? Many of humanity’s greatest achievers have died relatively young. Of the following people, listed in no particular order, none made it to 70 years of age – five didn’t get as far as 40 – yet consider the contribution each made to world history in the short time they were here:
Oskar Schindler; Christopher Columbus; Eva Peron; Mozart; Shakespeare; Captain James Cook; Marco Polo; Marie Curie; Steve Jobs; Martin Luther King; Jane Austen; Elvis Presley; Emmaline Pankhurst; Vincent Van Gogh; John Lennon; Joan of Arc; Jesse Owen.
Yes, it could be argued that their contribution may have been much greater had they lived longer, but the point is, they didn’t need 150 years to make their mark. They managed to fit a lifetime of achievement into the lifetime allotted by nature – or fate.
The quest for immortality has been around for as long as people have been living and dying but I doubt that being around for over a century and a half would make us a better species. In fact, I suspect it would just provide us with more excuses for procrastination. What do you want to buy time for? Why not just do it now?
As for the bright sparks who are busily developing these drugs, perhaps their time – and substantial research grants – would be better spent working on something that will actually benefit all of humankind. Like, for instance, a cure for AIDS or ways to get quadriplegics and paraplegics walking again. Offering rich people the opportunity to live forever really isn’t going to cut it with the millions of kids in Africa living with HIV/AIDS.
When, according to Greek legend, the gods of Olympus offered Achilles a choice between a short and glorious life or a long and dull one, he opted for short and glorious. Stop worrying about the future and living beyond 150. Stop looking for the miracle drugs. Just get out there and do some living and you may find that a natural lifespan, unenhanced by miracle, age-defying drugs, is enough.