Gerontocracies - Four Scenarios
I have presented four conceivable longevity outcomes
below for the year 2100, ranging from the most mincing improvements in life
expectancies to the total elimination of aging.
(1.) By the Year 2100, the Average Projected Life Span at Birth Has Increased to 85
This is the outcome that might be predicted by some gerontologists who feel that we have done nearly all we can do to increase the human life span. If this is the situation that develops, I guess I wouldn't expect major differences from today's life expectancy of 77. (Note that Andorra is already enjoying a life expectancy of 83.5 years.)
(2.) By the Year 2100, the Average Projected Life Span at Birth Has Increased to 100
In this alternative, medical science has succeeded in awarding everyone the kind of health profile enjoyed by centenarians. We can see what this would be like by examining the centenarians among us.
Tommie Jean and I know a woman, Ms. Ola Wicks, who turned 100 in August. Ms. Ola entered a nursing home this year, at 99. Prior to that, she lived by herself at home, coming to church every Sunday and participating in church outings. She looks, perhaps, 75 or 80.
We know another woman who is in her mid-eighties and looks, perhaps, 60. She takes good care of her health. She may well pass the century mark.
One day, I was riding Cleveland's Rapid Transit on my way to Cleveland's Hopkins Airport when I noticed that the man across from me had his picture in the paper (which he was reading), together with an article that said, "Local Man 103". He looked about 70.
Tommie and I have two friends who are 90, and who look about 70. Both of them work in their yards. One of them gave up his Harley two years ago.
Strom Thurmond is retiring from the U. S. Senate at the age of 100.
In other words, these people are, physiologically, at least 20 years younger than their chronological ages. They are quite sharp mentally, and engage in all the usual activities.
To give an idea about the timetable involved, this might mean that in 2004, the average life span climbs to 78. In 2008, it reaches 79; in 2012, it reaches 80; in 2016, it hits 81; and in 2020, it rises to 82. It happens so gradually that people don't much notice it, taking it for granted. In 2020, Congress raises the age of full Social Security to 70. No big deal.
In this scenario, the U. S. Congress gradually elevates the age for full Social Security to 85 or 90 by 2100 (as do other nations). Anyone who makes it to 85 can expect to live in good health and full possession of their faculties for another 20 years. Given the ability to save ova in ova banks (which are just now, in 2002, becoming feasible), some women are having children in their forties, and occasionally, in their fifties (not so much because of longevity increases as because of the technical ability to bank ova)*. Some people, after their children grow and go, are returning to school to study something they enjoy, and in some cases, to make a mid-life career switch.
The world has gradually adjusted to this lengthening of life spans just as it gradually adjusted to the prospect of elders traveling and enjoying themselves in their 60's and 70's, and living by themselves into their 80's. In fact, most people look forward to a career shift in the 50's, and to working (perhaps part-time) on telecommuting jobs they enjoy until their retirement at 85. Children expect to become centenarians just like their parents and grandparents.
* - In
prehistoric societies, girls had children in their teens. They would probably be
horrified at the thought of the current practice of women deferring parenthood
until they are in their twenties and thirties! (In a Stone Age society, a
35-year-old woman would look old, and the rare 45-year-old woman would be a
toothless old crone.)
In going from Stone Age longevity standards to today, humanity has already traversed a mind-boggling increase in average life spans, with corresponding changes in lifestyles.
It seems reasonable that many of us wouldn't want to revert to Stone Age lifestyles and longevities.
(3.) By the Year 2100, the Average Projected Lfespan at Birth Has Increased to 125
Medical science, combined with longevity research has caused life spans to increase by a factor of 1.63, just as it did in going from 47, in 1900, to 77, in 2000. People who are 110 look and function like the year 2000's 65-year-olds. People who are 125 look and function like today's 75-year-olds. A few people live beyond 150.
Congress has responded to this rising life span by raising the full retirement age to 110. People reaching retirement age (when they look 65) can anticipate another 20+ years of good living.
Many women are postponing childbirth until they're in their 60's (when they're physiologically in their 20's or 30's). Most women give birth to two children. A few women are experimenting with coordinating their childbirth schedules with those of their relatives, so that their children can be reared one at a time, with a cousin serving as a sibling. Some are even experimenting with working with their neighbors.
It's now common practice to readjust one's career after one's children reach college age. Quite a bit of attention goes into career development because careers run from the 20's up to 95 for early retirement, or 110 for full retirement. Post-doctoral fellowships and career internships have become more common, together with mid-life programs.
Training has lengthened somewhat, but the primary emphasis is upon lifelong retraining and education. Internet-based education, using total immersion, and computer gaming techniques, is the norm. It's fun as well as educational ("learn as you play"), and different from the rote-mechanical instruction of the 19th and 20th centuries. It involves virtual experiences, and challenges that gradually stretch the player. Emphasis is upon mainline knowledge, with trivia filled in later.
Some couples are celebrating their diamond wedding anniversaries.
The world has gradually adjusted to this lengthening of life spans. Children take it as the natural order of things.
If they so choose, a couple can rear one child when they're in their 30's, and can rear a second when they're in their 60's.
(4.) By 2100, the Average Expected Life Span is 600
Medical science, combined with longevity research (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), has led to an arresting of the aging process. People remain physiologically 20 until they die. The average lifespan is about 600, held in check by accidents, diseases, and the political instability and warfare that arises over extended periods of time.
Churches are reminding people that sooner or later, they will die and face judgment. Churches are also emphasizing the importance of moral and ethical living in such a long life, and of the importance of providing a wholesome upbringing for their children. Church attendance fell off at first, but is gradually inching back up. People are turning to churches for fellowship with other people with high moral standards. They want their children in the company of other, similarly inculcated children in a wholesome environment. They want to bring their children through their formative years, and to keep them away from bad company, drugs, and alcohol. .
Cooperative rearing of children is being actively encouraged by governments and by the media. It's common to bank ova and sperm, and to postpone having children until much later in life. Many families rear a child at a time, with another child or two--often the children of friends--as surrogate siblings.
Congress has reworked the Social Security system, converting it to a kind of investment program that requires the gradual accumulation of investment capital returning 3% income. (One technique might be to eliminate cost-of-living adjustments, so that people who retired would eventually be forced to return to the work force as their retirement purchasing power dropped below their needs.) Typically, it requires a century or more to accumulate enough investment capital to retire at the higher standards of living that exist in 2100. Various disincentives to retirement are instituted (e. g., taxes), so that a large enough fraction of the populace remains in the work force to keep the economy humming, and to support those who are retired.
A lot of work is performed by automatic machinery (non-anthropomorphic robotics), so that the fraction who can be retired steadily rises. For example, operations at supermarkets are largely automated, with customers checking themselves out, and inventory replacement performed by robotic devices. More flexible work arrangements are common so that people can work from home, and can adjust their hours and days of employment (flexitime). Part-time and temporary work is common. More effort is expended upon making jobs enjoyable. Employee satisfaction becomes an important consideration, along with employee safety and employee productivity.
This latter scenario involves major readjustments in perspectives and in institutions. However, taking place over some period of time, it seems more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Children are far less common than they were in the past, and are a center of attention even more than in the past. There are fewer children, but there's more time to enjoy them. There's no proliferation of great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren because turnover is very slow. Most people die before their great-great-grandchildren are born.
Are people happy with these changes? As always, some are and some aren't. Most people are as content with this system as people have been in the past, and take this state of affairs for granted. Tyrants must be removed by political action, and great contributors continue to contribute longer.
Rejecting the Primacy of Mortmain
It's conceivable to me that some individuals in Stone Age tribes might disapprove of 21st century lifestyles... might disapprove of the fact that we don't pay homage to the Rain God or fete the goddess of the harvest. They might disapprove of adults facing a life expectancy in the 80's. All I can say is that it's we who have to live with our choices. The future must belong to those who live in it.
1/23/2002:Stem Cells For Eggs And Sperm Also Control Aging In Roundworm - Eureka Alert
10/24/2000: Harvard Med School Scientists: Aging May Be Linked to Brain's Hormonal Signals
9/3/2001:Does chromosome 4 hold the secret to human longevity? - Eureka Alert
9/3/2001:Long-life gene secrets
9/25/2001:UIC researchers find "fountain of youth" gene - Eureka Alert