My Elevator Pitch: We Need Shorter Life Expectancies

A detail from a 1482 German woodcut representing youth, maturation, aging, and death in ten steps. [Copyright © The Trustees of the British Museum]

Me: Good morning.

Venture Capitalist whose funding I seek: Hey. So what are you working on?

Me: Well, I think human life expectancy has become too long. We need shorter life expectancies.

Venture Capitalist: You’re saying you want people to die?

Me: Well, that’s not the most flattering way to put it. I’m saying that I want the average person in our society to have a younger age, without needing a constantly growing population to achieve that. Can I ask you a question?

Venture Capitalist: Shoot.

Me: If you’re really honest, what was your happiest period in life? When were you most free of worries?

Venture Capitalist: I know where you’re going with this, but the happiest age is generally thought to be when people are in their early thirties.

Me: Alright, but take a look at this:

[I show him this chart]

You can see here the prevalence of depression by age. Besides the fact that prevalence is growing every year, we can see that it increases as we age. And there seems to be a quite plausible explanation for this: The chemicals your brain needs to grow, are the same chemicals that make you happy. Most serotonin receptors in the brain seem to decline by around 8% per decade. It becomes harder for you to experience radically new pleasurable things as you grow older, so your sources of happiness decline. Meanwhile, your physical beauty and vitality gradually decline once you enter your late twenties.

Venture capitalist: And yet I would still say that the average forty year old doesn’t think killing him is a good idea.

Me: That’s the wrong way of looking at it. Let’s say the Earth has a fixed carrying capacity, a rough ceiling at the number of people it can simultaneously feed, house and clothe. Let’s say that in the absence of non-renewable resources, that’s around two billion people. If 20% of those people are under twenty, there would be less happiness on this planet, than if 80% of people are under twenty.

Venture capitalist: This sounds awfully reductionist to me. Am I supposed to believe that people would be happier in a society where they may live to see their own healthy siblings and children die?

Me: Look at it this way. Would we have made it into this era, if we were cripplingly traumatized whenever we had to bury a child? Would people even have had such large families as they did, if they were morbidly afraid of having to bury a child? You rationalized it, the way we do with pets today. “The child is in heaven now.” And you don’t know what that means, but you make peace with it.

Venture capitalist: And yet I recall reading studies that say 90% of marriages don’t survive an infant death and people consider it their biggest trauma.

Me: Misery is when things work out far worse than you had expected them to. In a context where you’re quite sure that you’ll see your child become an adult, being the only person in your extended social circle with a dead child is a massive traumatizing shock.

Venture capitalist: I like progress more than I like burying my own children.

Me: I like progress too, but I don’t consider it progress when I can go back a century and see healthy children playing in the street, but now I see people with swollen prostates that make them pee their pants, people who need chemical castration to stay alive, people who can’t walk to the other side of the street. That makes me think the quality of humans is going down.

Happy qualia in the brains of humans are the end product our entire capitalistic system is supposed to produce. The rollercoasters we build, the TV shows we produce, they don’t exist for themselves, they exist to produce a phenomenon called happiness, that is expressed in the brains of human beings under the right circumstances. Reducing the average age of the average human being would increase the amount of happiness in society.

Venture capitalist: How about we cure aging instead of trying to kill old people?

Me: It’s an interesting idea, but how much success have we had at slowing down the rate at which people age?

Venture capitalist: We’ve sought to increase our life expectancy for thousands of years, but only accomplished real success after the industrial revolution.

Me: Yes, but there’s a difference between increasing life expectancy and preventing the misery associated with aging. You could try to keep minds sharp, breasts plump, penises hard, prostates small and bellies flat, but you can’t keep the rate constant at which people continue to have meaningfully novel experiences as they age. As you grow older, everything you experience is a variation of something you have already experienced. And yet, it’s through substantially novel experiences that we experience pleasure. I would say that this is the essence of what it means to age: The decline in substantial novelty you experience in life.

Venture capitalist: And yet I would rather just delete memories to experience more novelty, than to cease to exist.

Me: And there’s the difference between you and me. You fly across the world to take Ayahuasca, but I get the impression you’ve never experienced Ego death. You’re already everyone, you’re ever conscious entity that has ever existed. Death is what we’re using, to enable us to experience this massive rapidly declining curve of novelty again in a novel incarnation.

Venture capitalist: So what do you propose we do?

Me: Well, I have this colleague in Wuhan who’s really excited about corona viruses… but hold on, I’m not done yet.

Venture capitalist: Go on.

Me: Wealth inequality. Where do you think it comes from?

Venture capitalist: Yeah I’ve read about that. Wealth accumulates over generations and as we age.

Me: Yes, but it also disseminates, because the elite have more children than most people, or leave it to charity after death. There are positive feedback loops involved here, where wealth accumulates as people age, but as the life expectancy of the elderly increases, housing shortages increase too, which further increases the value of the assets the elderly own, which further increases the wealth disparity between the young and the elderly. The elderly generally reach net worth escape velocity at some point in their lives, where their assets appreciate in value fast enough to pay for their living expenses, but as their life expectancy increases the time period they spend in net worth escape velocity increases and they can accumulate dynastic wealth. So with a shorter life expectancy, we’re going to massively reduce wealth inequality.

Venture capitalist: Fair argument.

Me: But give this some thought too. Men tend to like women a few years younger than them and women like men a few years older. Take a look at the medieval demographic pyramid:

This is a typical medieval demographic pyramid. Note how for every 350 thirty-something year old men, there are about 460 twenty-something year old women. If you assume men go after women about seven years younger than them, then essentially, you always have about 1.2 women for every man, meaning…

Venture capitalist: Every man can marry a woman and secretly visit the village tramp while his wife is asleep.

Me: That’s one way of putting it. And then the STD’s that cause infertility would keep the population low I suppose. Hurray for promiscuity! But when I read radical feminist literature, they’re proposing that the share of men as a portion of the general population needs to be reduced. And they seem to have a point if you look at it from the perspective of evolutionary biology: We’re supposed to be a species where women outnumber men. Women are pretty, because they’re descended from women who were in competition with each other over men.

And ultimately, I would say that children have their own culture that has a right to survive. It can’t survive in a society that is dominated by the elderly. Children play their own games, have their own legends and their own dialects, but it can survive about as well in a society dominated by the elderly and their desires as the culture of peasants can survive in sterile grey cubicles.

Have you ever heard about the legend of Jenny, the vampire with the iron teeth?

Venture capitalist: No?

Me: Hundreds of Scottish children in Glasgow in 1954 organized vampire hunts that lasted for days, looking for a vampire with iron teeth. It traces back to the 19th century, but the legends were told from older children to younger children and so they survived throughout the decades. But it can’t survive in a society where the main priority for children is to become factoid memorizers and number-crunchers who can make their parents proud by getting higher grades than the other children. Besides having their future stolen from them through environmental pollution, there’s a de facto cultural genocide ongoing against those who have not spent a lot of time on this Earth yet.

Venture capitalist: So what do we do?

Me: I don’t know, it would be great if we could inject all the elderly with something that will prematurely send them to their maker I suppose, but I doubt they would go along with it.

Venture capitalist: Yeah I can’t imagine such a thing happening.

Me: Yeah they’d never be dumb enough to fall for that. You’d have to really terrify them with all sorts of horror stories about what happens if they don’t get the injection and then completely censor all social media they use to keep them from figuring out what’s going on. Good luck with that.

Venture capitalist: Yeah, not going to work.

Me: Well shoots, I’ll see if I can think of something else. I’ll let you know when I have an idea.

Venture capitalist: Yeah, be sure to let me know! Good luck!

[I now step out of the elevator. I’m guessing it’s the Burj Khalifa because this elevator pitch is rather long.]

17 Comments

  1. “fixed carrying capacity” … Thomas Malthus died in 1834, and buried with human should have been this incessant pessimism. Sure, cherry pick whatever evidence you want to support your biases but I’ll throw equally ripe cherries back at you. Despite the craziness of the world, it’s richer and less crazier than before, as hard as that is to believe. That’s just what the evidence says, despite the decades of spectre of nuclear war.

    You’re projecting some deep-seated pessimism through a filter of intellectualism, poisoning others’ minds.

    • I am always baffled by people’s criticism of Malthus. What part of his thought was so despicable? That the planet has a given carrying capacity is generally accepted in biology for animal populations. So why not humans? Do you think you are special because you have a smartphone?

      You can try to be as optimistic as you want, but if there are too many horses in a given area, the excess horses are going to die until the population is back within carrying capacity https://dutchreview.com/news/oostvaardersplassen-where-thousands-of-wild-animals-died/. Regardless of how optimistic or pessimistic you (or the horses) feel.

      • Also, one point where Malthus was wrong is that carrying capacity is not fixed, but decreasing. Populations can exceed carrying capacity for a while, and by doing so they reduce carrying capacity. So when a population eventually gets back to carrying capacity, it will be smaller than before it went into overshoot.

        Human population before industrial times was less than a billion. But back then, soils were fertile, forests lush, fish abundant, wild animals plenty.

        Now we exceeded carrying capacity by using fossil fuels. Eventually, we will be back within carrying capacity – but we will be a lot less than the billion we were in 1800.

        • you are assuming no technolocial improvement, a strange asusmption.

          Do a calculation for how much food per square metre you can make with aquaponics, energy usage per human worth of food, and capturable solar energy per square metre of land..
          You could fit the worlds population in one giant multistorage building with solar roof, a few levels of aquaponics, and the rest accom etc, use thermal depolymerisation (look it up, very interesting) to handle all waste disposal/hydrocarbon material/fertiliser requirements, use some excess solar for water recycling, and it would take up a small state in america or less. Food, water, energy, waste disposal, accomodation, pretty much self contained.

          Sure, country folk like me wouldnt want to live there, etc, and I’m not saying its the only or best solution, but it *could* be done, no matter the condition of the rest of the planet

          We arent over populated. We are dumbed down, technologically suppressed, robbed enslaved and impoverished for life, brainwashed and steered into destructive paths, then guilt tripped for the consequences of the policies forced upon us by those who could be improving things for all of us, but would prefer to rule like kings in a shit heap than be just another average joe in paradise…

      • Humans are different from other animals because we consciously replace existing ecosystems with new ones that better suit us. For example, the island of Great Britain has had its pre-human enviroment completely destroyed and replaced with either crop fields or various kinds of grazing land, thus massively increasing the island’s carrying capacity.

        We do this everywhere we inhabit, and over time have become able to make the land more and more efficient. There remain large areas where we could further increase human carrying capacity of ecosystems. Eradicating tropical diseases (completing the eradication of the tsetse fly that was begun during the colonial period would be a good start), turning the Amazon into agricultural land, and developing infrastructure to allow the further expansion of cities would all further this. One day we may even be able to exploit resources in space, but that’s probably a while off.

  2. Government is the primary causes of depression in the elderly. They did what they were told to do and they ended up being screwed, barely able to survive on their tiny incomes. The government stole their money and gave it to the rich. They were stupid enough to believe the government, just like climate fanatics believe government, vaccine suckers believe government …. the list of suckers is endless.

  3. I may actually get a chance to get to know a billionaire venture capitalist. Can I pitch this and see what happens?

  4. some interesting if perhaps depressing perspectives, but:

    -psylocibe returned me to a state of childhood awe and wonder at simple, natural things, music etc..
    -being depressed in this insane fucked up world is not so much an inherent symptom of age as a symptom of having seen enough of this fucked up world to start realising how fucked up it is
    – The cure to depression from over exposure to hell clown planet is to fix hell clown planet, not kill everyone who can see it and put new children through the wringer…don’t you think?

    I do agree on the ego death/point of memory wiping reincarnation etc, however in a saner world, I think we would have many more than 40 or 50 years of interesting wondrous things to do and enjoy…Im in my 40s and can imagine many sorts of worlds and lives in them stretching out many centuries that are still wondrous, though eventually it might all get old even then, who knows?

    I think early death is a safety mechanism for stuck ego’s in ego traps. Those of us willing and able to face ego death and do the shadow work, and smart enough to avoid most traps, don’t need that reset to continue learning and growing for longer. That’s my theory anyway 🙂

  5. There’s a lot of money to be made in unhappiness and decline in health at the end of a longer life. I’m afraid your elevator speech fails, unless the explicit goal is to save scarce resources for those who believe they are really the ones who matter.

  6. I love the smell of hopium in the morning.

    I looked up aquaponics and it is actually pretty interesting. The approach is solid – recycling waste materials from aquaculture to feed plants – although I think that it requires too many external inputs.

    But going back to – ahem – Malthus, the very fact that aquaponics (or whatever other technological buzzword) can increase production, will result in an increase in living standards, which will lead to an increase in population, which will lead to a decrease in living standards, which will get us back to where we are now.

    If it works at scale, it will worsen overshoot. If it does not work at scale (as I suspect), it will be just another useless toy.

  7. A recipe for happiness into old age I think requires three conditions.

    1. Relative physical health
    2. Strong bonds with family
    3. A life free of overwhelming financial worries

    You’re pretty damn lucky if you’re over age 60 and can check all three of these boxes. Novel experiences aren’t necessary if you have these conditions in your life.

Leave a Reply to Tudor Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.