David Ewing Duncan recently gave a TED interview about the possibilities–and problems–created by the fact that we are figuring out how to radically extend life as part of his promotion of his new book When I’m 164: The new science of radical life extension, and what happens if it succeeds.
I know it sounds weird, but I think about this very same question often. The fact of the matter is that I could easily live into my 90s and be productive well into my 80s. Where does retiring at 60 or 65 or even 70 fit into a life that could go on for two more decades? Where will the money come from? What will I do?
Again, I know it sounds weird, but my wife and I decided back in our 20s that we did not plan to retire. There are practical as well as idealistic reasons for that decision. Having made that decision that long ago has changed our entire outlook since then. We plan differently. We work differently. We save differently.
And, frankly, the result has been that we are, in a lot of ways, far better off right now than a lot of people we know. We owe less. We’ve saved more. We have less stuff to take care of.
I think the consequences of extended life will be one of the defining factors of our time. Are you thinking about it too?
It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realise you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert. — Jacques Cousteau
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (ESV)
Western society lives with a strange legacy born out of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution: we have come to believe in the idea of the solitary genius and to believe that only those who fit that category a deserving of success and admiration.
Consider, for instance, the strange popularity contest the American presidential election has become. We invest such hope into our chosen candidates, as if we were electing a monarch or a dictator rather than a chief executive working for a board of 200 million shareholders. And, we are always disappointed in the person we have chosen because, being human, that person could never have lived up to the expectations we had.
Now, I am not suggesting that anyone should give up on the idea of excellence, but even the most excellent among us can only exist as one of us. No one has ever succeeded alone, nor will anyone.
To me, what remains is that we must do two things. First, we must figure out where we fit into the complex web of interactions and relationships we call life. Then, we must figure out how to fit into that place in the most excellent way.
If we succeed, then we will have done more than most have ever done.
It has been an interesting experience for me over the past couple of years as I have come to realize that the place and undertakings I have arrived at seem to have been somehow intended for me all along. This may seem like a grandiose thing to say, but I can assure you that my two-year-so-far-adventure into things as diverse as farming and coffee roasting fulfill me more than my entire twenty year career as an IT professional.
It also turns out that the things I am undertaking now are among the hardest, most frustrating, and most demanding things I have ever done. Yet, they are worth it because they make me grow, and I have come to realize that if one is not growing, one is dying.
The world sells us a consistent lie: that the object of life’s effort is to accumulate enough so that we can rest on the laurels of what we have already done… and wait to die. What I have discovered over the past two years is how deep and all pervasive this lie turns out to be and how destructive it is to the human soul.
What I have come to realize is how important the Biblical formula of suffering producing character producing hope is to crafting us all as individuals. Without suffering, there is no character, and without character, there is no realization of hope. Yes, life can be damned frustrating and even deeply tragic at times, but every one of those frustrations and tragedies serve to make us into something more than what we were before they happened.
The secret then, I think, is to keep our heads up and to be constantly looking for our way through the things that tend to want to ensnare us at the moment. It will not usually be easy, and sometimes it may be downright crushing, but if we persevere, it will always be worth it.