Rejuvenation would cause cultural stagnation

This objection can be discussed from both a moral and a practical point of view. This article discusses the matter from a moral standpoint, and concludes it is a morally unacceptable objection. (Bummer, now I’ve spoiled it all for you.)

However, even if the objection can be dismissed on moral grounds, one may still argue that, hey, it may be immoral to let old people die to avoid cultural and social stagnation, but it’s still necessary.

One could argue that. But one would be wrong.

One of the main advantages the elderly people have over young people is their life experience. A 60-year-old knows much more about life than a teenager does, and that’s why a teenager is more likely to screw up than a 60-year-old. While no experience is better than first-hand experience, it’s unquestionable that being able to ask for advice to people who are more experienced and knowledgeable than us is a good thing. If we could rejuvenate people and have perfectly healthy elderly live into their 160’s, we could benefit from their evergrowing life experience for much a longer time than we currently do.

You could object that often older people are out of touch with the newer generation and do not understand the wolrd of today well enough to be of any significant help. However, this is a very general claim, and it’s in fact mostly a cliché that doesn’t take into account two important things. The first is simply that certain life experiences, like falling in love, being bullied, losing a dear one (which still can happen, despite rejuvenation!), or emotional crisises are pretty much relatable regardless of the time when they’ve been faced. The second is that the generation gap is not a universal constant: The generation gap we experience today is in fact quite exceptional.

My dad was born in year 1941. His dad was born at some point in the 19th century, but the times when my granddad was a teenager weren’t dramatically different from the times when my dad was in his teens. Cars were a bit more common maybe, and TV was a cool new thing the most fortunate were experiencing for the first time, but I don’t think you can really compare that gap with that between my dad’s generation and mine. Today, many more people get a higher degree of education, we’re much more aware of the conquers of science and technology, and we have tools and knowledge my dad wouldn’t even dream of when he was a kid. Your grandfather may have troubles understanding even what a computer is (I know my dad has more than a problem using one), but you need to take into account that our elderly aren’t as well-educated as we are. When you’re going to be the age your grandfather is now, you’re not going to be as clueless about and clumsy with newer technology, because you’re used to this sort of thing. You’re used to new tools coming along all the time and to the fast-paced advance of human knowledge. The idea that one day you’ll be a scared elderly who doesn’t understand the world around himself or herself any more is laughable. The breaking point when this huge generation gap occurred was somewhere around the 70’s. That’s when our technological and scientific growth started to skyrocket for real.

One of the top scientists of last century, Max Plank, is told to have said, ‘Science advances one funeral at a time.’ What he meant is that new ideas always meet a fierce opposition, and only the death of their opponents eventually allows them to become widespread. Newer generations just grow up accustomed to new ideas, and eventually, there is no one left to oppose them. This is sadly true. (The good news is, it could be what is happening with rejuvenation biotechnologies. Cinical sarcasm apart, the idea has been and and still is received by a very stubborn opposition, as you can easily verify by asking many people what they think about rejuvenation, and see how many of them become aggressive. Luckily, rejuvenation is gaining the favour of people much faster than other ideas in the past have, probably right because of the higher lever of education and the fast, widespread access to information we have.)

However, having to wait for people to die before new ideas can take root really sucks. It’s not very efficient, and not very moral. Death is a way of ‘getting rid of the old to make room for the new’, as somebody put it, but it is not a nice way, a justifiable way, or one I would endorse, and the step from ‘wait until the opponents of your ideas die to see your ideas accepted’ to ‘kill those who oppose your ideas’ is dangerously short, in my opinion.

But we’re not discussing morals in this article. We’re discussing practical matters. If your problem with rejuvenation is that having older people living for much longer might lead to cultural stagnation, there is a much more efficient solution than waiting for them to die: You teach them to be open-minded. This is exactly what we’re trying to do with major global issues. We don’t wait for anti-gay people to die, and we don’t kill them either. We try to educate them and make them understand it’s okay to be gay and there’s nothing wrong with it. We don’t exterminate people who think women belong to the kitchen. We patiently point out why this is an outdated, unjust, sexist point of view that causes more harm than good to everybody.

I know. I know. It is easier to teach these things to children and just wait for the older, hard-to-convince adults to just die, but this alone won’t be enough. If society around us isn’t open-minded, willing to explore new possibilities and expand their horizons, and accepting of differences, children will grow up as a bunch of bigoted, arrogant, conservative twats. I guess at that point we’re just going to sit about and wait for the newer generation to grow old and die as well, hoping the next batch turns out better? Sounds like an efficient plan.

What we really need to do is make more people have an open mind, not kill (or let die) those who oppose new ideas and ultimately hinder our growth as a species. As a matter of fact, by using death by ageing as a means of getting new blood on board, so to speak, we might even end up hindering social and cultural growth. If we don’t cure ageing, we are going to kill off everyone eventually, open and closed-minded ones alike. We’d be letting die a lot of good people who would not only not hinder social and cultural growth, but could still help speed it up. Think about all the times you heard about the death of an important figure of the past few decades, and you thought they could still have given us so much. If we develop rejuvenation therapies, the important figures of the future will be able to stick around with us for as long as they like. Sounds like a better option than grieving for their loss.

One final note about open-mindedness. What is it, really? Why younger people normally have an easier time learning and accepting new things than older people? Because their brains are generally more plastic than older people’s (though our brains don’t seem to ever lose plasticity entirely; neurogenesis itself slows down with age, but not down to zero). So, if open-mindedness has biological roots as it seems legitimate to infer, it seems also plausible that rejuvenating people may make them more open-minded than they would otherwise be. We have some evidence of this. A study on senescent cell clearance shows that old mice whose senescent cells have been regularly purged exhibit more ‘juvenile’ behaviour: They spend more time in the centre of their cage—older mice normally tend to stick to the sides of the cage—and are generally more prone to exploring their environment than normal. If this result translated to humans, we might have people with the mental agility of young adults and the life experience of centenarians. Doesn’t it sound like it could be worth a shot?

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