Monday, July 18, 2005

My, my, how we've changed

While I do enjoy reading the works of experts, it's amazing to me that they don't age well. Not the works: the experts. And I don't mean physically - I mean mentally.

These guys are some of the more respected economists I know of. They are smart, sharp, and relatively interesting for economists who aren't Freakonomicly Gifted.

But, as you can see by the pictures at the top, they're old.

This makes it entertaining for me to read their blog. It's full of smart stuff, but then you'll stumble across something like their posts on gay marriage. You may have to scroll down a bit, if you take a while to read this, to see them.

Both are obviously uncomfortable with homosexuality. That's expected: they grew up back when it was generally regarded as a psychological illness. Their opinions are obviously tainted by this environment, and although they're trying to be good little scientists and ignore their core feelings, those feelings still leave an impression - an obvious one - on their work.

The rate at which our society changes amazes me. Fifty years ago, homosexuality was a disease. Thirty years ago, disco was king. Today, terrorism is lord of the castle. All of these horrible, misguided obsessions will infect the people growing up in them.

Now, like the majority of mankind, I would really like to be immortal. I think that would be pretty nifty keen.

There are many people who don't like the idea of immortality. Some say the world would quickly become overpopulated. Which is idiocy, since Stupid People Breed syndrome will always weigh more heavily on the population numbers than Smart People Dying. Some have religious problems with it. Those people I laugh at: if immortality becomes a possibility, your religion will either back it or die out. Some have moral issues: "Only wealthy people could become immortal!" Yeah, I'll be the first goddamn person to start a bank making loans to would-be immortals, payable over the next hundred years, first payment not due till 2040, 5% yearly interest.

The first real problem with immortality is that the people will stagnate. The people who grew up in a culture of homophobia or nihilism will always have that festering in their mind, and they'll infect the newer generation. Of course, whether they'll be nihilists or anti-nihilists is a coin flip, but either way, they'll have an unhealthy obsession.

The question is: would that be worse than parents and organizations as they are anyway? We still have repressive cultures. We still have people who believe their skunky brew of chemicals is worth more than a skunky brew of chemicals with a different skin color.

I say: it would not be worse.

Because we're cliquing as it is. As I noted last post, people will enter their own little on-line worlds, the ones which support their worldview. This starts as soon as they get a computer.

The difference would be that a rich, interesting immortal would be leading the cliq, rather than someone who is likely an ugly white man in a room stacked with porn and Mountain Dew.

But another rich, interesting immortal would be on the other side. Would it even out?

Hence the second real problem of immortality: gross excesses of power.

No matter how the government tries to stop it, if immortality becomes an option, people will suddenly become immortal. I would gladly live in a hellhole of a third-world country in exchange for immortality. Because in two hundred years, me and my immortal pals will have siphoned a good chunk of the world's resources into that third-world hellhole.

And immortals will become rich, make no mistake. Some might not, but the majority will find themselves horrifically rich in a matter of a few centuries. An investment here, a 4% return rate there, and suddenly you're as wealthy as a corporation, except you don't actually produce anything. The most economically talented immortals will undoubtedly become trillionaires and buy something suitably expensive - like Mexico.

The concentration of power will only continue from there. As president-for-life of a nation or corporation, an immortal will find little aside from other immortals to interest him. Chances are, there will be wars between immortals, and an unlimited disrespect for mortals.

Kind of a Highlander feeling, yes?

But would that happen? Certainly, they would become wealthy. Mathematically, it would take an effort to stay poor with that kind of time on your hands.

But what about the whole "ruling with an iron fist" bit?

That all depends on brain chemistry.

Will an immortal's brain stagnate? Or will it remain at peak (or return to peak)? Will it remain ever-shifting, ever able to learn and unlearn? Or will it simply add new data onto the old? In addition, will any chemical balances be altered? You can radically change someone's mental state by simply changing what kind of food they eat. What kind of severe changes would immortality bring?

I don't know these answers, but give me a couple centuries and I'll figure them out.

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