Why do so many people hate to hear about longevity?
In this blog post I summarize the view from the expert community on www.reddit.com/r/longevity in response to the above question posted on 22-Jan-16. Like some other people on the forum, I had tested people’s reaction to the topic of longevity. What happens if you try this is amazing, sad, funny or sometimes even bewildering…
Try it: the next time you are meeting with friends or family, raise the topic of longevity. Tell them you got interested in learning about longevity. Tell them you are considering making some changes to your life style, inspired by what you learned. Show them you are serious and dedicated.
When I did just that, this is some of the feedback I got:
- You don’t want to live forever, it’s a good thing people die.
- Who would want to live beyond 80, or even beyond 70!
- When I see how other people grow old, I know this is not for me. I want to enjoy myself.
- Who do you think you are to think you can put yourself above death?
- You are going against god’s will.
It is really fascinating to see people’s reaction on this topic. Some of us are so interested by this.
Why do most people don’t care and don’t want to know?
The next paragraphs summarized what I learned from posting the question on reddit. I ordered the topics from the most common explanations to the more surprising. Please comment to let me know your view…
People associate aging with deterioration, loss of independence and death
Many people associate old age with memories on how their parents, grandparents or other old people they knew have suffered. In general old people require a lot of heath care, are less mobile, have bad hearing/sight and are severely limited in what they can do. Most people assume growing older than 80 will just make matters worse. Unconsciously, they extrapolate what they associate today with old age into some catastrophic image about their own longevity future.
People are unaware about the state of longevity research
I read everything even loosely related to longevity, I watch every documentary and am an active follower and recently even a contributor on internet forums. For professionals or hobbyists like myself, it’s sometimes difficult to understand that most people are not aware of the scientific advances in this field.
There is a long history of people selling life extension products. These either do nothing or even cause harm. Historically, there weren’t clinical research studies or product review forums so products were sold through savvy marketing. Many people got harmed. Society has insulated itself from this harm by making any substances that confers life extension or panaceas to be taboo. Now that there are some substances or life-style choices that may offer something like this measurably, the societal self-defense mechanism hasn’t caught up.
Just like the rate of Double Mastectomies raised because of the ‘Angelina Jolie effect‘, it is expected that the majority of the population will only learn about the advances in longevity science through media attention, celebrities and other people doing it.
Don’t hope for what might not come
The publicly known longevity advocates are to be admired. They put themselves on the internet stages of the world and openly proclaim what they believe in. Besides experiments with mice or microorganisms, no scientific experiment has proven so far that humans can live to 120 or 150. Yet the believers talk openly about the subject in interviews, on youtube and blogs.
But somewhere there is always that nagging feeling: what if it is all wrong and it just won’t be possible? What if there is a divine gene encoding or some other build in limitation that makes this just impossible to do? Or what if it will take many centuries before we can repeat what we do with mice in humans?
Investing even a limited amount of time reading about the topic and learning about exponential growth will convince any reasonable and open minded person that we are close to a breakthrough.
But the truth is: most people don’t spend that time. So they are probably afraid to embarrass themselves. What if they get cancer, or some other critical condition and they die 3 years later? So they just go about their lives and accept aging and death and don’t get their hopes up.
It is against nature/god/culture/good citizenship
This is a difficult topic. I have given up on even trying to convince people who are expecting to go to some heaven and see death as the only entry into it.
Some of the contributors on reddit had also previously raised similar topics in conversations. They report that some people were insulted, thinking it would destroy the ecological balance. Most just don’t know about the research progress that has been made.
I say we should accept there are people with different beliefs. Everyone has the right to believe that dying is a good thing. Let’s face it, from the beginning of time until now, that is how it has been. For many people it will take more than some mice in a lab living 50% longer to be convinced. Most likely it will take a generation or maybe even more.
I don’t want to know
Longevity is against the norm. Being an advocate of longevity puts you outside what is socially acceptable. The power of “trying to be like everyone else” should not be underestimated. Being normal, acting in the same way as everyone else does, is more important than avoiding pain, suffering, and death for most of the population.
The world will become overpopulated
A practical concern is that the earth could become overpopulated if nobody ever died. The better view is that if nobody ever aged we would not be so concerned with primary education and aged care. We might have more respect for lives knowing that they span hundreds of years. We are more likely to uncover great truths in lives not truncated by age and death.
They don’t want to do the effort
Most people probably already know that there are aspects of their life-style that are detrimental to their longevity (dietary, exercise, addictions… who knows) so they don’t want to confront this issue because subconsciously, they know that before they could seriously consider extension strategies they would need to eliminate or minimize their existing life shortening behaviors — and they don’t want to give these things up or even think about it.
I am afraid to live forever
Some people assume that when you talk about not dying, that you will have no choice, and will be forced to “endure” life forever. One of the worries that people raise is “but you’ll get bored”. This is of course not a problem. It’s not like someone lost the ability to die, it is always possible stop getting treatments and die if that’s what someone will want when the time comes.
I am afraid to lose my friends and my family
It’s not unlikely that you may live to see your friends and family all die. Parents may outlive their children and may not enjoy life afterwards. Today there is only a minority of people investing in health and other longevity aspects. It is quite likely their loved ones aren’t and thus have less chance to live longer.
I got a number of new insights posting the question to the active reddit community. The “longevity” subreddit is a great list with a great people. Thanks to all that contributed.