Adventures in Old Age

A candid look at aging, old age, and eldercare.

Will A Quantum Leap In Longevity Make Us Paranoid?

Will a quantum change in longevity make us all paranoid?

Recently, I saw a commercial for a New York lottery game, Set for Life, in which you get paid $5,000 for each week of the rest of your life. The commercial showed a winner going through his life wearing a suit of armor. As long as he lives, he gets the cash, so his life becomes quite paranoid--one in which there is a literal premium in avoiding all accident or illness.

Will a significant expansion of the human lifespan make all of us more paranoid and hypochondriachal?

More than one-half century ago, 1957, Isaac Asimov anticipated this in The Naked Sun. Solaria is a world with 20,000 humans that are attended to by two hundred million robots. The humans live for centuries, but they are quite paranoid.

In Solarian society, each human lives in splendid isolation from all others. They live on huge estates with only their robot servants. Procreation, to maintain the 20,000 human population limit, does not involve anything as indelicate as physical sexual contact. In fact, there is a paranoid taboo about actual human contact. Humans view and communicate with each other via television screens. The idea of actually "seeing" someone in the flesh as opposed to viewing them sends one of the characters into a total decompensatory panic.

So let's do a thought experiment. Suppose science could enable us to make a quantum leap in longevity. Not just a measly ten or twenty years, but a significant change in which the aging process was conquered so we could expect to live, say, one hundred and fifty or two hundred years.

But let's also add the proviso that we would not be immune from accidental illness or infectious diseases.

Would our society come to resemble Solaria? Would those of us who were already here drastically restrict procreation so that we would not overburden scarce resources?

And what would be the effects on individual behavior and attitudes?

Would individuals avoid contact with others for fear of illness? Would we all remove ourselves to reclusive existences living in the equivalent of a nursing home with padded walls and floors and grab bars so we could never fall and hit our heads?

Would agoraphobia become a fact of life along with paranoia and hypochondria?

I mean, if you know your life is going to be a brief candle of only seventy or eighty years, you might say: "Heck, life is short, so what difference does it make if I take some chances?"

I know you could argue that a short life should actually make us more self-protective, but consider how you would feel knowing that if you died accidentally at seventy you could be missing out on more than one-hundred years of additional life? That's where madness and paranoia might lie.

Sancho Panza is sometimes translated to have said, "It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not to venture all his eggs in one basket."

To which Mark Twain rejoined, in Pudd'nhead Wilson, "Behold the fool saith, ‘Put not all thine eggs in the one basket'--which is but a manner of saying, ‘Scatter your money and your attention'; but the wise man saith, ‘Put all your eggs in the one basket and WATCH THAT BASKET'."

Will longevity mean that we will become preoccupied, before all else, to watching that basket?

 

 

Ira Rosofsky, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Connecticut who works in eldercare facilities and the author of Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare.

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