Nor, on a more philosophical level, what it will mean to be human, since our humanity is inextricably bound up with our animality and our mortality, our biological being-together with all other life forms on earth. This desire for immortality masks a hatred of our mortality and animal vulnerability. The fear of death which is closely related to the desire for immortality, feeds our irrational belief in religions, in an immortal soul and in an after-life. These beliefs fuel a human-supremacist fantasy – the belief that we are the exception amongst all animals – and the myth of progress originating in the Mosaic religions and reinforced by the Enlightenment project (despite its apparent disavowal of religion). The fear of death and desire for immortality also motivate the creation of immortal works of art. What will happen if the idea of death, which conditions every aspect of human life and activity, including procreating children to live in our stead after we die, is eliminated?
Philosophers, poets and artists have explored the question of mortality for thousands of years, and the current generation of technophiles and technocrats will be foolish to disregard this tradition. Plato explores the relation of eros to death and immortality in The Symposium. Jonathan Swift considers in Book Three of Gulliver’s Travels the possibility of immortals living amongst mortals, but does not allow them eternal youth and health. Instead, they lose their mental capacities and their physical abilities and become a burden on the rest of the population. Of course, the technophile, upon whose work the Editor of National Geographic partly draws, may argue that medical science will keep people young and healthy too.
Nonetheless, we can reply with reference to another of Swift’s works, “A Modest Proposal,” which proposes a solution to the large number of impoverished and orphaned Irish children in English-occupied Ireland. His solution is to use them as a source of food for the wealthy English and Anglo-Irish landlords. Now, horrific as this (satirical) “modest” proposal may seem, it can become part of a dystopian future of planet Earth that, I believe, is more likely to occur than the utopian one suggested by the Editor. History has plenty of precedents of cannibalism, especially where humans have depleted all other food sources and the means of generating new food. Jared Diamond in The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, considers just such a scenario in the case of Easter Island, where, having exhausted all other food sources and having deforested the island so that canoes could not be built for fishing or trading with other islands or for escaping the island, the inhabitants resorted to internecine warfare, the winners eating the losers. Diamond considers the Easter Island scenario as a metaphor for a possible future of the planet as a whole, an island from which we cannot escape, its initially plentiful resources becoming rapidly depleted and polluted.
So, with this in mind, we can consider an alternative (and more likely) dystopian future for humanity on Earth – if we can still call an undying population of immortal beings “human”. An undying and ever-growing human population will rapidly deplete all the resources of the planet. These post-humans will be engaged in internecine warfare over scarce resources – after all, immortality does not mean invulnerability – in which the winners may well eat the losers. Alternatively, even if they achieve peace and slow down population growth through humane means, and assuming all material needs have been (miraculously) met, the unemployed undying population will face eternal boredom. I can imagine that they will resort to extreme (death-defying and violent) activities or drug-use to relieve themselves of this boredom. Manic-depression will become the norm and euthanasia will have to be legalized as a viable solution. These post-humans will become apathetic and indifferent, unable to motivate themselves to engage in meaningful projects, since there will be no economic incentive, nor the fear of dying, to drive them. Of course, the most likely scenario is that only the rich will be able to afford immorality. The rest of us will become slaves for their pleasure and their last remaining meat-based food source. They will toy with us like the indifferent Greek gods of the Olympian pantheon. Compassion will be one of the first victims of immortality.