Immortality is Not Covered by Your Insurance

The introduction of radical life extension technologies will only exacerbate current social and economic disparities already blindingly apparent to anyone willing to peek beyond the binders of the cult of unfettered capitalism. Like any other kind of health care, unlimited access to the best and most effective treatment is limited to the very rich, and what is virtual immortality if not the extremity of medical care?

Immortality by way of virtual existence (“brain upload” in all of its variants) or physical existence (slowing the biological clock to a near stop), will be – much like the very best in cancer treatment, or priority access to organ transplants, or a thousand other technological answers to the woes of the flesh – an option for the very wealthy and powerful first, and maybe the rest of us later – but only at an extremely high price.

Rise of a vampire nation:

Imagine if you will the economic bloodsuckers and bluebloods – the alpha predators of the American savannah – granted a hundred lifetimes to accumulate even more wealth and power: A family of aristocratic vampires that would leave Dracula trembling in fear. Do you think that these techno-nosferatu (technosferatu!) will want competition from your humble little family? No, but like all vampires, they’ll want your blood.

A Transylvania of the soul:

The media will continue to sell the false narrative of the American Dream to all of us lumpen proles – Your own home! Economic prosperity! Everyone be a millionaire, or a CEO or president! – Only with the addition of a new variant: “You’ll see your great grandchildren become grandparents themselves!” It’ll be a trap, though: As Dracula said to Jonathan Harker, “Welcome to my house! Enter freely, and of your own will!”

“Welcome afterlife tech support. How can I help you?”

Presuming that some variant of radical life extension trickles down to the working class at all, it will be in the form of golden manacles: immortality on the installment plan. Want to scan and upload your consciousness? Well that’s great! Forget Siri, now that you have forever, do you mind spending half of it embedded in a cell phone providing driving directions to the nearest Pinkberry for the sociopathic spawn of the immortal elite? How about disembodied customer service or bill collection or tech support? Have you considered a career in the expanding field of drone pilotry? No? You don’t want to die, do you? Go home and tell your 200 year-old children that daddy is going away forever. You’ll be back.

“You get pretty good at flipping burgers after three hundred years.”

The same kind of virtual slavery will evolve for those still encased in flesh. Imagine something like student loan debt….forever. A mortgage payment with an extremely stiff penalty for default – death. Better keep those payments coming in, and Kurzweil help you if you’re not up to competing with the wealthy, Ivy League Skull-and-Crossbones immortals gunning for what’s left of a highly competitive marketplace.

“Send in the droids. And Crisco.”

Of course, this is all highly contingent on whether or not true artificial intelligence evolves. Vlad Tsepish, CEO, won’t have any need of you little meat puppets when he has an army of highly armed pleasure slaves at his disposal – and an unlimited lifespan to improve on their sexy-time algorithms. You’ll be in the way. And you worried about being made “redundant” at work!

“Do you like being food for the immortals?”

I can see it now, a dystopian vampire Earth: Glittering Xanadus of decadence, the likes of which could only be built by jaded immortals for which death is but an abstraction and a creatures with lifespans of 70 or 80 years is hardly worth considering at all. Outside the pearlescent, blood-soaked walls the parched remains of a world sucked dry of its resources, and a mortal humanity whose only option is slavery or a nasty, brutish life in the badlands.

32 Comments on "Immortality is Not Covered by Your Insurance"

  1. Dale Carrico | Jan 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm |

    As Mike Davis said over a decade ago, access to clean water is the greatest miracle drug on earth. Uploading and robot bodies and nano-treasure are not going to happen (because, to be brief, a picture of you isn’t you, because you are made of meat and are going to die, and because automation without workplace democracy always means wealth concentration not general prosperity, please make a note of it), so it doesn’t make more sense to worry about it than to daydream over it. All this is just a symptom and allegory for actually real technodevelopmental problems like the failure of for-profit healthcare, corporate climate-change denialism, and the injustice and violence of corporate-military IP-regimes and debt-politics in the overexploited regions of the world.

  2. Anarchy Pony | Jan 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm |

    See also: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.
    You can bet the the real world won’t end up with such a happy ending.

  3. bobbiethejean | Jan 14, 2013 at 6:31 pm |

    It doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Those are the very worst possible consequences which might come about as a result of unfettered hardcore rightwing-libertarian anarchocapitalist-sociopathy. But if we can steer this boat leftward towards logic, reason, compassion, rationalism, and empathy, maybe we can ALL share a future in which our lives are bettered, advanced, and even extended by technology. The problem isn’t the technology, it’s us. Humanity is too inefficient, too irrational, too tolerant of bigotry, too easily frightened, too distractable, too greedy, too shortsighted, too divisive, too belligerent, and too resistant to change. If we could become, as a whole, more compassionate, more empathetic, more rational, more logical, more considerate, more accepting of people’s differences, more scientific, more loving, more involved, and so on, not only could we make use of such technology in a way that benefits all of humanity, but we might even be able to do more than that. The possibilities would be practically limitless.


    • No, what’s here is a relatively benign projection of the collective failure of our technological elite leadership, it assumes that technological civilization continues.

    • as Antonio said I didnt know that a mother can earn $8952 in 1 month on the network.

    • ….— (Click on Home)

    • in some perfectly logical and rational modes of thinking, compassion and empathy have no place or agreement with logic or reason

      But then again, I agree with your irrational stance that we should hold all of it as a highest standard.

  4. If the power of the transnational elites isn’t drastically reduced, don’t worry about being a 300 year old burger flipper. The mistakes they are making for short-term gain will kill us (see latest climate projections AND increasing exploitation of unconventional fossil fuel) and them, too. At the present time, the script in Jared Diamond’s Collapse is playing out again. A single world transnational elite is a single failure point for civilization.

    Reducing the power of the elites is a precondition to solving ANY of the big problems connected with the survival of technological civilization and the interesting optional problems like increasing human intelligence (not so sure this is optional-we may need increased brain power to fix elite mistake outcomes) and life extension.

    The Singularity/US Transhumanist movement who are the primary proponents of claims paid for by corporate America that we will get life extension and neural enhancements if we only BELIEVE with the subtext being “if you are the superwealthy who can afford them” may change in a reality-based direction.

    • I’d rather be poor and alive than dead and self-righteous.

      • In the future your movement’s “wise men” like Kurzweil and Theil creating, you’re going to be very lucky if you get the choice. Unless you’re a trust-fund baby with a whole lot of money and you can pay for bioehancement at full retail price when it comes. In which case, unless trust-fund means “billionaire”, you may indeed get the choice to be “poor and alive”.

        Otherwise, you WILL find out that “Immortality is not covered by your insurance”.

        As for me, I’m planning to join H+ today so I can vote for the only Transhumanist leader I know of who actually means it when she talks about mass access to this kind of technology. (see the above URL) for H+ Board of Directors.

  5. BuzzCoastin | Jan 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm |

    every 3 or 4 thousand year or so
    Nature overturns the board game called human existence
    and wee scramble to recover what little wee had
    just ask the Atlantians about how immortality works

  6. What kind of lives are some people living, that they want to live forever?

  7. Wow, does this mean that the entirety of my perceptions, memories and experiences can be converted into ones and zeroes and I can live a full life without having to worry about feeding myself any more? For that I’d gladly live in a smartphone case and give directions to dippy elite-spawn! No more mortgage! And instead of working towards the understanding of higher dimensions, I can in fact reminisce when I had a full three! instead of the…er…how many will I have at that point?

    What happens if there is a power failure?

  8. I an extremely resentful towards the prejudice in this article. I agree that we have a severe world wide disparity problem, but this is ridiculous. I am personally for research in this area, not just to create a “magical breed of immortal humans”, but largely because I conclude all science research is good. Just a very small bit of progress in this area (maybe a few months every decade, on average, statistically) in the mean population would be wonderful to keep people young and healthy.

    The argument you make is toxic – what if someone would have made this argument with regards to inoculations a century ago “only the rich will be able to afford it, and only the rich will thus become an elite of disease-free vampires!”, imagine where we’d be if people had believed such an argument?

    We don’t know what is possible and we should try. But yes, I do agree that we need to urgently democratize progress. If you are so concerned about disparity caused the medical/corporate industrialcomplex, you are far better off aiming your barbs at current IP laws for medical research.

    I am just discussing biogerontological progress here, and we can be pretty sure that won’t progress fast. But just a few months every decade adds up, and I personally wouldn’t mind “a little extra life” even if some billionaire would be able to gain ten times as much.

    Plus, if you are right, chances are you won’t live in a world where this would become an issue, right?

    • Technology is the easy part no matter how hard it looks. The factors that make mass access to an expensive technology possible and paying for its development and for FDA approval so it can be delivered through Big Health and Big Pharma are political and economic. Precisely the factors you Futurists generally don’t have the remotest clue about.

      The odds that mass access to technologies that don’t provide immediate short-term profits to technocapitalists (why would they want us to have access? This means smarter people and more of us competing with them for “their” resources) will happen are of the same order as the odds that a whale will give birth to a duck.

      If you want to deserve to be taken seriously when you tell us about the future, LEARN HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS IN THE PRESENT like Robert Anton Wilson did.

    • Then I hope you take a look at our structures of corporate governance and finance.

      Because they are completely incompatible with anything but this “ridiculous” and “prejudiced” vampiric future imagined in the article.

      This guy can get you up-to-speed in a much nicer way than I can. I am currently engulfed in hate and anger and, perhaps ultimately, pride.

      (but at least he can explain things from a place of mental peace)

      * * *

      Regarding inoculations a century ago, let me point to you a critical distinction. They could have made this exact argument a century ago about inoculations, and they would be right. But you have interpreted the argument wrongly. They are not opposed to inoculations or to life-extension or life-enhancement science. They are opposed to our social systems of ownership and vampirism (metaphoric). The sick elites of this world only share the benefits of science with the fewest number of people as possible, in this case, they share mid-level benefits with the increasingly brain-dead, unable-to-think-critically, Skinnerian stimulus-and-response consumer public to keep them from becoming motivated to figure out how the world really works and re-assert their power, keep all of the super-human enhancement tech for themselves, and give none of it to the people they are actively engaged in genocide against. (You think Bill Gates is trying to save the Africans, you better think again.)

      As someone said above, clean water is the ultimate life-extension technology. I ain’t arguing against clean water, inoculations, or immortality science. I am arguing about our systems of control.

      * * *

      So let me re-state my message to you, since people always miss the point whenever I say something that upsets their world-view: you need to start learning about corporate structure, governance, and finance. That link above can get you started.

      Until you learn how the world is governed, you will just be a productive worker working for someone at the top of the pyramid who is not productive like you are, giving up more benefit to them than you ever ultimately receive.

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