Friday, December 30, 2011


James Atlas begins a recent Times Op-Ed piece by quoting Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology saying, “ ‘software-based humans’ will be able to survive indefinitely on the Web, ‘projecting bodies whenever they need or want them, including virtual bodies in diverse realms of virtual reality’” (“Life Goes On, and On…,” NYT 12/17/11). There are three circumstances which mitigate against the benefits of life extension and possible immortality according to Atlas:  economics (social security and Medicare are imperiled), quality of life (what good is it to live with consciousness and the senses increasingly limited), the horror of outliving children (Atlas provides the anecdotal case of a recently deceased Washington Post executive, a college classmate of his, whose mother outlived him). And then Atlas brings up the question of the children, the aging baby boomers who have to support parents whose savings have run out and whose medical care is becoming increasingly prohibitive. This is an interesting point that deserves amplification. The “make love not war” generation believed in the sanctity of all life. Their mantra might have been John Donne’s famous line “any man's death diminishes me.” Yet now managing chronically ill parents kept alive by the wonders of modern medicine, many alumni love children may experience untoward emotions. Every one admires older people with spirit, but sometimes the desire to live can be so voracious as to feel like greed. The aging parent who refuses to die seems to be sucking the life out of his own child. Much is made of the oedipal feelings of children, but there's the less talked about Medea Complex which though usually limited to describing the hatred of mothers could also be employed to describe the homicidal and competitive feelings of parents in general towards the children who will outlive them, outdo them and freely partake of all the pleasures which they (the parents) are no longer able to perform or enjoy. No one wants to die. That’s what keeps gun toting criminals in business. Yet will the current generation, perhaps the first to experience the negative effects of longevity, be willing to pull the plug on themselves? No one wants to look up from the hospital bed at the exasperated face of a grown child, who feels the best years of his or her life are being stolen by an ailing parent. No one wants to find themselves like a drunken hanger-on at a party for whom the host is on the verge of asking,  “haven’t you overstayed your welcome?”

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