Saturday, February 25, 2006

If you were immortal - would you still have kids?

Rail's eye-view
Uploaded on January 14, 2006
by Kyrion
This whole thing started with Deborah Woehr. Deborah wrote a post Living to be 100? in which she referenced a Yahoo! article saying that "Life expectancy may balloon to 100 years old in rich nations thanks to scientific advances, but such progress could widen the gap between wealthy and poor nations, according to researchers."

Being the geek that I am, naturally I am familiar with the issue. I have written about it in July twice: Forever Young - Immortality and Bones, Cats and Shock Absorbers (please excuse the state of that blog I'm not sure what I'll be doing with it yet and it was inactive for about six months).

Being also the dense person that I am, I never thought it would interest people on this blog, but that was rather ridiculous of me to think, given the large amount of genre, especially sci-fi, writers out there.

So Lee Carlon and I hijacked Deborah's blog and started a little debate there.
In short, my point of view is that once we would become immortal or have a very extended life span, we would also fundamentally change, as individuals and as a society, probably beyond what we can imagine. For example, I offered, I doubt people would have kids.

If you recall my singularity post, I contended there that we couldn't possibly imagine now what our society would be like if we ever grow beyond our intelligence (and hence its affect on writers). Same thing with immortality, I say.

Lee's point of view was more cynical than mine (I am, after all, the eternal optimist). First, Lee offered that "we should be concentrating on ensuring everybody (in the world) has a good quality of life, before we reward ourselves with even more." And I fully agree with that. He's a better person than I am.

Second, Lee claimed that society is run on fear of not having enough and he thinks that this fear will only increase if we live forever and that our concern for others will further diminish. And this is where Lee and I differ.

Both Deborah and Lee also disagreed with me regarding people having kids. I know it's a hard concept to swallow, the notion that the thing that's been driving our society for thousands of years will be no longer, but if one thinks of the reason we were driven to procreate - for continuity - then that would no longer be an issue. Then why have kids?

Don't answer from the emotional point of view about how much kids mean to us. Remember, if you live to be 500, the time the kids are young is a speck.

As for the fears of not having enough resources to sustain one self as Lee suggested, I can offer this as a thought - if we're immortal, we take care of the one resource we always run out of - time. Once we feel, know that we have all the time in the world, and that seeing the Pyramids can wait another year or hundred, then our attitude changes. Dramatically.

Now go to Deborah's blog to continue the discussion there :)

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Lee Carlon said...

Hi melly,

Your arguement makes a lot of sense. I'm just not convinced people DO have children NOW to continue the human race.

There are a whole host of other reasons for doing so, and the people who have children now, would continue to do so if they were immortal. Of course people might worry increasing the population would put an even higher burden on the world's precious resources and pass laws forbidding reproduction, but that just gets back to my theory on fear.

Melly said...

Lee, I know how it might sound, but I really do think that right now most (not all) people have kids out of enertia. It is simply the thing to do given the environment and culture.

I don't think this change will happen immediately, but with time, as less people have kids, or when having kids is delayed across age groups (100, 135, 200, etc.) and children are sparse because the time they are young is small, people will change attitudes as well. No longer everybody around has kids, at least not at the same time.

Ryan Oakley said...

I'd only have kids if they weren't immortal too. Can you imagine how damn long it takes an immortal to grow up and act their age?

melly said...

I don't think I can, but I'm still laughing :)

Pat Kirby said...

Of course, since I think humans are animals, I naturally believe that to some degree, the desire to procreate is driven by an innate need to continue the old genetic line.

Keep in mind the reasons behind modern parenting, in the western world with all its comforts, is probably a lot different from what it might have been a century or more ago. Actually, birth control has, IMO, has been a tremendous force in the development of the sort of cult of motherhood that we see today. I.e., where women in all circles proudly proclaim themselves as "mothers" before all other things.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. But it's a lot easier to concentrate all your resources on your children when you can manage your family size. I don't know if people a couple hundred years ago could be so sentimental about child rearing, especially when the infant mortality rate was dreadfully high.

I've mess around with the idea of immortality in my writing. One thing I've toyed with is the question: Is the human psyche built to weather an infinite lifespan? I.e., even if the body can last, how will the mind hold up?

Melly said...

Well, exactly.
If birth control had such an impact, what would immortality do?

That's an interesting point you're bringing about the psyche. I never thought it would be a problem, but perhaps I've thought about it in simplistic terms and maybe the psyche might have a problem dealing with that...