A hypothesis for slower ageing

Many hypotheses have been offered for why people age slower than they used to — in other words, why people look younger than they used to. It is sometimes said among those of a reactionary political inclination that the relative decline in violence among great powers means that usual rites of passage for ageing are unavailable. Therefore, people remain in a semipermanent childhood or youthful adolescence, never quite embracing the horrors of the world, and never mastering their demons. But I think there are many demons in this world, and many violent tendencies that are subterranean but real. It is further suggested that slower ageing is genetic, and that the spread of certain genes will result in youthfulness. This makes little sense, either. What about genes that code for faster ageing? Why must one set of genes be favoured over another? I have a theory: technology.

The isle of Bimini in the Caribbean, 1998 — legendary location of the ‘foundation of youth’.

In our technologically advanced society, people are likely to live longer, due to advancements in medical technology in particular, but also due to the decline in consumption of deadly substances such as nicotine and alcohol among younger generations. Advances in scientific knowledge and technological brilliance go hand-in-hand. In our society based on knowledge/power, there is a general tendency towards biopolitics, as Foucault put it, or power over life and death monopolised by the modern state. Births and deaths are recorded and regulated, limited and circumscribed. Violence is monopolised by the modern state, and the state monopolises the central instrument for births and deaths. This ‘technology of power’ is now more centralised than it has ever been. The world is older than ever, but people age slower than ever. The younger generations are fewer in number in the developed world, but many in the developing world. And everywhere, technology is advancing. Everlasting youth may do damage to those who are actually young, who will lack the distinctiveness they once possessed, as older generations are able to attain artificial youth in style, if not substance. The foundation of youth is now found in the spirit of technology.

It is said that everlasting life is already here, and that those who will live for centuries are already walking among us. What was once science fiction is now an immanent reality we must confront. At the same time as the promise of eternal life, we are confronted with the reality of immanent death at the hands of the triple crisis of climate change, the rise of China, and capitalist market anarchy in a world dominated by nation-states. Underneath these sociological quandaries lies the prophetic rise of technology. Our society is now longer appropriate to develop this technology. To continue progress, we must abandon those institutions that gave birth to this new technological age but now limit its development, or face extinction at the hands of the monsters we created. We may be ageing slowly, but the world is dying quickly. The crossroads are approaching, even as purgatory extends to eternity. We must choose which world we wish. Before it is too late, and the world is chosen for us, by the fates to which we remain slaves. Now, however, we are choosing — but not to revive this world, but rather to continue its descent into madness. We must revive ourselves to revive the world, and vice versa. In the choice between life and death, there remains the bridge of power, which can be crossed in either direction. Let us hope we choose widely. Time is of the essence.

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