Paul Carr over at TechCrunch has written one of the all-time most boneheaded articles I’ve ever read. He’s arguing in favor of death. His own death and yours. Carr takes on so-called gerontologists, which is basically a term for scientists who study aging, some with the goal of living forever (or at least a really long time). Carr argues the other side. While a gerontologist might believe humans should live for a thousand years, Carr thinks we need to die some time around 80.
Why? Because otherwise, procrastinating just won’t work. Seriously, that’s the gist of his argument. If we live too long, we won’t have any deadlines, literally. After all, Carr got a year to write his book about living in hotels (a fascinating screed, I’m sure). But he finished in 15 months. Can you imagine if he had 100 years? He’d finish in a couple centuries. So, it’s a good thing we all die early, or else we’d never get to hear about Carr’s fascinating life ordering room service and living in one-room dwellings with free cable TV. I can hardly bear the thought.
I’m not one of those hopeless romantics who clings to every desperate hope of living forever as a way to placate my fear of dying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very afraid of dying, as much as any mortal should be. I’ve heard that death is our number two fear, after public speaking. Well, I’d much rather have a date with a lectern than a casket. Still, I understand the case for dying, though it’s never necessary to make a case for a biological imperative.
I’d like to think that, under certain circumstances, I might even choose death over life. I’d die to save my child, for instance. If it were a choice between my life or the life of my son, I would go gently into that good night. There are causes about which I might go to war, and then I would accept death as a part of that struggle. It’s hard to imagine the plight of passengers on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and not hope that I would have the courage to make the same decision. I would rather sacrifice myself as a potential hero if it would save the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of other people.
In other words, I’m not a coward, but I’m also not stupid enough to argue in favor of anyone dying. It amazes me that there is any passion on the pro-death side of this argument. I think the pro-death side are simply contrarians. Carr has found a personality type that he finds distasteful, and he rails against it without any real logical thought about what side he’s really arguing.
He cites the example of Ray Kurzweil, the famous futurist, and other researchers who are subjecting their bodies to strange diets and regimens in order to eke out a few more years. Cutting down calories, filling up on vitamin supplements, detoxifying in strange and mystifying ways. It’s easy to see how an über-hipster like Carr might find such a regimen uncool. So much so, in fact, that he would rather die than subject himself to such a lifestyle.
Except that the perspective he takes is nonsense. One thing I’ve learned about human behavior is that people do only what they want to do. A person is completely incapable of doing something they do not want to. We might do things that are unpleasant, or unappealing, but that’s always because the alternative is the worse of two evils.
I hate cleaning my room, but eventually I will hate living in the mess even more. Or I’m more afraid of my mother swatting me than I am put off by the idea of cleaning. Or the place has become an infested hovel and my health is at risk. Or I simply don’t clean it, because I don’t want to. At the limits of these choices we find disorder, where people are willing to make choices that disrupt their normal lives. But even here, with the hoarders and the pack rats, there is a happy urge that is satisfied, even if it’s far outside of the norm.
Every action we take is a choice, and every choice is the one we prefer. We always choose the path we want to take, even if we have to convince ourselves of that desire. In some ways, moral fortitude and human accomplishment are based on our capability to convince ourselves that the tedious, painful or unlikable choice is the one we really want.
Kurzweil takes 250 supplements, 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea every day because he wants to. Whatever his motive for wanting such an extreme intake habit, it must make him happier than the alternative he perceives because it is the choice he makes. He isn’t hurting anyone. He isn’t making false promises or interfering in Carr’s life in any way. Yet Carr feels the need to single him out as a model of delusion.
Kurzweil doesn’t drink, do drugs, live dangerously or eat excessively. Carr can’t imagine such a life. Of course, none of the so-called gerontologists I’ve read about have ever prescribed their lifestyle as a panacea, except for those who are interested in living much longer, perhaps. Even then, their techniques might not work, but so what, if it makes them happier to try. After all, we can never prove that someone will live forever. We can only prove that they will not. But instead of taking a live-and-let-live-longer attitude, Carr seems personally offended by the concept. He suggests we all simply accept our relatively short lives.
I have a better suggestion. Carr should die. I don’t mean that in a malicious way, I don’t wish for anyone’s death. But if Paul Carr is so interested in arguing against another human’s right to live as long as possible, maybe he would be happier dead. Who is Carr trying to convince? Does he really want his audience to simply roll over and accept death? Maybe then it would be better for everyone if this subversive element would simply follow his own advice to its logical ends.
Life is the reason we are alive. Every instinct we have is bent towards one goal, to live and to perpetuate our species so that others may live as well. Arguing against this instinct is not just harmful to the species; it represents a thought process that is lower on the evolutionary scale. If evolution and the course of human history have enlightened us in any way, it’s to move humanity toward a greater appreciation of life over death. I’m mystified, mortified even, that someone could argue against living.
My favorite argument that Carr makes is that the first generation to live to 1,000 years old would appreciate their long lives, but subsequent generations would take it for granted. Why accomplish anything by the time you’re 30 if you’re going to live to be 3,000?
What a buffoon. How naïve can you possibly be? In making this argument, Carr sounds like a Lost Boy from Peter Pan. Some day, these humans of super-old ages will look back on our civilization with sadness, wondering how we could have lived a full life with only a hundred years of opportunity. How could we get anywhere, literally and figuratively, with the universe open before us? Just as we find it hard to imagine an age when humans lived lives half as long as we do now, future generations might look back with pity. An argument like Carr’s, that we should all die early, will be revealed as primitive and useless.
A thousand years from now, I would love to read his column again and laugh.