If it were possible to become immortal, would you do it? Would you step boldly into a life of eternal existence? If so, have you considered the ramifications, the consequences of living forever? On the face of it, immortality appears innocuous, a wish fulfilled, a dream of immense possibilities. However, the reality of living forever would likely be a forever nightmare. Not only for you, but everyone on the planet.
Remember the movie “Ground Hog Day” starring Bill Murray? Murray’s character, Phil Connors, finds himself trapped in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania living the same day over and over again. Connors is soon bored, tired, and desperate for an end to his time slavery. He tries to kill himself multiple times, only to discover that he can’t die. Eventually it’s his love for a woman who takes him forward into the next day, and humbles him to the nightmare of his own flaws that propelled him into the circular time cycle. Now, imagine yourself being an immortal, living every day for all of eternity. Each day will begin to seem like yesterday. Over and over and over again. It is likely you will learn everything, do everything, see everything, experience everything. You will reach the pinnacle of existence as you know it. What’s next? What do you do? Love won’t bring you back from immortality. Even if the one you love is immortal as well.
On the Face of It
It seems so wonderful, so magical, so much fun! To live forever! To see what will happen next! To never grow old and die! To soak up every experience, every nuance of life! To live eternally! Imagine all the things you could do… without dying! Think of all the things you could accomplish in a forever life! But, I have to ask… What would motivate you to do any of it? You have forever to do it. If you have a problem with procrastination now, how much worse would it be if you’re immortal? More important, what would stop you from taking advantage of your immortality and exploiting it for your own benefit?
For all our talk of compassion, altruism, civility… For all our ambitions to create, invent, explore… Isn’t what motivates humanity firmly grounded in our finite existence? Knowing that our time is limited seems to me to be the greatest contributor to our motivation to live and to stay alive. Imagine not being concerned with being injured or dying. Imagine never feeling pain. Of course, you’re probably thinking that immortality wouldn’t mean a painless existence. But, to be truly immortal, pain would have to go. Physical pain exists in mortals to warn them of danger, of something wrong with the mortal body. An immortal would have no need for pain. Injury and death would be relegated to fiction.
Philosophical question: If you’re immortal, would you still be human? Immortals in literature are deities of immense power and are not human. There are attempts to solve this problem by some deities. They have occasionally bridged the gap between their immortal realm and the human domain. We can see this in many religions, both past and present. But, even before their extraordinary expeditions into the human realm, immortals always possessed exclusively human qualities and characteristics. This is no coincidence of course. And, no matter how hard an immortal tried to transcend the human aspect of their personality, they always seemed to fall victim to their human qualities. Selfishness, arrogance, greed, fear, violence… So… If you’re immortal, are you still human? The answer might be found in the human condition. Our struggle to survive is the driving force behind our humanness. Even in the light of all our technological advances people still struggle to live, to survive. Immortals, on the other hand, don’t struggle as humans do. However, their immortality seems inextricably linked to humanity. Immortals always seem to desire being needed, wanted, worshiped, adored, admired… Name a human trait, emotion, or characteristic and it can be found, good or bad, in an immortal. It seems that living eternally would escape the human aspects of injury and dying, but would be forever tortured by human emotions and behaviors.
Even Immortals Die
At some point in your immortal existence, any positive human personality traits you managed to retain will wither away. You will likely find yourself very, very lonely, depressed, angry. Your mind will be older than your body. Your eons of acquired knowledge and wisdom will transcend expression in human language, and making small talk with any human will utterly bore you. Your conversations with humans will cease. You will become a prisoner of your inner dialog, a cacophony of voices in your head will clamor for individual attention. You will long for the human touch, but will be unable to feel. Pain and pleasure will be beyond your immortal existence. You will never again know the thrill of the first eye contact, the anticipation of a kiss, the buzz of a new scent. All of it will die in the obscurity of your infinite time. To live forever… alone.
If Only Everyone Were Immortal!
But, what if everyone were immortal? Well… Let’s take a quick look at that! The first thing that comes to mind is death. Without death, overpopulation, overcrowding, extinction of all resources, and ultimately a bunch of folks standing around asshole to belly button for eternity. Of course, we could always find a way to leave the planet. But, what are the odds of that if everyone is immortal and nobody’s in a hurry to do anything when they have an eternity in which to do it? And, it would be remiss of me not to mention another obvious dilemma of everyone being immortal: Perpetual war. Everyone would try to control everything and everyone. No consequences. Trying to kill each other and no one dies. Instead, an anti-immortality arms race and total chaos. If you thought the “state of nature” described by Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan” was horrible, imagine adding the horror of eternal life? As if Hobbes were to write…
“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and eternal.”
The Immorality of Immortality
So, where exactly is the immorality in immortality? One look at religion says it all. The promise of eternal life, of immortality, living in a timeless world, is the magical carrot, dangled in front of the ignorant, the desperate, the downtrodden, or anyone who’s willing to part with their humanity and a few bucks. It is intended to elevate them artificially from human to immortal, sucking the motivation to live in the here and now, with the promise of riches after physical death. It instills a false sense of power and dominion over others and the natural order. It emboldens the religious tribes to subjugate all who fail to yield to a myth and bullshit promise.
Modern day examples? Christian Fundamentalists seeking dominion over all, in the free and Democratic Republic of Secular America. Fundamentalists, under the guise of “Religious Freedom” , who will do whatever it takes to outlaw freedom of choice, science and evolution, marriage equality, human sexuality, and environmental responsibility. In Africa, where threats of death and eternal damnation are leveled upon those who were born gay. In Syria, and Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East, where thousands are killed, some beheaded for imaginary crimes against an imaginary god. And what for? All for the promise of immortality. How tragic is it that the reality of immortality comes not only with real, immoral problems, but it also produces real, immoral results?
“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” - Carl Sagan, Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium