The Problem with Immortality

Several people have stated over the years that man’s biggest problem is overpopulation.  These are usually people who have propagated and have adult progeny who have also propagated.  I don’t believe they were volunteering to be euthanized themselves, so the obvious question becomes one of who gets chosen to solve the overpopulation problem.

As I move through time and reach official “retirement” age, my perspective has changed.  I see the uncomfortable dilemma of feeling superfluous on the planet, reinforced by a youth culture that obviously or covertly resents the Baby Boomers for having robbed the universal till to secure comfortable retirements for themselves.

If the world is overpopulated, then war, disease, and famine work to right the scales.  If the mystics and other seers are right, there are many dimensions beyond the physical one, and many worlds being created all the time.  Even the astrophysicists say the universe is expanding.  Isaac Asimov anticipated overpopulation in his first sci-fi novel, Pebble in the Sky.  In that futuristic book, entire galaxies had been colonized, and there was mandatory euthanasia on Earth at age 60.  Other sci-fi novels present similar scenarios

It appears death is necessary in physical reality, to make room for new life.  If everyone were physically immortal, and lacking room to expand, the Earth would become crowded with humanity, as some claim has already happened.  Longevity is blamed, along with other factors.

The dilemma of immortality—or longevity—becomes one of what to do about overcrowding?  Presuming people continue to be born, a race of immortal beings that requires physical space must live somewhere.  Thus do the sci-fi novels delve into colonizing other places or, as in Pebble, making euthanasia mandatory.

When animal populations grow too large for their habitats, and if they can’t move, self-correcting mechanisms serve to reduce the population.  In human history, wars, disease, famine, infertility, homosexuality, abortion, infanticide, human sacrifice, expulsion, and even cannibalism have served that purpose.

Few would deny that Americans are the most wasteful people on the planet.  Not only is “consumerism” encouraged, but it is a source of pride for many.  It comes at a huge cost, though, as we must live in the garbage dump we are creating.  If overpopulation is the source of our problems–leading to war, pestilence, and all the other natural and unnatural mechanisms used to lighten the planet’s human load—then it makes social and personal sense to curb excess and waste.

My minimalist lifestyle represents a symbolic effort to curb my own excesses.  I chose not to have children, for instance.  I didn’t want children dependent on me, but I also recognized there are plenty of other people propagating, so my contribution in that sphere was unnecessary.

As I move through time, towards the age of superfluousness, and even towards a time of consuming more than I produce–along with my Baby Boomer cohort–I have to wonder if it becomes my social responsibility to get out of the way.  The growing support for physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia seems motivated in part by the perceived burdensomeness of the elderly.  The alternative, for those who still have some living to do, would naturally be to remain “productive,” useful, and to continue contributing in some way to society.

There is no cure for death, in the time-space construct we have chosen.  There is hope for healthy and happy longevity, one in which age does bring wisdom, grace, depth, and understanding—valuable commodities that money can’t buy.



7 thoughts on “The Problem with Immortality

  1. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Katharine, an interesting and thought-provoking topic. Until we can colonize other planets with conditions suitable to human life, we will have to curb the rate of our population growth.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Rosaliene, Yes. I suspect many of the problems we face now are nature’s way of curbing humanity’s excesses. Climate change is a symptom. War and disease are symptoms, too, of unhealthy beliefs. Taking the long view, theoretically, can arouse people in the present to become more conscientious planetary citizens.

  2. Gail Kaufman

    I like your thoughts on age bringing wisdom, grace, depth, and understanding. In reality, I haven’t seen much of that in the elderly people I have known. I’ve seen resentment of failing health, social withdrawal from hearing loss or lack of energy, and other manifestations of diminished physical and mental capacity. I hope to grow old with grace and dignity. It’s something to aspire to.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Gail, I’ve seen that, too, and it’s sad that our culture doesn’t facilitate easier and healthier transitions through the years. I hope this post will encourage more people to think about the untapped potential available as people age. Older people could set some inspiring examples, should they choose to do so.

      1. Gail Kaufman

        I hope your post not only encourages a more positive perception of seniors but also inspires the seniors themselves. They should project their pride and wisdom, and share their secrets of longevity to be good role models and show those younger that there is joy after 60, 70 and beyond. I remember when my son asked his grandmother for stories of her youth, which she declined to tell. It was a missed opportunity for both of them.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Agreed. I haven’t found many seniors in the blog world, but I talk up blogging as an easy learning and sharing opportunity.

        Life-and-death concepts–and peoples’ beliefs about them–are integral to health, yet I don’t see much written about this. Theoretically, people can live healthy, happy lives until their last breaths, and holistic medicine supports this concept. I believe more elderly people would be happier if they believed it, too. I think many feel marginalized and resent it, especially after they retire.

        More to come on these topics. I’m finding some inspiration in sci-fi, which deals with such ideas as parallel realities and other dimensions of existence. Thinking and writing about this also helps develop ideas for my perpetually-in-progress sci-fi/philosophical novel.

  3. Autumn Cote

    Would you be OK if I cross-posted this article to I’ll be sure to give you complete credit fas the author. There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I liked what you wrote. If “OK” please let me know via email.



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