by John Hawkins | September 19, 2012 4:04 am
My latest Pajamas Media column is called, 5 Reasons Why Being Immortal Would Suck. Here’s an excerpt from the column.
Remember the final refrain of the classic Queen song, “Who Wants To Live Forever?”
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today
Who has forever anyway…
If you’re like most people, you probably answered that in your head with, “ME! I want to live forever!” It does sound appealing, doesn’t it? The idea that you would never die as long as you kept your head was what really captured people’s imagination about Highlander. The same goes for vampires. The big difference between vampires and other much more boring supernatural creatures like goblins, ghouls, ogres, and pixies is that they can live for thousands of years…. like God. Just imagine what you could do, learn, and become if you had thousands of years to do it! Unfortunately, there may be a few downsides people haven’t considered…
We get this when it comes to animals. When a pet’s whole life becomes misery, we put it down. Even though we don’t do the same with other humans because of political and cultural reasons, we understand it. But, if you were immortal and healthy, why would you ever WANT to die?
In Greek mythology, the immortal Prometheus was chained on a mountain and each night, a vulture came to rip out his liver and eat it.
In Ninja Scroll, the immortal Lord Himuro Gemma is washed into the sea by a wave of boiling gold, which hardens, traps him, and takes him to the bottom.
In the TV show “Angel,” the main character, who is a vampire, is sealed in a metal box and dropped to the bottom of the ocean.
In the TV show Supernatural, the unkillable Doc Benton is chained in a refrigerator and buried alive.
Imagine being caught in a landslide, being trapped in a plane that goes down over the ocean, or even captured and experimented on by a government trying to learn the secrets of your immortality. There are times when dying beats all the other options.
The finest quote C.S. Lewis ever came up with:
Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
If that’s true, how happy would an immortal be? As you get older, some of the deepest hurts are the losses, the people you cared about deeply who are no longer in your life. Imagine the impact of those losses stacking on top of each other, one after the other, decade after decade, century after century, millennia after millennia. Could you go anywhere, do anything, without it reminding you of someone you cared about whom you outlived? Imagine being immortal and finding your soulmate. Then, year after year, she’d grow older as you remained the same age. Eventually, you’d be a 25-year-old man in a relationship with an old crone. Even if you were okay with it, can you imagine how weird and awkward it would make her feel? What a depressing existence that would turn out to be.
In Troy, Achilles delivers this line,
I’ll tell you a secret, something they don’t teach you in your temple. The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now, and we will never be here again.
If you’re immortal, how can you ever be a hero with no risk to your personal safety? How can you experience a thrill bungee jumping or sky diving when you know there’s no way you can die? Whose accomplishments could you measure yourself against? Why would you feel motivated to get up in the morning today? You could always do whatever you were planning to do today, tomorrow, next month, or in twenty years — what difference would it make?
We may not want to die, but it’s that finality, that end point, that race against the clock that helps give meaning to our lives.
Karl Marx was wrong about most things, but he was right when he said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Each generation likes to think of itself as fresh and original, but we repeat many of the terrible, yet appealing ideas that previous generations adopted with disastrous results. If you read history, you already know this. That’s bad enough, but imagine living through all that stupidity and watching governments adopt ideas you knew would fail 1000 years ago. The frustration of it would be crushing.
It would be even worse with people because they all start their lives as empty vessels that are never filled evenly. Everyone has foolish ideas, holes in their knowledge, and flawed beliefs — all of which would be readily apparent to an immortal. After all, if you talk to people for a few thousand years, you’ll pick up a few things. At some point, talking to other people would probably become like talking to a dog. “No, no, get away from that. Ok, good boy, good boy. Ooh yeah, you really shouldn’t hump that, buddy!”
As Susan Erz once said, “Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
Now, ponder having an UNLIMITED number of rainy Sunday afternoons, stretching on endlessly, from here to eternity. Want to visit the Amazon? Have a threesome? Go mountain climbing? Get in a gunfight? Great! What happens when you’ve done all of those things 5 times each? What happens when there is literally nothing you want to do that you haven’t already done a dozen times? You couldn’t even use the AWESOME skills you’ve developed to become the world’s best baseball player or cure cancer because that would make it likely that 30 years later, someone would figure out your secret and you’d end up in the government lab mentioned earlier, wishing that you could die. So, welcome to Dullsville. Population you. Forever.
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