Rueful Vampires and Delusional Technocrats
By Jesse Wolf Hardin
Anima Lifeways & Herbal School • www.AnimaCenter.org
It is death that makes us grateful and mindful of life… and living forever in this form, on this ol’ earth, wouldn’t be quite the picnic that you might imagine.
Technologists are always promising us the stars, so to speak, and whether we’ve really got a hankerin’ for those distant uninhabitable infernos or not. And no doubt, they have a plan for upgrading or downsizing, compounding or breaking-down, extracting or eradicating, denaturing or artificially replicating, transferring genes across species or otherwise bioengineering, synthesizing and advertising – or in any myriad of other admittedly clever ways tweaking and twisting, messing with and marketing every single doggone element of the natural world and our own increasingly invaded and manipulated selves. On the whole, we tend to support this perverting of life – from using nanotechnology and marketing bots to control our behavior and monitor our expenditures, to pharmaceutical dependance, the latest techniques for mind control and research on transplanting memories and identity into android avatars – out of an understandably human desire for improved comfort and ease, for ever more capable and interesting material goods and advanced medical treatment… and we support it out of fear, fear of chaos and crime, of poverty and disasters, and especially of disease and death. It is this that they wish to sell us most, usurping a power reserved for God in the majority of the world’s religions: immortality.
What they seemingly never tell us, are the down sides and drawbacks, side effects and collateral damage, nor the ways in which even the most benign and helpful technologies can and inevitably will be put to dangerous or nefarious and dastardly purposes. They brag on the latest mining technology, while downplaying the floods caused by mountain top removal and the deaths of miners in preventable explosions. They trumpet the suppression of once common communicable diseases but with no mention of the overprescribing of antibiotics has weakened the immune system of people throughout the entire “civilized” world, and resulted in the rise of new “Super Viruses” that nothing yet can treat. They tout the success of genetically modified crop seed that can withstand the spraying of herbicides to remove their competitors, but without weighing in the unfairness of making farmers dependent on a single source of seed that is ever more expensive. While no one may say so, those searches we do on the internet that make our research and shopping so much simpler, are also a permanent log of our interests and activities that is and will be used to not only market to us, but also to manage us. While glossy brochures are available describing how fast a certain feed additive or injection can result in livestock putting on weight twice as fast, nowhere in the fine print is there any mention of can lead to a host of problems including infertility. And while plastics sure as hell have their practical, low cost uses, the industry literature would be loathe to include how these chemicals are showing up in our drinking water, with the leaching xenoestrogens screwing up what is often our already compromised endocrine systems.
This isn’t to say that these technologies don’t have a purpose that is at times reasonable and appropriate, as anybody who’s ever considered carrying a moldy wood or easily broken glass canteen could tell you… or more poignantly, anyone who’s survived a brain condition thanks only to the detailed analysis of the latest high-tech machines. We would, however, do well to make ourselves aware of, and then deeply consider, both the positive and negative consequences, for ourselves and our regions in the present but also for the generations yet to come. We (hopefully) consider more than just the shining qualities and likely benefits of a relationship before deciding to make someone our husband or wife, of a home before we rent or buy it, or of job before we take it. So why, then, would we subscribe to technologies that without investigation, without considering all the many helpful and adverse ways that it affects us, our communities and homes. Instead of a balanced assessment, the technologists leave any real critique to social and environmental public advocacy groups, making it look like it’s a simple matter of unreasonable, anti-progress Neanderthals versus our good friends at the various multinational corporations, God-like, all-knowing and omnipotent entities keeping the dark ages at bay while leading us into an every brighter-lit future.
It’s hard to believe they could ever overcome all the obstacles to the preservation of the human body, but even if they could – though injections of purposed stem cells or some as yet unimagined means – it would bring with it some less than pleasant consequences that we might want to consider.
Just as in the spate of vampire stories, anyone living forever on this planet would have to suffer a series of attachments and heartbreaks as each loved friend or mate ages before you and then dies. And would an immortal person with tons of experience under their belt really find even the most attractive 20 year old very intriguing? You know how frustrating it can be to tolerate a teenager’s naivety when they’re only a decade younger than us, now picture trying to keep the conversation interesting when they’re hundreds or even thousands of years our juniors?
A few things should be obvious: It would be a very bad idea to ever do anything to earn yourself a life sentence in prison. It would be a very good idea to be careful what you promise you’ll do or feel “forever”.
And what if you were immortal but not invulnerable, free from old age and yet still subject to blunt trauma like car accidents or falling into a trash compacter? Just imagine the pressure, how tentative you might become, how afraid to ever get in a vehicle of any kind or hug someone whose sick, knowing that accidents are inevitable and how the odds against you grow with every year you enjoy without a mishap, knowing that slipping up will shorten your existence by tens of thousands of years instead of only by a few relatively brief decades. Unless immortality included being immune or impervious to all disease, you could end up wearing a herpes sore on your lip or dealing with the symptoms of testicular cancer for millennia. A lovely thought, eh? Then there’s the problem of mental capacity, even if the technologists were able to created resistance to all illness. An immortal’s brain may be saved from the dementia of the decrepit, but it’s unlikely storage could be increased without a mechanical “external hard-drive” of some sort. While some people are able to remember and recall more information than others, there is still a finite amount of memory storage and processing paths, not nearly enough to maintain a data-rich record of thousands of years of lived experience. Already it seems I have to forget some numbers and internet passwords in order to make space for others, what experiences, friends and loved ones would I have to let go of, as the number of experiences and people are endlessly compounded?
To be generous and fair, and in order to ever be able to say we have some “old acquaintances” in our lives, we might hope our vampirish bite results in there being other immortals in our world. In this case, of course, an exponential compounding of the number of people would mean an endless compacting of bodies into a limited amount of habitable space, the elimination of rural lifestyles and traditional cultures followed by the end of the suburbs, then of farmable land and essential drinking water, and all the while the compaction of individual rights and liberties in favor of technologized management. Who wants to live forever, on a planet with no asphalt-free hills green with medicinal herbs and edible plants, no deer hunting woods or garden or pasture, no way to discern oneself or even to misbehave, and no place to do it in?
Worst of all, immortality could mean an end to what little humility humanity has left, as we assumed the mantle of unaffected lords of a diminishing domain, supermen acting is if we were the chosen and elite, removed and elevated above all except for that government and technology that may have made living forever on the earth a possibility. And it would almost certainly result in a serious reduction in appreciation! The more rare we perceive something is, the more likely we humans are to appreciate, conserve or celebrate it, evident in how much more we value scarce diamonds and gold, limited edition firearms or art, white robed buffalo, hard to find spices and limited lakefront properties. Likewise, the more we have of anything – whether lovers or dollars – the less we tend to notice, value, acknowledge and treasure them, to the point of taking for granted something as vital (if voluminous) as the air that we breathe. In this technologized society, we already show a tendency to gloss over the qualities of what we have and who we are, and give the preponderance of our attention to the new and novel, what we think we want or lack.
Better, perhaps, not to allow ourselves to become be subject to, controlled by or dependent on our technologies, no matter how useful or salvational the claim, and with open eyes and mind, to weigh carefully the consequences of our every choice. Then we might find ourselves more grateful just to be wholly flesh and blood creatures with a fairly decent span in which to face our challenges, taste our rewards, and fulfill our most meaningful purpose, giving our best to our loves and this world as if any moment could be our last and our every act could end up our one final gesture, the concluding lines of a story that will be remembered… at least by those mortals fortunate not to live so long that they forget.
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