Infinite Wishes 🌻🏳️‍⚧️🚀

Is a weblog by Emma Humphries

Who wants to live forever?

07 Jun 2022

“Who wants to live forever?”

Billionaires such as Musk and Thiel ask us to ignore the contemporary suffering of the many in favor of their program of “Effective Altruism,” which focuses on problems such as immortality, and the heat death of the Universe instead of climate change, hunger, and white supremacy which are dismissed as not thinking on a ‘proper’ cosmic scale.

The TV show The Good Place answered the question of immortality with a strong no. When the protagonists, fugitives from A/B tested Hells, entered the Good Place from the title, they found the inhabitants so addled from eternities in paradise that Hypatia of Alexandria, the legendary martyr for learning and letters, is reduced to describing the moral philosopher Chidi Anagonye as a “thinky book man.”

Eternity in paradise had diminishing returns, and the refugees from Hell and the saints determined that eventual oblivion was the answer. And paradise became a respite between mortal life and nothingness. No hurry to become one with the cosmic source, but eventually everyone walked through the redwood gates to cease to be.

In Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, from which Musk is fond of cribbing the names of his fleet of floating rocket-landing barges, the citizens of the galaxy-spanning civilization live long, fulfilling lives, of several genders and centuries before throwing a grand farewell party and being teleported, of their own free will, into the heart of a living star.

Ursula K. Le Guin championed mortality as well. The theme of the fourth of her Earthsea books, Tehanu, was a warning against the pursuit of immortality.

Hell is a different matter.

In Banks’ Culture novel Surface Detail, a planet-spanning authoritarian regime has contracted out Hell to an off-world mogul (a combination of Rupert Murdoch, Philip Rosedale, and Sir Richard Branson) who runs eternal torment as a service in the Cloud.

The personalities of those who die out of the regimes favor, or are murdered by same are uploaded for demonic torture as long as the monthly server bills are paid.

The world’s youth are bundled off for a tour of this Second Hell to scare them into submission.

This is one facet of the “War in Heaven” over which the galaxy’s major civilizations fight over what to do about the dead when dead is, in many cases and short of being blinked into the core of a star, a temporary condition.

In Ian Macdonald’s Terminal Cafe, property rights removes the need for server farms, as nanotechnology raises the dead, and the rich own those who cannot purchase a manumission before they die.

The Free Dead, resurrecting themselves among the cometary havens of the Kuiper Belt, are the exception.

Hell, it would seem, is an industrial process, and under the control of the rich and powerful.

The founder of the Protectorate, in Megan E. O’Keefe’s series of the same name, is motivated by that “Effective Altruistic” goal of avoiding the heat death of the universe, and the eventual death of the Sun, only at the expense of involuntary revenants and genocide.

No wonder Thiel and Musk ask that we fund their pursuit of immortality, instead of the problems we all face, so as to avoid a virtual hell or an eternity as a debt peonage revenant, with only the promise of the eventual decay of baryonic matter to release them.

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