By Erek Tinker
Increased longevity is the greatest human story of our time. All of the astounding changes that have come in the past several centuries are rooted in population growth. Population growth has been driven by human beings living longer lives. Fewer people dying in infancy allows them to grow older, develop skills, participate in productive projects. Many factors have contributed to increased longevity, such as: sanitation, public education, and technology. These systems are generally not executed completely by people under the age of 25. People who believe they won’t live past 30 do not get Masters’ Degrees. As we live longer, we have more people who are educated, we have more complex systems, and we must solve new problems that help us fit more people into denser geographies. Developments in Energy have allowed us to be more productive by outsourcing the efforts to machines that are the product of our environment and this has lead to massive population growth in the 20th century. We are beginning to feel the crush of overpopulation.
Throughout history, our morality has been rooted in lives being, nasty, brutish and short. Now that it is often not, we are living life in a different way from our ancestors. Our legal codes, how the construction of families and inheritance, all stems from how we plan our longer, more peaceful lives. The longer we live, the more our priorities change. In the past, great works – cathedrals, civic plans, revolutions – were built by people who knew they would never see their completion. Today, we build bridges and towers that we expect to see completed and in use in months or years . This can be double edged, because as we have increased longevity, the more our incentives become about what we will witness with our own eyes. Unlike our ancestors who planted orchards they would never eat from, we want to see the profits from our labors in our own lifetimes.
Like an orchard, infrastructure development is often an investment in the lives of the next generation. Longer-term investments of the type that may never realize a profit are often subsidized by an after-market of derivatives. If you invest in a Nuclear Plant that will not see an ROI for 40-60 years, then you might want to sell your shares at some point in your own lifetime to reap the rewards of the risk you took. Institutional investors who are adding value to a corporate portfolio can hold onto the assets for longer than individuals can. This is why we have corporate personhood, to maintain the longevity of the social investments that are not good incentives for an individual whose time to money is on a shorter horizon.
Certain things will never see a quarterly profit. In the Middle Ages, markets grew up around Cathedrals as Cathedrals were major tourist attractions due to holiday pilgrimages. A market town would rise up in the shadow of a Cathedral, a century before the Cathedral was completed. People in these rural agrarian towns devoted themselves and their resources to these Cathedrals because they knew it would create a sense of time and place for their descendants, and carry on the legacy of their culture and their values into the future. Today we build stadiums that dwarf these medieval basilicas , and dismiss them as old and decrepit while those who saw them built still live. It seems that in some ways, our shorter lived ancestors had a greater incentive to live through their family and their community, and as such thought on a longer time scale than we often do. It helps when we can reasonably expect the world of your grandchildren to resemble the world of our grandparents. Our world of disruptive innovation, doesn’t allow for that degree of foresight. Today we work on an innovation cycle of about 60 years from scientific discovery to mass market products.
The Global Generation Gap
The international order of wealth largely revolves around societies of a certain age. Countries with an older median age tend to be more stable and prosperous than younger nations. Revolutionary nations like Iran change as their populations age. Crime and War are largely the domain of the young.. When a society has too many young men and not enough prospects, they become more militaristic in a phenomenon known as a youth bulge. Across the board, stable developed countries have seen a precipitous decline in birth rates. These older skewing societies start to develop a preference for family planning and for putting more resources into raising fewer children. The instinctual strategies of nomadic and agrarian societies are to have as many kids as possible in order to create strength in numbers and because most of the children are going to die young. Younger societies favor strength, while older societies favor intelligence and training. Younger countries have fewer multigenerational educational opportunities, and suffer brain drains as the young and educated seek more prosperous countries where they may ply their trade.
There is concern in the developed world that the people are not breeding enough, and that there will be an imbalance toward old rather than young. Throughout history, the model for the family has always been that the adults work to take care of the youth and the elderly, the old assist in care for the children and provide assets to the adults to help build generational wealth, and as the young become adults they enter into the workforce to take care of the family that cared for them. This dynamic changes as a society gets older. Political resources are by their very nature adversarial. If a society devotes resources to one thing, those resources are not going to another. Retirement homes and Medicare compete for resources with schooling. In prior generations when people died much earlier, the retirement age was much shorter. People weren’t retired for 20 years spending their savings and pension on living a healthy and comfortable life and on expensive palliative care in their final decade, they largely left what wealth was left over to their children. Social Security was created in mind with people living only a couple of years longer than the retirement age. Taxes reflect this. The more dependence upon taxes there is, the more the productive economy faces a burden of caring for those who are no longer productive. This is reflected in payments to welfare for single mothers, to young children with state medical insurance, and to the elderly on medicare and social security. One thing that is often overlooked in these costs is the value of subsidizing an indigent rentier class. We rarely question the right of the wealthy to make money from their investments in their old age, but ultimately this is still a tax on the young whose rents rise as a result. The divide between rich and poor isn’t just about class or ethnicity, it is also about young and old. If the old do not invest in the young, or die and leave their inheritance to the young, the young have fewer resources with which to take risks and be entrepreneurial. Someone who expects to live a while longer will make a long bet, but someone who expects to die soon wants a return on investment quickly for the golden years when they switch from saving to spending their savings.
In the developing world – or its observation by the older populations of these more stable countries – there is also concern that these young populations are breed too much. That the cultural emphasis on having as many children as possible constrains or oppresses their female populations, and that these growing demographics will tip the scales on the already advancing human sources of catastrophic climate change. In turn, resources from developed countries are spent on educational programs and family planning and reproductive health initiatives, often in direct conflict with deeply held traditions and beliefs in countries with lower lifespans. This strains cultural ties and escalates tensions in groups that feel their power structures are threatened by outsiders. Even when gender equity and family planning provide strong socioeconomic and health benefits, the impact of the influence of wealthier countries can feel patronizing or oppressive. As the global population approaches 7.5 Billion, local goals and global goals are hard to mix, especially when multigenerational planning horizons are ephemeral.
Disposable Goods and Durable Harm
As the population expands, inessential goods become more accessible. The upfront costs of creating a product whose primary expense is research and development can be made profitable with a large addressable market on the other end. Apple can build a new iPhone because they know they will sell millions of them. Netflix can have cheap subscription costs because they are making up their money at volume. While it becomes more expensive for young people to afford the essentials like food and housing and healthcare, they have more access to the nonessentials. These nonessentials however, also have a hidden cost. Every minute spent playing video games or binge watching a TV show is a time where the individual is idle or unproductive. They are not learning skills, growing food, advancing research, contributing to projects, helping less fortunate or vulnerable members of their communities or expanding their country’s entrepreneurial footprint. It is only in societies where a large portion of the productivity has been automated that we can afford to have such a large portion of our society idle at any given time. Only in highly automated societies where we can have high paying intellectual labor creating inessentials while the essential jobs - teaching, agricultural work, sanitation, social work and physical labor- are paid very poorly. James Cameron is a billionaire from telling myths in flashy ways on the silver screen, while the people who provided you with the food that sustained you struggle to make ends meet.
The transition from a younger society to an older one is the great problem of our time. Industrialization started as a grand project to build the modern society of the 19th and 20th Century,now that ‘modern’ society is crumbling from disrepair, a natural consequence of entropy. There is a dynamic tension between the old way of doing things, a logic built and sustained by the dictates of a shorter lifespan, and a new way of doing things based on the logic of a longer lifespan. If we can resolve this tension between a traditional young society and an advanced older society, we may begin to plan for a long-term where we expect to live longer lives. This can only happen if the longevity of the whole group is a priority. If only the elite can live long lives, then a large portion of societies resources is spent on controlling the disenfranchised youth under the regime of an immortal elite. The danger of a permanent Morlock elite and an Eloi underclass is great.
‘Self-actualization’ is a conceit rooted in longer lifespans. Now that your life will be longer, you can potentially have multiple careers, get advanced degrees, spend time travelling before you settle down and start a family; being true to yourself becomes much more important. When you are scraping to survive, the urgency of just doing that which sustains you and your family in the here and now takes precedence over self-reflection. There is a reason that the intellectual pursuits throughout history have been the province of men without families. Men without families must only tend to their own survival and have a lot more free time to engage their mind thinking about problems that have no practical application to their immediate lives. In an automated future, such gendered roles begin to look antiquated. We should strive for a society that provides the privilege of a life of the mind to all of its citizens.
The gap between the world’s richest and the poorest has never been greater. Your average upper MIddle-Class professional in New York City, literally, eats like a King. Choosing between Sushi and Steak on an average Tuesday night was beyond the capabilities of the medieval monarch. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the modern middle-class professional is not concerned with their basic needs for security or sustenance. Many of us have lost sight and lost touch with how our ancestors lived. It is hard for us to relate to, and understand what living for survival is like. We don’t grow our own food, build our houses, or chop our own firewood. Millennials speak of being a poor generation, yet this is only true in comparison to generations born after World War II. Western societies and media speak about slowing economic growth with the same tones of doom as other countries speak of famines and diseases that affect millions. These more recent generations have lost touch with what those metrics were originally built to represent – the ability of their nation to support itself.
What Millennials have in shorter supply than prior generations is agency. Their ability to affect the decisions of their government, their ability to make big life decisions is curtailed. It is more difficult for us to acquire homes than it was for prior generations. It is more difficult for us to build wealth in the long-term because so much more of our income is going to rent rather than building up equity in a home, to student debt, rather than investment in a small business. More Millennials put off having families young because of a lack of financial stability. Our debt loads are greater because of the competitive nature of the job market when college grads are commonplace, and older workers keep jobs longer as their own lifespans and health are improved. Economic opportunity is concentrating within cities where living expenses are greater. Due to population pressures, we must choose between a high rent and small space or a long commute. Millenials spend more to achieve a social baseline. Jobs that were once considered skilled trades, are now considered lower class jobs for people who weren’t able to get a better one.
As a result, wealth is concentrating in fewer hands. Silicon Valley puts out millionaires who are considered, ‘self-made’, but their friends and family investment rounds probably netted more capital. At the very least, being college educated without student loan debt gave a significant leg up and a greater tolerance for risk. With its winner take all models, Silicon Valley is disrupting whole industries and concentrating the wealth. Soon Uber will control cabs and their costs will be primarily equipment, with a technical support staff. The need to pay commercial drivers – 30% of the adult male working population of the United States – is about to become a thing of the past.
The Automated Future
The Great Job Destruction that is on its way is cataclysmic because of the traditional ethic from the past where we define an individual’s worth by their profession. The Protestant Work Ethic undergirds capitalist society. It made Western European cultures successful in the Industrial Era’s marketplace, but is now obsolete. Labor as we knew it is over. It’s not coming back. We have reached peak labor. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be jobs, only that we cannot depend upon stable cash flows as people will be working on a more ad hoc basis. Hopefully, the work people will be getting will be more artisanal and creative. Anything that is rote and routinized is automatable. Routine labor like moving boxes around warehouses, driving cars and vacuuming floors is increasingly automated. But so is highly specialized work like analyzing the stock market, or document review in a law office, even contesting parking tickets. Machine learning and AI can even in some cases emulate creativity. If a product can be improved by making a few parts more efficient, a machine learning algorithm can look at its parameters and make design suggestions. There is even work being done where AI is creating new scientific hypotheses.
Will the meek inherit the Earth?
Right now, the STEM elite are driving the colonization of other planets. The logic of their needs and wants and their preference for designing systems will determine the nature of terraforming other planets and monetizing the resources of space. This is adversarial with resource allocation here on Earth. What does it mean when the economic and educational elite are leaving billions behind? We see it playing out already in globalization where international companies disrupt local economies. It becomes harder and harder for people to be rooted in the soil of their time and place as the economy becomes increasingly global and increasingly abstracted. Our dependence upon an international food system demonstrates this. New York State, wealthy in water and arable land has experienced a generational brain-drain leaving fabulous farmland untended as farmers’ kids went off to college and white-collar jobs – inspiring an increase in incentives for new farmers. However, due to a century of centralizing ideology, subsidies have favored mega-farms that measure their plots in miles and not acres have much of our agriculture being done in the Midwest and California. Our food is increasingly produced by gargantuan automated systems while good farmland with great water access lies fallow and employment becomes less stable.
Where does this leave the lonely little human being?
My greatest fear is that the stratification of wealth won’t just mean a difference in resources, but that it will mean a difference in species. These are the questions that Pax Solaria would like to address. How will income inequality affect who has access to the smart drugs, gerontology treatments, AI assistants, cybernetics, cloned replacement hearts? What would be your goals in life as a young person if you expected to live for a thousands years? Would you invest more heavily in high level skills early on or would you take your time knowing you have all the time in the world? Would specialized knowledge fall away in favor of a larger set of broad based knowledge if training for 50 years seemed like a reasonable investment of time?
The environmental costs are zero-sum. In the anthropocene, we are learning that we must manage the Earth on a global scale. As a species, we are divided by race, class, nation, region, tribe and family. Will economic inequality lead to two species, one who focuses their resources on the worlds beyond ours, and one that is left with the scraps of broken ecosystems? In Science Fiction, an increasingly common theme of colonizing the solar system is that humans begin to differentiate into multiple species with different physiognomies. When we begin to commercialize space, biomass will be removed from the Earth to seed the life support systems of colonies on the Moon and Mars. This will be a negligible concern at first. But a few centuries in, we will begin to the see the effects, and the Earth will change fundamentally as most biomass removed from the Earth is likely never to return.
It is our goal to chronicle these changes, but not only that, to help shape what the next society will look like. In Pax Solaria, we want to work to educate ourselves and one another about how the world works finding a union between ecology and economy. To serve as a launchpad for resources that can help people in our network find new ways to survive and thrive as the old economy withers away. As such, the online publication for Pax Solaria will run the gamut of editorial content touching on topics as diverse as the right to modify oneself, the nature of space colonization, changing economic and political paradigms, the effects of globalization on human culture and how our values shift as we go forward.
Thank you reader, for making it this far, we hope to provide content that will fascinate, educate, and inspire you. And we’d love to be in touch with you. We’ll be hosting regular live events in order to build our community, and share resources. If you think you have something to contribute, please reach out with an idea for an article or content you would like to have published. We want to help you get your good ideas out there as much as we want to present ours. In the long-run we would like to connect people with real resources.
Pax Solaria is about a pro-human future, one where human beings are at the center, where a cold industrial logic that views the human being as a cog in the system is left to the dustbin of history. The machinery of man exists to help humanity thrive, not the other way around. That is the Future of Humanity we advocate, one where the gifts and talents of all people may flourish.
Increased longevity is causing a new paradigm of resource consumption on Earth. It locks capital into the same few hands for a longer period of time, and gives the individual more power to increase their pool of capital. The Earth is now a global society, so the global system of oligarchs are consolidating wealth at the international level. Earth society has always been a multipolar order, but now it is heading toward a unipolar order with a winner take all perspective. There is no new frontier to colonize. The exploration of space may alleviate some of this pressure, but in the long term, biomass will be the most valuable commodity in the solar system, and it will require the permanent removal of biomass from Earth to kickstart colonies on the Moon and Mars. These initial colonies will have a huge startup cost that can only be afforded by national governments and oligarchs. We may still be talking about Elon Musk and Peter Thiel two centuries from now. The formation of our space colonies at their initial phases may be defined by a very narrow number of voices. What happens to those human beings on Earth whose productive labor is increasingly being automated?
About the Author:
Erek Tinker is the Founder of Pax Solaria. For the past year, he has been hosting Pax Solaria panels with topics ranging from optics, VR & AR technologies to the future of data-driven storytelling, rapid prototyping and building partnerships with local and international futurism communities.
He is interested in the technical, business and cultural implications of new technologies. Having also thrown live music and dance events. He loves bringing together diverse views on interesting topics to stimulate engaging conversations. Follow him on Twitter: @erektinker and Pax Solaria: @paxsolaria
How does Longevity impact society?
- Innovation in BioTech
Capital accrual at the top
Not redistributed by death as often
Domination of finite Earth land resources.
A small aristocracy owns all land on Earth.
By small I mean in the millions of people.
Disenfranchisement of billions of people
Genocide and Eugenics become thinkable.
Population control increasingly takes the form of robots
Humans as cattle.
Morlocks and Eloi
Morlocks treated Eloi livestock well until harvest time.
How will space colonization impact society?
- What will it extract from the Earth to never be returned?