Anti-aging

Is Immortality Gendered?

Therapies that slow and even reverse aging will be a tremendous boon for both women and men.

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Alberto Hidalgo/Dreamstime

"Some billionaires, already invincible in every other way, have decided that they also deserve not to die," snarks Dara Horn in her op-ed, "The Men Who Want to Live Forever," at The New York Times. "Today several biotech companies, fueled by Silicon Valley fortunes, are devoted to 'life extension' — or as some put it, to solving 'the problem of death.'"

Horn is the author of the novel Eternal Life, in which her protagonist, a 2,000-year-old woman who can't die, has evidently come to the profound conclusion that human life without the constraint of always impending death is ultimately meaningless.

While acknowledging that some women might be interested in availing themselves of anti-aging therapies, Horn argues in her op-ed that the pursuit of eternal youth is a peculiarly male aspiration. "Of all the slightly creepy aspects to this trend," she observes, "the strangest is the least noticed: The people publicly championing life extension are mainly men."*

Horn links the male pursuit of everlasting life to men's solipsistic sense of invincibility. An outgrowth of that, she thinks, is that such men feel entitled to treat "young women's bodies as theirs for the taking."

Her larger contention is that women learn through rearing children and taking care of the sick and elderly the real limitations and infirmities to which all human bodies are subject. "For nearly as long as there have been humans, being a female human has meant a daily nonoptional immersion in the fragility of human life and the endless effort required to sustain it," Horn writes. Her upshot is that responding to the needs and demands of others leaves women little time or energy for self-involvement. Maybe so.

Still, Horn does recognize that research aimed at "solving death" might "inspire the self-absorbed to invest in unsexy work like Alzheimer's research. If so, we may all one day bless the inane death-defiance as a means to a worthy end." Yes, we might well. And for what it's worth, Alzheimer's research seems plenty sexy to me.

Horn concludes by suggesting that "men who hope to live forever might pause on their eternal journey to consider the frightening void at invincibility's core. Death is the ultimate vulnerability. It is the moment when all of us must confront exactly what so many women have known all too well: You are a body, only a body, and nothing more."

The truly frightening fact is that no human body—female or male—is invincible. Developing therapies that slow and even reverse physical and mental aging will be a tremendous boon for everyone, regardless of sex. There is nothing inane about the quest to liberate humanity from the immemorial curses of disease, disability, and early death. Everyone should get to decide that they deserve not to die.

*Disclosure: I am one of them.

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52 responses to “Is Immortality Gendered?

  1. Reversing aging wouldn’t mean immortality anyway. Stick around long enough and eventually you’ll get hit by a bus, fall off a cliff, get cancer, or contract some flesh-eating super-bug. Lots of people die of something other than old age.

    1. And do not forget malicious violence! I want to see the “tech” to protect me from the assassin’s bullet, the knife, the hammer, the poison in my food… Or… Government Almighty forbid we forget… Someone drops a nuke on me!

  2. Horn links the male pursuit of everlasting life to men’s solipsistic sense of invincibility.

    Seems quite the opposite, really. A solipsistic sense of invincibility seems like it would lead to less concern about death.

    1. In fact, I think the traditional take on this would be that men, being unable to directly reproduce, sense the finitude of life more keenly, and thus are more obsessed with making a permanent mark on the world than women (this is one of the more common traditional explanations for why there are so many more male novelists/architects/artists/sculptors, etc.).

      1. I’m nursing a theory that men are all essentially self-loathing because we realize that we’re enormously less important than women. A guy can knock up 25 girls in a week and then go die, leaving a profound genetic legacy. A woman having 25 children is unthinkable, and having even one requires enormous carefulness.

        My mom used to say, “we’ll have war for as long as we have 15-25y/o men.”

        1. There’s actually some pretty good support for that theory.

          I know of two contexts in history (there are more, I’m sure, but these are the two I know about) where men outnumbered women on the order to 10-1. That’s early medieval Europe (i.e. approx 650-950 AD), and the “Wild West” in the 15 years immediately after the Civil War.

          Based on this limited sample, it would seem that when you have what, from a survival-of-the-species standpoint, is surplus men, their impulse is to kill each other off.

          1. Very interesting. I’m guessing that the surplus of men is due to women dying during childbirth? Although that doesn’t make sense in the aftermath of the Civil War… In modern society a nuclear family does best with two parents, but I don’t think that was necessarily always the case when kids ‘were raised by the village,’ to borrow Hillary’s famous sentiment.

            I’m not motivated to back up my hypothesis with any real data. I’ve just noticed that young men all over the world seem to have a lot of aggression and anger, and it’s seems like it’s always been that way.

            1. I’m not motivated to back up my hypothesis with any real data. I’ve just noticed that young men all over the world seem to have a lot of aggression and anger, and it’s seems like it’s always been that way.

              Jordan Peterson does an interesting lecture on psychology studies about ‘rough and tumble play’, and what happens to children when they’re denied it.

              Specifically, in rat studies, young male rats became aggressive and anti-social if they were denied rough-and-tumble during youth.

              1. Jordan Peterson

                Fuck him and his lobsterian utopia.

              2. I absolutely believe this, at least from my personal experiences. I was stupid as hell when I was under 25 (and still am, but less so), but never particularly violent. I got in a lot of fights and shit when I was a kid, though. I did a lot of things that kids don’t seem to do nowadays. I actually got kicked from my class and had to change teachers in 2nd grade because I was a little nightmare, but I mellowed out a lot by middle school.

                I did a lot of things that kids these days don’t seem to do.

                [Obligatory “get off my lawn!”]

            2. I’ve done some looking some time ago and noticed that the median age of a population was a fairly accurate predictor of whether a country or region was in turmoil or reasonably stable. IIRC there were clear distinctions when the median age was less than 20 yrs old and over 30 yrs old. It was less clear in that gap but largely a clear trend. But then we see largely that play out in gangs where there are no old gang members because they’re either dead or in prison.

              I’m sure at some point a bright spark politician is going to get the idea that they can simply ban excess testosterone and anyone caught with more than 375 ng/dL will be forcibly treated and/or imprisoned. Or they’ll just add a neutralizing agent to the water and beer.

              1. A gang is probably a decent microcosm of the types of behavior you’d find in a tumultuous nation. It runs off the same restless energy and members are ‘stuck’ due to their criminal records and social isolation. Combatants in a violent regime are geographically isolated. Both are basically brainwashed by the higher-ups. That’s actually a pretty good observation. Thanks for sharing.

        2. “My mom used to say, “we’ll have war for as long as we have 15-25y/o men.””

          I don’t think that’s quite accurate. I’d put it more like: We will have war as long as there’s a supply of willing or drafted 15-25yo men for the rich old men to expend in conflict.

          1. A prudent amendment. “Military actions,” not war, of course.

          2. *without a supply of similarly aged and available women for them to divert their time with.

  3. I initially read that as “Is Immorality Gendered”, which made me think of that radio program I heard in Canada where the woman kicked off her segment by saying “Violence has a gender, and I don’t have to say which one it is.”

    1. Violence would be a xe. Self-absorbed, touchy, and people go out of their way to avoid it.

  4. …the astonishing hubris of the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, those who saw young women’s bodies as theirs for the taking.

    Maybe I’m just imagining this, but I feel like ever since I was old enough to start considering my own sexuality, women everywhere have been loudly screaming they don’t want men’s sexual interest.

    I almost never see statements like “yes obviously in the right circumstances with the right person women enjoy and crave attention from men”. I think almost everyone knows this is true. But the statement is almost always some variation of “life is an endless infomercial from men for dick, and I don’t want any. Please stop!”. Am I taking crazy pills here?

    1. It’s best to just avert your gaze.

      Or do what I’ve done most of my life: wait for them to make the first move.

      But then you end up dealing with eight kinds of crazy.

      There are trade-offs.

      1. Can confirm. I’m very sexually meek, and all of my exes are mentally interesting.

        1. Mentally interesting. I’m going to borrow that.

          1. Do NOT stick it in “mentally interesting!”

        2. All my exes live in Texas!

          1. Do NOT stick it in “mentally interesting!”

            Lesson learned! (I hope.) When we broke up she took 3 pregnancy tests trying to hook me. shivers

            All my exes live in Texas!

            Incidentally, my last ex is from Texas, and planning to go back. Ciao!

            1. Though after many girlfriends all of them crazy, one needs to ask if you are too sane yourself.

              1. “one needs to ask if you are too sane yourself.”

                This is pretty important. I was actually persuaded to stop referring to my exes as, “crazy,” because it’s cliche and useless as a description. Mentally interesting is no less unhelpful, but at least it’s not cliche!

                I’m absolutely not sane. That’s another good reason not to blanket my exes with such a sophomoric condemnation. They put up with a whole lot of shit from me, too. Sometimes I could almost hear chants of, “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!”

  5. “Of all the slightly creepy aspects to this trend,” she observes, “the strangest is the least noticed: The people publicly championing life extension are mainly men.”*

    Ron Bailey: Creepy and Strange?

    1. It’s not “life extensions” men are craving… my spam folder indicates as much.

  6. human life without the constraint of always impending death is ultimately meaningless.

    Good thing we have the heat death of the universe to fall back on.

  7. Are they taking the normal course of testing these procedures on prisoners first? Because immortal criminals is how you get James Bond super-villains.

  8. While acknowledging that some women might be interested in availing themselves of anti-aging therapies, Horn argues in her op-ed that the pursuit of eternal youth is a peculiarly male aspiration.

    Well, one of our two sexes does spend vast amounts of time and money on trying to look younger to ludicrous extremes.

    1. But enough about Caitlyn Jenner.

  9. “Her upshot is that responding to the needs and demands of others leaves women little time or energy for self-involvement. Maybe so.”

    If that’s so, how do you explain the pussy hat marches?


  10. Horn is the author of the novel Eternal Life, in which her protagonist, a 2,000-year-old woman who can’t die, has evidently come to the profound conclusion that human life without the constraint of always impending death is ultimately meaningless.

    So, she just ripped off Heinlein and Lazarus Long? I kid, I kid.

    1. But that is why Long is so neat! He keeps finding meaning. The universe is huge, people are amazing, living forever is only boring if the person living forever is boring. Given infinite time you can create infinite meaning for infinite people rather than wallowing in your “Poor me Imma never gonna die…”

  11. a 2,000-year-old woman who can’t die, has evidently come to the profound conclusion that human life without the constraint of always impending death is ultimately meaningless.

    Is this actually true, or is it just a lie we tell ourselves to help cope with existential anxiety?

    1. I think the idea of true immortality with no escape hatch makes me anxious.

      There was a game I recall that the villain at the end is locked in a situation where he is completely alone, forever, aware, and impossible for him to die. And it gives me a bit of a panic attack to think about.

      1. I was thinking the same thing, at least with immortality-lite you can always go the Hemingway and put some buckshot through your skull.

        True immortality? No way.

  12. Good grief. She seems like she’s a lot of fun to be around.

  13. I don’t know that it’s a quest for immortality, just an end to the endless deterioration of and increased amount of work it takes just to stay in the same place. When I was younger I could, vaguely, remember drinking copious quantities of alcohol while closing the bar and getting up the next day feeling fine and ready to go. Now, I question whether I want that digestif if I have to be active before noon the next day and certainly not if there was an ap?ritif beforehand and two glasses of wine with dinner. I’ve also noticed that with even mildly strenuous labor or even working out that tendons are much more likely to cause extreme pain or detach altogether where 25 years ago I might have been slightly stiff the next day but that’s it. Hell, I don’t even want to think about what happens should my prostrate wind up the size of a grapefruit.

    On a mildly lighter note,

    life without the constraint of always impending death is ultimately meaningless.

    So what does that say for the afterlife as promised by the Bible/Koran/Torah?

    1. My presumption is that that she does not believe in that.

      Though even that is arguable. Because the Christians would at least argue that death is the defining act of ourselves. Everything is leading to that moment and to that judgement. If we did not die, then we would not need to be saved from it by Christ’s sacrifice.

    2. So what does that say for the afterlife as promised by the Bible/Koran/Torah?

      Well, most religions (even non-Abrahamic ones) include some amount of “what happens after you die”. Whether we’re talking Elysian Fields (Greek/Roman), reincarnation (Hindu/Buddhism/various others), Valhalla/Hel (Norse), Heaven/Hell (Christian), Heaven (?) (Judaism?), Kolob (LDS), etc., the whole question of “what happens next” is a pretty big religious question.

      And for most of them, it’s a “you get what you deserve” sort of thing. So it’s not unfair to say that, among sincere? religious folks, only those afraid that they deserve bad things would seek “immortality”.

      That said, not all folks are religious. And that said, if immortality doesn’t come with a side of “perpetual good health” then yeah, it’s probably not worth it.
      ________
      ?I mean, I know there’s important differences between Jewish heaven and Christian heaven, and IIRC there isn’t a Jewish Hell, but I can’t really remember the specifics.
      ?Key word.

      1. And now re-reading, I realize I took your question the wrong way.

        But yeah, the little ol’ church ladies never do seem to understand when I say “Nah, immortal afterlife doesn’t sound that keen”.

  14. Survey’s do show that 9/10 women want to die.

  15. “For nearly as long as there have been humans, being a female human has meant a daily nonoptional immersion in the fragility of human life and the endless effort required to sustain it,”

    So shouldn’t women be MORE concerned with dealing with these things? Also, she jumps to Alzheimer’s Research, but I don’t believe that people seeking immortality are looking for immortality with all the degenerative aspects of aging.

    What is this person even angry about?

  16. I like how she goes from ‘the desire to not die’ equates with ‘male entitlement to all female bodies’

    Only a true manhater can write drivel like this.

  17. Way to mansplain immortality, Ron.

  18. Not sure why you give further voice to the NYT embracing misandry. What exactly does creepy mean in that context?

  19. You’re right, women aren’t worried about death. /sarc

    “It is the moment when all of us must confront exactly what so many women have known all too well: You are a body, only a body, and nothing more”

    Which is why women tend to be atheists, while large numbers of men are more spiritual and inclined to religion. /sarc

    1. To many feminists, it seems that every topic which comes under discussion, every item in the news, and every public-policy issue is like a page in a Where’s Waldo calendar, except they’re looking for male chauvinism instead of Waldo.

  20. It’s odd that there are so many death cultists who want everyone to die instead of live

  21. What, no reference to Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love and his character Lazarus Long? Bah.

    That said, once we (that is, humanity) reduced the number of women that die in childbirth, women started outliving men fairly consistently. Turns out that women tend to have fewer violent deaths and (as a group) make healthier lifestyle choices that give them a couple of extra years over the men in their cohorts.

    And of course, women are a bit more notorious for trying to look younger while men are more likely to be more relaxed about looking their age.

    So maybe the quest for immortality is “gendered”, but if so women are already winning so.

    And that said, unless a hypothetical “immortality treatment” is cheap enough to be available to everyone, I don’t think it’s unfair to hypothesize that more men will get it then women, because wealth distribution is sexually-biased.

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