Good Health Will End Civilization

Good health and decisive minds. With maybe about 5% probability. We’re far more likely to destroy ourselves with war or stupidity, but knowledge could do us in too.

The basic problem is that as our knowledge of health and aging increases, we’re going to end with a lot of old people around. We’re going to be those old people, which is great for us, but it could be deadly in the long run.

Institutions are made up of formal rules, and informal interpretations of those rules by members of society. We learn how to interpret our environment by observing how our predecessors did so, copying them, ideally refining their approach, occasionally rebelling against the old ways and finally pushing our ways on the next generation.

This sets up an evolutionary process where variation and generational turnover occur together. The basic problem is that few people change their minds once they’re about 25. You might be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but odds are good you can’t teach him a new way of looking at the world.

Yeah, some people can change with the times, but on the whole Bill Burr’s pretty much spot on: [as far as other people are concerned] you can live too long. The older the median voter, the further removed their view of the world is from the actual reality of the time.

Now, there’s certainly some optimal degree of conservatism. We don’t want to upend society every five years in the name of progress. But if generational turnover grinds down to a glacial pace, so may institutional adaptation.

But of course we don’t know what the future holds. Perhaps an older, wiser median voter is a good thing. Perhaps the key to longer lifespans includes therapy to stimulate neural plasticity.

In any case, I hope that coming generations will hear a message that mirrors advice given to my generation. We were told “don’t expect to have the same job forever.” Now we need to be told “don’t expect to have the same opinion forever.”

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6 thoughts on “Good Health Will End Civilization

  1. Should we expect to keep the same opinion about whether we should expect to keep the same opinion? 😉

    • I hope my opinion on the matter continually moves towards the “old dogs can learn new tricks” camp and ultimately beyond. But during our own era I’m doubtful that the positive change of a few old dogs will outweigh the inertia of all the rest.

  2. A friend of mine mused that a solution to this problem is making it so you can only vote a finite number of times. This way society can enjoy longer life spans, but the median voter will remain relatively young.

    • That’s an interesting idea, to be sure, and one worth teasing out a bit more (NOL is down for such a cause!).

      Maybe it’s just me, but I detect a subtle, Hayekian critique of the welfare state here.

      Under current circumstances, good health could definitely end civilization, but if the West could somehow come to recognize that law and legislation are two very different things requiring two very different mindsets then I don’t see how good health could lead to destruction (even if Grandma is still a racist). Getting into this mindset would then open avenues for more ideas like the one your friend thought up.

Please keep it civil

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