Dying to Live Forever
Journalist Peter Ward has spent years among the “immortalists,” studying the obscure things they do in hopes of living forever. On this week’s This is Critical, what happens when these methods go too far? And what do we lose when immortality becomes more important than living?
Virginia: So as I’ve probably bored you with before, I’m sober — did it the old-fashioned way with the cornball slogans and the steps, and I haven’t had a drink in 10 years. But lately some of the glamorous sober influencers caught my eye and I started to wonder if I should have done a more hip version of not drinking? Like with adaptogen mocktails made by Katy Perry? And like apps and hashtags and TikTok?
So I looked into all the #soberaf meme people and their programs and WOW they make some awesome promises that 12 step programs don’t. I mean they say you’ll be healthier -- AA doesn’t say that -- but also wealthy and hot and thin as hell and balanced and not anxious and you don’t even have to decide to stop drinking! If you take some new pill you just will naturally cut down! WHY do I do those weird embarrassing man-repelling prayer meetings when I could be in a cool influencer group with hot sober Russell Brand?
Well in that case it’s because he’s Russell Brand.
My guest today is Peter Ward, journalist and author of the new book The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever. Peter Ward, welcome to This is Critical.
Peter: Thanks so much for having me on. It's great to be on the show.
Virginia: Well, as you know, immortality as a goal for other people fascinates me. It’s not my own goal. For what it's worth, I'm just going to give up. I'm going to go gentle into that good night. That's my plan. But I want to know first about the hidden costs of chasing immortality.
Peter: Yeah, absolutely, so I think I think the hidden cost, the major one, I guess, is that you can focus all your life on trying to live a little bit longer and then forget to actually live your life. You can get really obsessed with all the things that potentially make you live a little bit longer and then live this sort of half life where you're sort of starving yourself all the time, you're taking all these supplements and you're obsessing over this.
Virginia: Yes that would seem to be a major one.
Peter: Yeah, yeah, there's obviously loads of costs if we did actually manage it, which is a long shot. But obviously there's issues like overpopulation and stagnant population. We could have the same people who are voting now could be voting in another hundred years. And that thought alone could be terrifying for a lot of people, particularly someone who's lived through Brexit, here in the UK to have the Brexit voters vote for a little bit longer would be would be terrifying.
Virginia: So you think immortality is sort of a voter-suppression measure Interesting.
Peter: Yeah, imagine people who had lived for a really long time and accumulated wealth, and they were just voting for their own interests more and more and more and just did so forever.
Virginia: Yeah, because what you point out is people who want to live forever, who are taking a run at it are very self-selecting group that are single-mindedly focused on perpetuation of their own individual lives, not even just some kind of thousand year Reich where their political views or their children or their descendants live forever. But just them. So that's such a specific mindset that if indeed they get somewhere to, you know, 150 years, 200 years, the people with the longest lives are going to be a very particular kind of person.
Peter: Yeah, absolutely.
Virginia: So, OK. Let’s get to the Church of Perpetual Life, which is where you start your book. It’s in Hollywood, Florida, and it’s a kind of a gathering place for some of these immortalists, right? Tell me about the Church of Perpetual Life.
Peter: Yeah, that was my first sort of encounter with immortalists and these people that want to live forever. They'll do anything they can to do it to the point where they've made it almost into, well, completely into a religion. Because the Church of Perpetual Life is a registered church and and it is religion, they only meet once a month. So it's mostly kind of like presentations and slideshows and things on like science, which may or may not possibly offer a little bit of hope of immortality. But there are parts of it where they're really sort of stirring up the congregation and it gets to be almost like a rally against death. So there was a part in the service that I went to, someone stood up and they listed off the millionaires and very rich people who had died since they'd last met, and it was almost mocking them as if to say like, Oh, look, all these people that died with all that money, why didn't they throw it all into anti-aging and they could still be alive today? They could have helped all of us live longer as well. So, yeah, fascinating crowd.
Hear the full episode here.