In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley paints the picture of a woman dying in a hyper-consumerist culture:
Linda was dying in company–in company and with all the modern conveniences. The air was continuously alive with gay synthetic melodies. At the foot of every bed, confronting its moribund occupant, was a television box. Television was left on, a running tap, from morning till night. Every quarter of an hour the prevailing perfume of the room was automatically changed. “We try,” explained the nurse… “we try to create a thoroughly pleasant atmosphere here–something between a first-class hotel and a feely-palace, if you take my meaning.”
The book tells of a future world where humanity lives life with every convenience. Nothing is difficult. Nothing is painful. In this world, the lines between adulthood and childhood have become horribly blurred. Children become sexualised early. Adults become infantile in their decisionmaking. All of life is one continual, unaging adolescence, and even a death-bed becomes a consumer experience. Just a few more hours of watching sport on TV until life stops.
Aldous Huxley imagined this world as a dystopia, a terrible distortion of our humanness. We are fast making it a reality.
Amortality, a “state of hopeless agelessness” is now desirable. We want to be taken seriously at 15, to be wealthy, healthy and wise at 35, and to be fit and fabulous at 55 and 75. We are confronted in magazines and movies with men and women in their mid-life whose bodies (we are led to believe) are as flawless as a teenager’s. And our popular culture is full of stories of teenagers and young adults who are smarter and wiser than many of the adults around them.
We have thrown out the assumption that life should be a difficult but rewarding journey of growth, in our attempt to get rid of the inconvenient bathwater of wrinkles and gray hairs.
We seek to have a life that is a constantly ageless experience. Young people borrow to afford the houses and lifestyles that they might otherwise have to save for for decades, and expect to be taken seriously on their first day in a new career. Many older people seek to look the same at 60 that they did at 30, dying hair, resorting to cosmetic surgery and dressing in the same clothes as their children.
While there is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom, and wanting to look good, our rejection of aging has made us ridiculous. The amortal life is bad fiction, that ends very badly.
Instead, let us embrace age as a dignified part of being human. To know the humility of youth that must learn and the humility of age that is wise in frailty. The diversity of young and old, and the interdependence that it brings, enriches our humanity, and to reject the journey of growing up and growing old, rejects a part of who we are and who we could be.