The social aftereffects of a brilliant scientific breakthrough

The serum was sprayed from planes. The serum was belched out by subway ventilators. The serum was exhaled on rural people as if they were a crop of wheat.

The serum was given because the people wanted it. The serum was given to all because that was possible. The serum was given quickly because otherwise there would have been a war.

The serum made everyone immortal.

The serum did not help against foolishness: you could still trip, hit your head, and die. The serum did not help against disease: Ebola still killed, and so could diarrhea. The serum did not help against bad habits: smoking still tended to cancer, eating to clogged arteries.

The serum indefinitely deferred old age; that was what it did. One breath and you were immortal, and so were all your children.

People would still grew up, and become adult, and have sex, and the best days of their lives, and rise into positions with greater pay, and become eminent and respected in their fields. But they would not enter the slow decline of old age. Even as their bodies peaked at twenty, they refused to enter a decline. Even as their brains peaked at forty, they did not grow fragile and stale. Their sexual vigor, even, stayed unchanged.

(Those that were old, stayed old: old age is not so much a weakness as a collection of its effects. What prevented aging, could do nothing against already bent backs and busted livers, blighted eyes and ravaged brains. They soon passed away.)

Those that were young, would never grow old.

This led to a cataclysm of apocalyptic proportions fairly quickly.

Everyone was immortal (in this limited sense), and being free from that weakness of the body was much more likely to stay free of the various ailments of old age. Even their virility was unhindered by the need for Viagra or other supplements here unmentioned due to unwillingness to be counted as spam. It did not help how cheap the Viagra was, or Cialis; they were not necessary anymore.

And as a consequence, there were people.

It was as if every generation lingered on as ghosts, unwilling to depart — except these ghosts had the most job experience, and the deciding posts in every corporation and government. And they had the morals of a mortal world: they wanted to see babies, because babies were cute. They did not want much birth control, because birth control was a war on babies.

So there were still more people — and more people — and all these people needed places to live, and money to live on, and, worst of all, they needed food. They needed food because if they only got to eat, they would live forever. They needed fresh meats and plenty of fruits, because they wanted to live healthy, to live forever.

Resentment towards the neo-old grew. They had not stepped down. They were hogging all the jobs; they were like limpets, with decades of experience no youth could match. They had an old-boy system. They did not retire. They were strong grey hand keeping the youth down. They and their aged wiles were seducing all the bouncy and fertile innocent young boys and girls to be dolls in their depraved old-age orgies of — well, the picture is familiar, is it not?

There were riots, eventually, and lynchings. It was good to be young, but dangerous to admit you had been young for a long time. Social ostracism was the least evil that could happen.

Oh, there were attempted solutions. Some countries steadfastly maintained their mortality-inspired retirement age. This resulted in a huge number of virile, sharp-minded retirees. Some went into the business of acquiring more children, the third or the fourth batch. Some went into black market business, or government; others emigrated, swollen with power and wealth, into less restrictive zones, where they became the foreign leech, the nefarious accented outsider — the usual gripe of all exclusivists and xenophobes.

Eventually there were youth rebellions; everyone aged eighty or less was welcome to join in.

Old age had been a curse against time; now it was a muttered curse against people. And all the while the number of people grew, grew in this wobbling unbalanced world even though the natural remedies did their cruel best: fecundity was stronger, for a moment, than the best of famine, plague, war and sudden death.

It could not last.

Africa was the first to collapse; Asia second. Soon there were mutters of cannibalism from the unemployed sections of New York; tales of little children lured to dark streets in Hamburg; cross-generational warfare with tanks and warsuits in the streets of Tokyo, with a still-warm meaty meal as the victor’s prize. Somewhere in Russia, the unpatriotically anti-state Over-Eighties were herded into camps; somewhere in the American Midwest, a preacher told the fold was full and it was God’s will there would be no more children, and with a hatchet he made it so.

And so the world went down into chaos, not even having had the time to see the prolonged lifespan was mere two centuries and not forever (no-one having had the patience for that study); and the dim generations that came later dismissed it all as a fever dream.

Immortality, hah! half the people did not see their second year.

* * *

Quoth PZ: Imagine what happens IF we actually converge on some kind of immortality. […] What if it’s cheap and easy, and everyone gets it? Kurzweil is talking about a technology that would almost certainly destroy every human society on the planet, and he treats it as blithely as the prospect of getting new options for his cell phone.

I, on the other hand, treat pretty much everything as an excuse for cackling visions of blood.

That, or bad jokes; that covers most all.

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