The Meaning of Life Lies in Its Suckiness
I’ve been converted. Frances Fukuyama, Leon Kass, and Bill McKibben have shown me the folly of all you silly transhumanists. Life has meaning in direct proportion to how royally it sucks.
I saw Bill McKibben read a speech to the Singularity Summit. He was on a giant Teleportec screen. His face was three feet wide, towering over the transhumanist panel, explaining why every nerd in the room should suffer and die. The guy never smiled. Not once. McKibben is a perfect spokesman for death, because he looked like a giant talking skull.
If you pause the streaming video at 13:18, you see a shot of me, slack-jawed, with an expression on my face that says: “This giant skull wants to kill me. To give my life meaning.”
McKibben’s dedication to the nobility of age and death doesn’t prevent him from posting a photo on his web site that shows him looking twenty years younger than he actually is. Nor does his stance against technological enhancement prevent him from wearing eyeglasses. But pay attention, because this argument is so profound it only seems stupid to the untrained brain: If you never die, your life never had any meaning. Only if you die will your life have had meaning. Of course there’s no way to tell, since you’re dead. That’s where I get a little confused. Maybe it’s knowing you will eventually die that gives life meaning. Wait, this is deeper than you think. Here’s an example: wake up with a feeling of existential anomie. Life is so meaningless. Then stub your toe. See any meaning? Maybe not yet. How about you find a lump in your breast? Aha! Now your life is suffused with meaning! Why? Because it just started sucking.
McKibben will put on his tombstone: “I’m dead. Nyah-nyah-nyah. Have a nice eternal enhanced life, transhumanist suckers.” Ray Kurzeill will be sitting there with his nanotechnologically enhanced penis and wikipedia brain feeling like a chump. Whose life has meaning now, bitches? That’s right, the dead guy.
Won’t it be funny if Bill McKibbin outlives Ray Kurzweil? Can you imagine anything pissing off Bill McKibbin more than if he reaches 110? That would be poetic justice.
But no matter how much older he gets than his photos, Bill can always hope he will die. So what’s his concern?
McKibben is concerned the rest of us might not suffer and die. If we all live long healthy happy lives, Bill’s favorite poetry will become obsolete. Bill is worried an enhanced Ray Kurzweil won’t appreciate Ecclesiastes. In case you don’t know, Ecclesiastes is the most depressing poem in the most gloomy book ever written, on the subject of all things sucky, and Bill thinks we should appreciate it.
Here’s another moral imperative you transhumanist fools haven’t considered: We owe something to people who don’t exist yet. People who don’t exist yet are waiting in line to take our places. They can’t do that unless we die. Don’t nonexistent people have rights? Damn right they do. The right to demand our deaths. Luckily, nonexistent people have Bill McKibben and Frances Fukayama speaking up for their right to kill you. Which they can’t do, since they don’t exist. So Kass and Fukayama will kill you for them, by legislating against doctors interfering with your long slow death. Which takes me back to my initial terror of Bill McKibben, the human death’s head.
Their argument isn’t actually that death is good. Their argument is that heaven is good. All prominent anti-transhumanists—Fukuyama, Kass, McKibben–are religious. Their sense of meaning springs from a faith that through suffering they will enter paradise after they are dead. If a bunch of nonbelievers creates a real deathless paradise here in reality, it will ruin that fantasy. It will be like when all the bad kids on your block get better presents from Santa. To work so gleefully for immortality and cessation of pain is to thumb your nose at ancient sources of meaning. Success will demonstrate that such deep sources of meaning are not eternal, but technical solvable problems. That’s a real faith-shaker.
I’ve tried to convert to what I call the Wendell Berry style of argumentation, which is replace clear thinking with literary eloquence, but I just don’t get their core syllogism:
I’m alive. Then I’m dead. Where’s the meaning?
How about this? I’m alive. I keep living longer. Not sure if that’s more meaningful, but it sure sucks less.
Joe Quirk is a TV talk show darling for his hilarious nonfiction It’s Not You, It’s Biology: The Science of Love, Sex and Relationships.