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The business of eternal life on Earth, what world will it be for the (few) young people?

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The author of this post is Andrea CiucciPhD in contemporary philosophy, Catholic priest, officer of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He works on the links between anthropology, ethics and religious experience, with particular reference to new technologies, communication, youth and family conditions, food. His best books are for children. Tweet how @donciucci

In the past, eternal life was a business reserved for my colleagues, who managed this possibility in a complex combination of divine promises and strict morality. Not anymore.

With a certain regularity, news appears that presents serious scientific research (and consequent substantial funding) dedicated to the achievement of eternal life by the human race in the coming decades, thanks to the development of technologies that, gradually, leave the field of science fiction to inhabit the world. field of possibilities to be verified and pursued. The last, in chronological order, is an article in Tech Times titled exactly: Do you want to live forever? How technology can help make it (almost) happen. The scientific scope of the question immediately appears relevant if you type “human immortality” in the prestigious database Pubmed. Some time ago Sole24Ore also dealt with the theme with a piece by Enrico Marro entitled The new challenge of Silicon Valley: human immortality.

These news are less banal than one might think and deserve more than a reflection, even in the economic field.

The first consideration may seem obvious, but it helps to clarify the field and to guess something of how we are made. Any headline or piece of news that refers to eternal life is false and untrue, as intriguing as any successful marketing operation. In reality, these are always technologies that can significantly lengthen (the limit that often appears is that of 120 years) the existence of people. Unless we begin to think about human life in a broader way than the physicality of bodies, and imagine a continuation of personal existence thanks to digital archives capable of preserving and perpetuating the entire existence of each person, even allowing some relational form. . (No, it’s not a sci-fi scenario a la Black Mirror, which dedicated the two magnificent episodes to the theme San Junipero and Be Right Back. Suffice it to see the news on the Microsoft patent for a chabot that allows you to talk to your deceased). In both cases we cannot help but record that a certain desire for eternity indelibly inhabits the hearts and minds of humans (my colleagues had already seen this right several millennia ago, some also sensing the non-trivial economic significance of monetary offers. connected).

photo by Jeremy Bishop for Unsplash

However, limiting ourselves to the prospect of living up to 120 years, there is a question that already deserves (the season in which 90 is a perspective of many, at least in the West) some attention, not only from philosophers or humanists, but also of those who deal with the economy and surroundings: now that we have given 20 years (and in the future 40) more to human existence, what do we do with this long period of time? Twenty years to do what?

The business related to seniority has grown enormously in tandem with the flourishing of this new age of life. On the one hand, given the progressive fragility that characterizes seniority, the whole sector linked to care has exploded. The Istat Elderly 2021 Report estimates that almost three million elderly people in Italy have diseases such as to produce an average or severe impairment of autonomy. According to the Cerved 2022 Report, assistance for the elderly cost Italian families 29.4 billion dolars, 21.5% of total expenses.

The market connected to residences for the elderly, for example, was, before Covid, in constant growth, offering low risk and good returns with estimates for investments in new structures of 15-20 billion by 2035. Marco D’Eramo in his Micromega survey on the galaxy of nursing homes for the elderly in the world speaks of a real biopolitical asset. In Italy, 86% of the facilities for the elderly are privately owned.

At the same time, as the number of elderly people out of the world of work but still in good health has grown, there has been a significant development in recent years in the sector which aims to offer services for the long-time free time of retirees. According to a 2018 European Commission study dedicated to the silver economy, those over 65 spent 297 billion dolars in 2015 on leisure and culture and 248 billion on hotels and restaurants. In 2030 the value of silver tourism will have recorded a 169% increase compared to 2010, reaching 548 billion dolars.

Entertainment and care are not enough, however, especially if the time of old age extends to occupy a third of life. It is humanly unbearable and economically unsustainable an existence conducted for decades only on the double register of free time and / or physical decay.

photo by Peter Conlan for Unsplash

There is still a lack of a social and economic reflection that reconfigures (in a way appropriate to age and experience) the productive and professional life of older people. If the topic is posed, it is almost always in the key of generational competition, connected to the division between old and young of the few jobs left free by automated systems.

Equally poor is at present the thought that identifies the possibilities of a social protagonism of the elderly, either in free and personal relationships, or in intermediate social structures. Is there really no third possibility beyond a productive and demanding professional life and a socially expensive and deresponsibilizing, if not boring, retirement?

However, there is an even more fundamental question that deserves to be taken into consideration, if we are to seriously deal with a world in which many will celebrate the century of life. The increase in the average age in a large part of the population will make the demographic change that we already see today in a specific sense in the West and, in a broad sense, on a planetary level, more and more evident. The population of the planet, thanks to this almost indefinite postponement of death, will increase and age more and more.

It will increase, especially in Asia and Africa, because the growth of the human population we are witnessing does not depend mainly on the increase in births, but on the (fortunately) significant decrease in deaths. And then it will age: what social and economic sustainability will a world populated largely by old people and very old people have? What will the few young people (in the West in an absolute sense, globally in a percentage sense) do who will inhabit this planet?

The theme is certainly known and frequently highlighted, but it does not yet seem to find solutions capable of responding to objectively disturbing analyzes. For this reason it deserves to be remembered also when reflecting on the business of almost eternal life.