Notes on the Prospect of Immortality

At Counter-Currents, Jef Costello has a nice essay ruminating on the existentialist choices surrounding suicide. I wrote a long comment to the piece, which I’ve reproduced here:

I’m in full agreement about the importance of living with a sense of purpose and meaning that is beyond one’s self. It is the only way to avoid the black hole of nihilism.

As I see it, approaches to the existential condition (the absurdity of mortal sentient existence) can be split between Heroic Pessimism (Nietzsche, Camus, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy) and Non-Heroic Pessimism (Schopenhauer; anti-natalists like David Benatar & Thomas Ligotti). Both sides have strong arguments.

Too long to go into here, but I find the philosophical position of anti-natalism to be a formidable one. One can’t just dismiss its arguments out of hand. IMO, a major philosophical piece needs to be written which examines & critiques anti-natalist arguments (in the widest, most general sense of philosophical assumputions & logical consistency), and then also counters with a more pointed, WN perspective (vis-à-vis evolutionary sociology), the WN angle really being a phenotype of basic human in-group preferences.

Durkheim talked about the “collective effervescence” that gives our lives meaning. The mission of the Dissident Right is one such form of this, and is likely a primary one for many CC readers (as Jef notes.)


One irony of improved medical science is that we are all living longer and not dying of heart attacks and such, which inadvertently means more of us will live long enough to say hello to Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Now, in all likelihood, Alzheimer’s will be conquered within 50 years time, but short of that, or if it (like the ravages of cancer) cannot be eradicated, then I expect more liberal views of euthanasia to emerge in these end-of-life contexts.

Similarly, if/when gene tech eventually gets to the point where we can choose immortality (or, similarly, elect to have our children born immortal, with non-aging cells and the like), then the specter of suicide will be thrust upon us all. Why? Because the prospect of living forever goes against our entire evolutionary biological structure. Our entire way-of-being, of enframing things, works against the background knowledge that we will someday die, that our time is limited. The arc of life, its ultimate telos, is towards death. In fact, it is the brute fact of imminent death which provides life with its value (life being the concatenation of things + experiences + ideas + time, processed through a subjective value-ordering schema.)

It is the finitude of life, not its infinitude, that provides us with meaning in our day-to-day lives. In ordinary language, this day-to-day sort of ‘meaning’ is predicated on establishing the relative value of things. Both consciously and largely unconsciously, we prioritize things, often within a context of time constraint. I prefer A over C, but B over A. So, we make and operate under implicit lists. I look at the rows of Great Novels on my bookshelf. I see a lesser Chandler novel and the The Brothers Karamazov. From the perspective of “These are the books I need to read before I die”, I prioritize the reading of The Brothers Karamazov as more important than the lesser Chandler novel. If I were immortal, the need for this prioritization would largely be moot.

The elements of Culture that are worth a damn often consist of man attempting to make a mark, create a great work of art, write a great book, compose a great song; to influence people and ‘live on’ after his death (a form of cultural ‘immortality’ one could say.) This is related to our hard-wired biological urge to have kids, to reproduce a version of ourselves and carry our genes into the future.

But for any one individual to be able to live forever… this strikes me as a horror show. In ‘The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality’ (1973), Bernard Williams points out the extreme boredom that would necessarily ensue if one could live forever. Whether it’s living 200 years, or 2000 years, eventually human consciousness (as it exists) would find such a prolonged existence insufferable. (In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, some of the rich elites, the only ones in society with tech-based immortality, eventually off themselves for such reasons.)

Only in some hypothesized transhumanism might consciousness be modified/adapted/tinkered with to be happy and content with the prospect of immortality, but that is doubtful if, like me, you side with the New Mysterian view of consciousness (Colin McGinn, Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers) over the prevailing materialist/functionalist, “brain is meat & consciousness is an epiphenomenon” types like Daniel Dennett. I used to be an uber-optimistic proponent of transhumanism, but I’m not today. Of course, I vacillate every few years between the New Mysterian vs. Materialist views, which really dictates how I perceive these abstract questions.

Today, I feel that, in the end, there is really no way to ‘make rational’ the sheer irrational absurdity that is sentient existence. Now, this doesn’t diminish my energy and commitment towards the WN cause; in fact it may even strengthen it, if only to make it a better world for tomorrow’s white children, whose future is currently under siege. That being said, when pressed on it, I have to concur with Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
                   Signifying nothing.

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