Beware millennials, boomers want your blood
Scientists have discovered more ways to help the elderly cannibalise the young
In case intergenerational solidarity wasn’t bad enough, news arrived this week that scientists have discovered yet more ways to help the elderly by cannibalising the young.
Researchers have discovered that infusing the cerebrospinal fluid of young mice into older mice improved brain function, which according to Dr Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford’s School of Medicine in California, suggests that the ageing process is “malleable”. Previous research seems to suggest that blood transfusions from the young to the old have a rejuvenating effect, too.
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How long until someone tries to apply this to humans? With the youngest boomers approaching 60, they’re now collectively confronting their own mortality. As such, this cohort is the most obvious demographic to drive demand, economically as much as culturally: they’re wealthier than subsequent generations, and also saw the swiftest decline in religious faith.
Boomer ageing, then, is a perfect storm: a taboo-smashing demographic, often lacking the kind of religious framework that would encourage acceptance of mortality — and, in aggregate, the money to fight back. Indeed, while there’s no evidence he’s cannibalising children’s body fluids, ultra-rich boomers such as Jeff Bezos now pour immense resources into seeking the secret of eternal life.
The spinal-fluid and blood-transfusion experiments were conducted with mice, and no one at present is suggesting harvesting body fluids from young humans in order to rejuvenate the elderly. But still, it’s not such a huge stretch to imagine that at least some of the generation that first embraced the phrase “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” might ask themselves: why shouldn’t I?
A company offering transfusions of teenage blood plasma to wealthy Silicon Valley retirees was shut down in 2019 by the FDA only to start up again a few months later — albeit with more evasive marketing materials and health claims. And if someone with a net worth of $182 billion wanted a supply of human infant cerebrospinal fluid, I dare say he’d be able to get one.
Let’s hope biotech dystopias of this kind remain science fiction. Even so, the scenario underlines an unsettling sense that seemingly abstract and objective scientific research into new biotech skates far too lightly over power asymmetries with potentially ghoulish consequences.
It’s quite possible that the vast majority of the baby-boomer generation, and indeed those that come after, would balk at literally cannibalising the young in pursuit of eternal youth. But so far the 21st century is delivering an unsettling combination of widening economic inequality and advances in biotech that leave the door wide open for horrifying new kinds of exploitation: the killing to order of Chinese political prisoners for the organ transplant industry is just one glimmer of where this could go.
Meanwhile, we’re losing any sense of a shared moral framework that might be able to hold such developments in check. Elon Musk, for one, thinks we’re all already cyborgs. Those comforting themselves with the thought that we have bioethicists to help us think through the moral consequences of such research, might want to check in with the kind of things bioethicists say. Brace yourselves: biotech is going to deliver the mother of all culture wars.
Ok, this is a bit of a goulish turn, but I’ve been saying for ages, the tech maelstrom has a silent partner, the biotech revolution, whose consequences are as profound as those of machine intelligence and automation. All assumptions about human longevity are soon to be turned on their head. Anyone who follows biotech will know this is advancing so rapidly that soon enough we are going to be hacking our own programming, with endless implications not just for disease, but ageing and every single human characteristic. Take a look at gene-editing technologies like Crispr Cas9 and even more advanced techniques on the horizon.
And the consequence on human psychology at the rarified levels of the super-rich?
So here’s a twist: ask what several people at the top of tech food-chains who are young enough and also the odd older smarter despotic type like Putin might just secretly be longing for – and they are looking for it because it is almost within touching distance if you have access to billions. It’s no different from what the Pharaohs or the Caesars wanted after all is it.
Escape Velocity: If you have the money, you might just be able to buy an extra decade for yourself. And that decade might just provide sufficient biotech advances to give you another decade, which then yields advances for another decade or two, until you are away. Once cloning tech advances enough to allow your own organs to be created from your own genome, there is no organ rejection, and longevity suddenly ramps.
How’s that for a BTL conspiracy theory then?
And the “aliens” people are allegedly visited by from another planet are actually “us” visiting us from 8,000 years in the future.
I can’t remember the book I read, but the suggestion that “the first person to live to 200 is probably already alive” seemed fully justified.
“I can’t remember the book I read, but the suggestion that “the first person to live to 200 is probably already alive” seemed fully justified.”
Or not. Don’t believe all the VC funded BS that gets published.
We have proven that we older will indeed take from the younger against their will. Recently and for the first time in history the older and infirm sacrificed all the younger and healthy who suffered less from CV19 than from, say, pneumonia or car accidents, for the supposed “good” of all. All I could think of was the ancient practice of throwing a young person into a Volcano to appease the angry gods. Apparently we haven’t changed much! We have proven by our actions that the older population will, indeed, take from the younger for their own longevity.by shutting them inside away from their jobs, schools and social life in order to supposedly protect us from something that did less harm to them than pretty much anything else that could happen to them. So I would not be surprised if the hungry and dementing aging population doesn’t think to themselves a bit more like the wicked witch in Hansel and Gretal, “Hmm..you look tasty, my little ones!”.
They want our money, we want their blood. Fair deal, no?
Absolutely! Aw, look, it’s only for a little while anyway! Until the tech advances enough to make all that stuff synthetically and then the young can do whatever they like! Well, in as much as their wealth allows! Which, ok, might be less than they had hoped for, ’cause we boomers are gonna need our money, hanging around longer and all, so anyway… I’m sure it won’t hurt. Much.
Yes, this is far more scary than taking blood from the young, and the potential population explosion when it becomes available to everyone
Couldn’t baby-boomers just eat “snowflakes” instead ?
Yes, God Knows what horrid virus we might pick up from those monkey glands; the blood of young humans – another renewable resource commercialised by the baby boomers!
It would be a win-win situation – what cared I about the anaemic blood of the pitiful young things, probably living in the equivalent of a Japanese capsule hotel and subsisting on a diet of insect paste on toast. But, courtesy of the free market where all good things come from, I now have an interest in the youth of today: I want the blood of strapping, healthy young citizens. We really must do more for them.
As a society I can’t imagine we would ever ask the young to sacrifice everything that makes life worth living in order to prolong what’s left of the lives of the elderly. That would be monstrous.
Deliciously ironic when we remember the decisions taken during the pandemic
Can someone assure us that we will receive only the vitality of the young, without the drop in our IQs?
It’s good to hear that there is a way for us to get our own back on the tedious, humourless, virtue signalling young.
The Netflix show “Altered Carbon” shows where this could go. The ultra-rich will have all the tools and resources to benefit from the Biotech advances, while denying it to the underclass. It will further stratify society – effectively two different species.
To add a dash of reality to this hype, we are no closer to halting or reversing aging than we are to cloning the dinosaurs (a la Jurassic Park). Blood transfusions from the young to the old are most likely going to remain science fiction and never become science fact.
Biotechnology has delivered some major achievements, but it has also failed to deliver what its proponents have claimed it would. Our bodies are the most complex adaptive system we know of, and making changes to them in any fundamental way is very, very difficult.
Boomer or younger, we are all going to age and die the same way we have done for ages. Let’s stop the generational warfare and enjoy each day together.
“Any one who says that with the means at present at our disposal and with our present knowledge we can utilize atomic energy is talking moonshine”
– September 11, 1933, Physicist Lord Ernest Rutherford, Nobel Prize in Physics
Yes, he got that wrong. But so did Lewis Strauss, who said in 1954 that:
“It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter, will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.”
With the human genome, we often don’t know what we don’t know. Darwinian evolution, for example, is widely accepted but makes no sense. When we fiddle with the genome we are often surprised.
A corollary that may be mentioned is the long lives biblical figures allegedly lived with the current average lifespan increase and longevity.
50 years ago Centenarians were rare, today they are a dime a dozen!
What endgame does this portend for future longevity?
Perhaps the statement that the first person to reach 200 years has been born, has some merit!
This raises, of course, all sorts of questions about individual and collective reactions to longevity and mortality, which I will put up as a direct challenge to the author of this super little piece.
To throw up our hands in horror at the dystopian nature of the potential play-outs is not the right response. It is *no good* saying this is a hammer horror movie come to life, unless you are sure of your own reactions.The option to extend life beyond the threescore and ten is theoretical – until that is, it becomes real and is offered to *you and yours* – at which point the option you actually take might just mark out every one of your past stances as a lie.
What would *you* do if life extension is offered to *you*?
Or a thought experiment: the option exists, say, to perform a procedure that will install great longevity for your children, but it must be done while the children are babies, or the option is gone forever. Would you make such a decision on behalf of your children based on *your* moral or religious frameworks?
Countless such scenarios can be constructed of course. Technology, holding up a mirror to us and our true natures – that we might not like what we see, is on us. Should we face, squarely, who we are, or hide in the past?
Since our societies elevated narcissism to the default morality, I don’t think there’s much doubt where this will go.
I think it would be fun to make a prequel to “Logan’s Run” that explains how a society arrives at the conclusion that people need to be euthanized when they become unproductive. As pendulums always swing wildly from one direction to the other, it probably starts with a society that exploits the young to preserve the health and longevity of the old, literally sacrificing the future to the present.
That ship sailed when the pandemic started. Every single advanced nation has racked up unbelievably huge debts, for the safety of a small number of older people. Debts which the younger generations, who were hardly affected, will be paying off for literally decades to come.
Very good point. The vast majority of even first world populations are sleepwalking into a future they can barely imagine, let alone assent to. Debates such as these (and thanks to Unherd, Mary Harrington, and your contributions) are essential to at least raise some kind of awareness of what possibilities current and future tech holds out for us. The social, societal and psychological implications are immense, even to the point of changing our view of what being human amounts to.
The movements away from heteronormativity (see another of today’s Unherd offerings) already foreshadow such developments. As a boomer born bang into the middle of that particular demographic, and lucky enough to live in a relatively free society with the means to live the best lives we allow ourselves to live, i can’t wait to see how things develop. And this, alongside the re-emergence of space exploration. Just perhaps, the reorganisation of the human being will allow us to travel into deep space rather than just sending robots? But that’s a whole new topic!
That was my point really. But the worst part is the younger generations will not even have the resiliency and productivity that older generations had. They can’t pay their own bills let alone ours.. Maybe they eventually rise to the challenge – but first there will be terrible suffering and deprivation to harden them up. That’s how the pendulum swings.
It seems this is a human version of the Christian idea that Christ’s blood gives eternal life.
If extremely long life becomes commonplace, how much more fearful of death will we be? What will that lead to?
Reminder: Elizabeth Bathory. As I recall, she bathed in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth. Maybe this is merely apocryphal, but the notion of the old imbibing the young is not.
… this only works if you believe that the living individual is a machine of which you can tweak bits and improve or repair other bits… and oh yes, to a certain extend, medicine has achieved this but it has done so by ignoring that living entities do no rely on the basic physical and chemical rules as per these are taught in textbooks. Individuals, and groups of individuals, are hyper complex systems who rely, on their basic cellular level, on quantum physics phenomena. Our genes are not even the blue print of who we are. They are more like antenna’s transferring/receiving/managing information.
Until medicine changes its paradigm from examining what is dead (parts of a body) to thinking in systems, such articles as Mary’s will remain relevant. But as long as people believe in bioengineering (engineering = managing engines) this business will continue to flourish regardless of its mitigated performances.
If something can be done it will be done. In China members of the Falun Gong have had kidneys removed to order, and worse. What’s a bit of fluid?
Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ’till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.
Obama Care was going to make us Boomers live to 500 but the conservatives freaked out now we have Trump’s COVID instead ?
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