Catalog of Institutional Decay

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Updated 5/30/2016 – 1:32 am

Our societal institutions are dying. They have been dying slowly for the last 40 years.

Emerging victorious and hungry from World War II, America embarked on a grand experiment of rebuilding the nation from the ground up, and many of the institutions of life that we now interact with everyday were conceived during that time. But institutions do not simply persist unchanged into perpetuity. Like any worldly creation they have a tendency towards increasing entropy, and without effort and maintenance will inevitably fall into disrepair.

We all see it in our daily lives, but it has become clear to me that it is impossible to understand the magnitude of the problem without seeing all the details collected in one place. To that end, I have begun this catalog. The objective is to show readers that if, for every one tiny, incremental step forward we then take two enormous leaps backward, we’re going to be in trouble.

This is our fault. For a generation we have been under-solving our problems, doing the minimum needed to maintain our current standard of living in the short-term. Institutional decay is not something that we can blame on this particular politician, or that particular decision. It happens because of mass cultural acquiescence. And the only way to heal will be through collective will and sacrifice. I am very optimistic that in the near future we will be able to summon the political will to solve these problems. Though for now, many of these issues are only getting worse.

Please feel free to submit links that you think should be included.

Government and Politics

The decay of American political institutions.

Murders committed by “terrorists” are actually mostly from homegrown extremists.

Economics

Long-Term Structural Trends Have Killed The Middle-Class

Wage Stagnation Despite Increased Productivity

The Great Productivity Slowdown

Low Wage Jobs Pay So Little That Workers Must Rely On Public Assistance To Survive

Nearly All “Welfare Fraud” Is Actually Caused By Managers And Executives

All of the banks that were “too big to fail’ in 2008 are now bigger and still growing.

The Workplace

Wage Theft, where businesses simply don’t pay the full amount owed to their workers, is spreading.

Ten years ago the government discovered that the meat industry is incredibly dangerous. Since then, it has only gotten worse, but now the industry takes steps to avoid reporting it.

The Media

A small number of billionaires is exerting increasing influence on media content.

Our Profit-Seeking Media is Creating a Misinformed Public

Trust of the media has been falling for at least 20 years

Infrastructure

Enjoy America’s Crumbling Infrastructure

Specific example: the DC metro catches fire 4 times per week.

Criminal Justice

Our Police Kill Lots of People, Our Prisons Are Full, And The Whole System Is Racist

How America’s gun background check system has major holes.

Healthcare

Medical Errors Are Now The 3rd Leading Cause Of Death

America Puts Its Mentally Ill In Jail

Science 

Our broken science funding system is getting worse, and it’s hurting results.

It’s possible that as many as 1 out of 5 opinion surveys contain fraudulent data.

Global Institutions

Rampant Ineffectiveness at the UN

 

And you can be quite sure that there’s more to come.

Generational Cycle Theory

Imagine that something bad happened. Like, really bad. Not just to you, but something on the scale of your whole country. Suppose an enemy attacks and declares war on you. And suppose that everyone knows this war is going to be bad. THE war. It has the potential to be the most devastating conflict that anybody can remember, and your nation finds itself fighting for its very survival. And it’s happening now and there’s nothing anybody can do to stop it.

How would people react?

Faced with the choice between fighting back and certain death, the nation realizes that every man, woman and child must help in any way they can. The 20-something rising adults become the able-bodied soldiers, dutiful order-takers. The 50-something midlifers assume the role of pragmatic battlefield generals. The 70-something elders fit naturally into the role of supplying vision, guidance and wisdom. And the children help out most by staying quiet, and staying out of the way.

And if they were successful, what sort of long-term effects might the struggle have on the victorious society? The rising adults would return hailed as heroes, celebrated with parades in the streets. The midlifers would now move into the role of overseeing the ensuing reconstruction. The elders would die fulfilled, having seen their children save the world using their direction. And the children, remembering how frightened and helpless they felt, probably develop a lifelong aversion to combat, and feel quiet guilt at not having fought.

Two key insights from that story form the basis for the Generational Cycle Theory, as outlined by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their books Generations, and The Fourth Turning. First is that major historical events permanently stamp the collective memory of a generation, endowing them with a cohort-wide shared experience and resulting personality. This is why you can make statements like “millennials are optimistic,” or “Baby Boomers are moralizers.”

And second is that historical turning points affect different people differently depending on their phase of life. The G.I. Generation remembers World War II fondly as their coming-of-age triumph, that gave them momentum to build the interstate highways and send a man to the moon in ensuing decades. But those just below the draft cutoff age, the Silent Generation, remember the war very differently, as a time when they were smothered by adults trying to protect them from calamity. For more recent examples, think about how old you were when 9/11 happened, or when the financial crisis happened, and how that affected you differently than it affected your parents or your children.

Add to this another key fact. Parents end up raising their children in the opposite way that they were raised. Nobody had “the perfect upbringing,” and it’s just human to want your kids to experience the things you didn’t get to. For the children born during World War II, their parents wanted them to have security even at the expense of freedom and individuality. But when the Silent Generation gave birth to Generation X, the focus was on freedom and individuality, even at the expense of security. Now that Generation X is having children, we’ve seen the pendulum come full circle back to security, with the rise of “helicopter parenting.”

It becomes clear that we should expect to see some repeated themes every 4 generations, or about 80 years, the length of a long human life. We need just one more premise, and we’ll have a full-blown cycle. Any cycle theory obviously makes predictions about the future, but how could we predict the nature of major events in the future? Nobody could have foreseen the A-bomb, or the financial crisis. What does it even mean to say that historical turning points happen in a cycle?

The key here is that the historical events themselves don’t matter as much as society’s reaction to those events. As Strauss and Howe point out, history is full of sparks. Some of these sparks fizzle away unnoticed, while some burn a gentle red then fade away, while still others start a forest fire. What determines whether the reaction to that spark will be a full-scale immolation or just a gentle heat? The answer is, the personalities and phases of life of the living generations.

Eras and Social Moments

In the theory, there are 4 time periods per cycle, lasting roughly 20 years each, or about the time it takes a generation to move from one phase of life to the next. There are two kinds of major historical events, called social moments, and they each happen just once per cycle, half a cycle apart from each other. These reflect a difference in focus between the eras, where some are focused on spiritual and moral values, while others are focused on secular institutions.

A society emerging from the great war above finds itself flush with success, energy, and drive, and also living in a world that requires much effort to rebuild. This era is called a High. It is characterized by national pride and unity, institution-building, and any other objective measures of “success.” This was how America emerged from WW2, a powerful and hungry economic engine that reduced inequality and put a man on the moon, a nation that knew it could do anything. But was no longer sure it could feel.

Focusing on roads, bridges, and space flight for so long leads to cultural blandness, and a big spiritual void. Meanwhile, there is a new generation of children during the High, who grew up in the comfortable aftermath of the war but are too young to remember the chaos. When they come of age and encounter this cultural dearth, they find it not to their liking, and rebel. This social moment, and its associated era, are called an Awakening.  In an Awakening, the young protest against the old, whom they perceive to lack serious conviction and purity. This was how America looked in the late 60’s and 70’s, with hippies, the summer of love, and Woodstock. Confident in their ability to do, the Consciousness Revolution reignited the nation’s ability to feel.

After an Awakening has run its course, society has emerged with a new inner satisfaction, but has also enshrined those values of protest against institutions. This leads to a renewed focus on individual liberty, but also leads inevitably towards social entropy. This era is known as an Unraveling, as the society becomes hectic and competitive, and once-strong institutions decay and become dysfunctional. In an Unraveling, society focuses on the purity of its values, engaging in culture wars, and slowly erasing the word “compromise” from the dictionary. This was where America found itself from the late 80’s to early 2000’s, when little-to-nothing got done as factions of opposing values battled each other and partisan gridlock became the new normal. The nation knew it could feel, but began to realize that they could no longer do.

Institutional decay can only go on for so long. Conditions deteriorate, long-term problems exacerbate, and nation begins to feel as though it’s on a collision course. When it becomes clear that the old social order has completely fallen apart and must be replaced, then that society finds itself in a Crisis era. Culture wars end as one side prevails over the others. Faced by challenges that can no longer be deferred, which have by now mounted to the scale of existential threat, the nation takes action decisively and collectively.  While an Unraveling society underreacts to problems, a society in Crisis overreacts to them, demanding total victory in order to preserve their way of life for posterity. They are times of great words and great deeds. The last American Crisis era began with the Great Depression and ended with Germany’s surrender. Confident in their values, a Crisis reignites a nation’s ability to do.

Generational Archetypes

Accordingly, there are 4 generation types, based on the era in which a generation comes of age. In order, they are called Adaptive, Idealist, Reactive, and Civic. In recent memory, the Silent Generation (born mid 1920’s to early 40’s) was Adaptive, the Baby Boomers (early mid 40’s to early 60’s) are Idealist, Generation X (early 60’s to early 80’s) is Reactive, and the Millennials (born early 80’s to early 2000’s) are Civic. These descriptions might not necessarily apply to every person as there are always individuals who go against the grain. But considering the entire group, these are the paths that the generational personalities take.

An Adaptive (or Artist) generation are the children of the Crisis. Over-protected as youth during incredibly uncertain times by a Reactive generation seeking security, they come of age feeling grateful to have weathered the storm, but also feeling pangs of guilt about not having sacrificed more. Rising adults of the High, they become experts in the new order, and do well refining the institutions that were born out of the passion-fire of the recent Crisis. Entering middle age during an Awakening, they are keenly aware that the new Idealist youth movement does not include them, but isn’t particularly against them either, and they act as a mediator between young Idealists and aging Civics. Somewhat repressed their whole lives, the Awakening offers them a chance to unwind and let loose, leading to spectacular midlife blowups. As they become parents themselves, they view childhood as a time when their children must be left alone to learn their own mistakes, and tend to under-parent, leading to the next Reactive generation. Entering elderhood during an Unraveling, they lament the social chaos they see forming everywhere they look. Lifelong mediators and compromisors, they view the Idealist’s culture wars as unnecessarily antagonistic, but ever the experts, they work on all sides to clarify and enshrine. Most don’t live to see how the Crisis resolves, and so they die with the unfortunate sense that the world is falling apart around them, and that they couldn’t stop it.

An Idealist (or Prophet) generation are children of the High. Too young to remember the sacrifices of the Crisis, they are inheritors of a world that is optimistic and improving. While Civic and Adaptive adults are working determinedly to do great things, young Idealists are the indulged children of a generation of strong proud parents. But as they become teenagers, Idealists start to notice that this post-Crisis world is particularly lacking values, and is spiritually and culturally bland. This is the impetus for the youth movements of the Awakening. During an Awakening, Idealist youth fight the emptiness of Civic institutions preferring moral purity instead, even at the risk of hypocrisy. They become a generation that believes that what you think is more important than what you do. Their Civic parents have difficulty understanding these impulses, and have trouble falling in line with the spiritual fervor. During the Unraveling, different factions of middle-aged Idealists that had formed during the Awakening fight over message, leading to intense culture wars assisted by aging Adaptive helpers and ignored by Reactive young adult bingers. Sensing the institutional decay resulting from their focus on personal values, as parents Idealists instill in their children a sense of teamwork, cooperation, and a can-do attitude. Fueled by a combination of guilt and urgency, aging Idealists kick off the Crisis reaction as last-ditch effort to right the ship of society for future generations, and as their final chance to bring the utopian visions of their youth to fruition. Society coalesces around the visions of these “grey champions,” as middle-aged Reactives form the plucky generals, and their Civic children agree to sacrifice anything and everything for the greater good. They die with a sense of satisfaction, at having safeguarded the nation through its most difficult times, and emerged victorious.

A Reactive (or Nomad) generation are children of the Awakening. Too young to participate, it is clear that society is not paying very much attention to them, adults instead absorbed in their own personal exploration and freedom. Their Adaptive parents, who are finally letting loose from the shackles of their childhoods, tend to under-parent, letting children make their own mistakes even if it hurts them. From a young age, Reactive children are disliked by society, perceived as an undue burden on adult’s personal discovery. As rising adults of the Unraveling, they are largely ignored by the rest of society that is swept up in the culture wars. Attempting to draw on institutions that are falling apart at the seams, they are hit hardest by societal entropy, and come to embrace a survivalist mentality. This leads to increases of binging and indulgent behavior, as well as socially irresponsible speculation and even outright cheating. Feeling the anger of a generation that was shafted much harder than Idealists, nor instilled with the optimism of the Civics, they are a much more cynical generation, not easily swayed to grand promises from leaders, but also not particularly loyal to any one group. As the Crisis begins in their middle-age, they grow weary of the binging behavior of their youth, as exhaustion sets in. Instead they focus on what really matters: individual satisfaction and family. As parents in increasingly uncertain times, they instill the security that was missing from their own childhoods, even at the risk of smothering. When the Crisis demands sacrifice, their natural role is as on-the-ground generals, making the quick and difficult decisions that could make or break the effort, willing to do what needs to be done. In the aftermath of the Crisis, they are not celebrated in the same way Civics are, but also never felt like they deserved it. Elders of the High, they mostly step out of the way for newly-empowered Civics to rebuild society in their image, but step in from time to time to check their unrealistic impulses. They die having helped create a far stronger society, and can feel redeemed for having atoned for the sins of their youth.

A Civic (or Hero) generation is the children of the Unraveling. Born at a time when Idealist adults were highly satisfied with their personal convictions, but felt less sure about the increasingly gloomy future ahead, Civics children are instilled with strong senses of cooperation and teamwork. While culture wars are raging among the adult Idealists, their children are largely shielded from it, as children are once again thought of as “special,” and worthy of protection. Facing a Crisis in their young adulthood, the Civic heed the call of the elder Idealists to do great things, and do them. The Civic youth believe strongly in doing what is necessary in order to provide for the future, and will sacrifice nearly anything to achieve those goals. Working collectively, they become the cheerful and optimistic engine of the national effort. If the Crisis concludes successfully, Civics are praised by all of society for their heroism and sacrifice, and are swept into leadership. The dominant figures during a High, midlife Civics set out to do great things, because they can. No longer facing peril but still exuding might and confidence, Civics challenge the frontiers of what is possible in any field deemed difficult enough to warrant their attention. Proud, optimistic, and focused on making the impossible possible, with the help of capable youth Adaptives, Civic parents exude confidence while raising their Idealist children. Entering midlife, those children balk at their parents’ hubris and rebel, kicking off the Awakening. During the Awakening, elder civics have a difficult time understanding why Idealists don’t share their vigor for doing great things, decrying the new youth movement as narcissistic. As collectivists in a society that is becoming more and more individual, elderly Civics retreat from public life, but, lifelong doers, they reinvigorate what it means to be old. They die still proud of their youthful accomplishments, but troubled that society no longer seems to care about that.

Where We Are Now

The beautiful thing about a cycle theory is that not only does it interpret the past, it also gives us clues about where we’re headed. According to the theory, America is currently mid-way through a Crisis era, that likely began with the financial crisis in 2008, and is due to finish around 2025-2030. As institutional decay reaches its maximum, yet society’s demand for order revives, our apatite to tackle long-term problems is returning.

With the Boomers entering old age and the Silent no longer around to urge them to calm down, their need to pursue the convictions of their youth will return, and in the face of adversity they will demand total victory. As Generation X enters midlife weary of the speculation and risk-taking of their youth, they will find themselves perfectly equipped to make the difficult and dirty decisions on behalf of their nation. As Millennials enter adulthood facing tremendous challenge but ever-optimistic, they will be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to get the future back on track. And as children of the Homeland Generation, born mid 2000’s to today, enter youth in an increasingly tumultuous era, they will be both afraid of the times, and in awe of their elders who are sacrificing on their behalf.

The first stage of a Crisis is a catalyst, which is a singular event that informs us that our Unraveling era patterns of thought no longer make sense, and Howe identifies this as the financial crisis. The next stage is a regeneracy, a 1-3 year period of reversing social entropy and re-emerging faith in authority, when Americans realize that long-term problems can no longer be deferred, and they reunite around the common good. It is my belief that we are in the early days of the regeneracy.  With faith in civic life restored, Americans will come together to tackle our greatest challenges, but they will find these formidable indeed. At our darkest moment, when hope seems lost, we will face a climax that determines whether America emerges victorious or with its spirit crushed. And afterwards, a resolution will determine the winners and losers, and lay out the rules and the trajectory for the next era.

There’s a lot more to this story, but hopefully this has gotten you acquainted with the idea, and from there you can make your own evaluations. Frankly, I find it difficult to read about this without being inspired to action, but maybe that’s because I’m a Millennial. But if you think about history in a cyclical way, it makes it easier to cope with difficulty and uncertainty: if times were good in the past, then they can be good again in the future. As long as you and I are willing to work to build that future, together.

The Train Friend – Part One

I originally wrote this as a contribution to the transportation blog “Stand Clear, Doors Are Closing.” It was first posted on January 10, 2014. I never did get around to writing part two, and sadly it will probably have to wait until I am once again an active rail commuter.

Hi everyone! My name’s Sam, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.

When Amy asked me if I might like to contribute to Stand Clear, my internal reaction was something along the lines of, “I love telling people my opinions!”, so of course my response was, “I’ll think about it.”

And the rest is history.

So today, fellow commuters, I’m going to start on a topic very near and dear to my heart. Because, lurking on potentially any train, in any car, could be a member of that most elusive and reticent species: the train friend.

You can of course only encounter the train friend in his or her natural habitat, but fortunately that always happens to be whichever train you are on (or bus, let’s not discriminate). The train friend might be difficult to spot at first, amidst the herd of normal train-goers, but you may discover one at any part of your commute. Maybe someone you’ve sat next to coincidentally, maybe someone who often waits on the same platform as you, or maybe someone you’ve just nearly fallen on when the sudden slowing of the train made you lose your grip on the metal pole.

First comes observation. Perhaps it’s an article of clothing, like brightly colored socks. Or maybe some facial expression. Or, if we can be honest with ourselves occasionally, maybe it’s just a hot girl. But something draws your attention to this person in particular, from the sea of otherwise-worthy humans. Something marks them.

Next comes the curiosity. Who is this person? What is their story? What series of events, unfortunate or otherwise, led them down the path that would cause their someday-occupation of the very same train car as you? Is it possible they know a great restaurant that you don’t? or a quiet park? or an engrossing book, or a dance-able song? or maybe they have some amazing story to tell?! I mean, you’re looking at a human being, someone’s who has roamed this planet for years, that’s thousands of days, millions of seconds. There must be something unique about this person, and maybe they’ll share that with you!

After curiousity is fear. Because let’s face it, the kind of people that usually come up to me on the metro typically fall under the broad category of weirdo/creep/mentally ill. And I’m sure it’s even worse for the hot girls. Very likely, even though you want to show a little good will, some signal to say “hey, we’re both people, isn’t that somethin’?”, it’ll just be interpreted as “give me some money.”

But from fear comes resolution. Just think about it: wouldn’t you be delighted if some pleasant person were to walk up to you and start a friendly, stress-free conversation? I love it when people show genuine, non-creepy interest, and I always enjoy the chance to share my quirks, and fascinations, and especially my opinions! If a person honestly wants to get to know me, I’m all for it. So why should you expect the world to end if you say hi to a stranger?

You eye the creature, reluctant. You make a hesitant move forward, but it’s not too late to retreat to the safety of your metal pole…

Oh, for f#@k’s sake, what’s the worst that could happen?

“Hi, I love your socks! My name’s Sam, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Why Do We Love Music?

Like any curious person, I’ve often wondered, what’s up with music? Like, why is it so cool?

Music is found in every culture on the planet, and evokes a deep emotional response in us. But it’s not very obvious why a collection of mathematically related sound waves produced in a rhythmic pattern should cause us to feel a certain way, and I’ve thought about that a lot.

I started once again down this train of thought recently, after watching this video about the benefits to your brain of playing and listening to music.

Since I’m a big fan of the study of behavioral evolution, which seeks evolutionary explanations for why we behave the way we do, I set out to the internet in search of just such an explanation.

The results of my query? Well, as far as I can tell…no one knows.

There is a field of science studying this, known as evolutionary musicology, but, so far, there doesn’t seem to be a great explanation for why humans love music so much. I found a handful of hypotheses here, and some more here, but frankly I don’t find them very compelling.

I don’t necessarily think that those theories are incorrect, and I’ll save specific criticism for another time, but I don’t think that they give a satisfactory answer to what I feel is the most prescient question, which is not “why can we make music?” or “how did music begin?” but instead “why do we LOVE music?”

So, in light of the dearth of conclusions, I will suggest my own, now. (With standard disclaimers that I’m not a career scientist or researcher, just a curious person and avid thinker).

Recent research, summarized in the video linked above, suggests that music is in fact very, very good for your brain. Playing music is linked to greater executive function, greater auditory discrimination, fine motor skills, vocabulary, and nonverbal reasoning, and attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control. And scientists increasingly think that these are causal links. (In other words, it is playing music is what causes these benefits, not that people with those traits are disproportionately attracted to music, or that some third factor causes both of those).

So, imagine that there’s a gene that causes people to love music. You might think that sounds far-fetched, but actually scientists think there could be a genetic basis for all sorts of similarly complicated behaviors, such as altruism, selfishness, loving your siblings, etc. And there doesn’t need to really be a gene which is 100% the cause of your love of music. Just a gene which makes you even slightly more likely to enjoy and seek out music will do the trick.

Since such a gene would make its carrier more likely to be exposed to music, it would thereby indirectly improve the mental functioning of that carrier, in the ways listed above. And since those abilities have fairly obvious survival value in pretty much any environment, the “love-music” gene would thus confer an advantage to whomever expressed it, and should spread through the gene pool.

And actually, using music to gain those adaptations is a pretty robust method. You might imagine a competitor gene that aimed to give its carrier the same benefits by just growing them out of the box, without having to be exposed to music. This competitor gene would be disadvantaged from the get-go: it would require more built-in development mechanisms, which would be energy-intensive. And that would be unnecessary in an environment that already has musical stimuli!

Since this is a scientific hypothesis, there ought to be a way to test it, so here are some proposals:

First, since I’m claiming that love of music is genetic, and therefore innate, it ought to be present and detectable even in very young infants.

Second, since those mental benefits have value in nearly any environment, we probably should see evidence of enjoyment of music in other animals besides humans, like other primates, or perhaps dolphins.

Third, if this has a genetic basis, it ought to be susceptible to mutation. People who have Musical Anhedonia, who don’t find enjoyment in music, ought to have a genetic basis for that trait.

And fourth, there should be a way to offer a natural definition of music. If we define music as “any auditory stimulus that causes those mental improvements through the same mechanism,” then we should be able to measure what sort of stimuli cause the brain changes and which sounds don’t. The prediction of this hypothesis then, is that the set of sounds we enjoy will correlate with the set of sounds which improve brain function.

 

And there you have it. In summary, I believe that the reason we love music is because playing and listening to music offered survival value to our ancestors, in the form of improved cognitive functioning.

Once again, I’m not a career scientist, just a person who likes to think, so I’d love to hear opinions from anyone better informed than I am.

7 Ways to Change Your Life, Since You May Literally Live Forever

There are people, serious scientists, who are currently, today, working on the problem of eliminating aging.

This first came to my attention several years ago via the above TED talk by a biologist named Aubrey de Grey. And since then, foundations have been created and many top-name biologists have subscribed to the principles.

I won’t go into detail about the science, but the basic idea is this: our body does lots and lots of things to keep us alive, so that we continue turning food into energy. This is called “metabolism.” Our body does “metabolism” pretty well, but not perfectly, so as a result, there is a constant amount of damage that accumulates to our various bits and parts. When this damage exceeds some threshold, it starts to cause us serious trouble, which we either refer to as “aging” or “age-related disease,” or “death by natural causes.”

Now, most of science so far has focused on the two outside sections: biology has focused on understanding metabolism, while medicine has focused on curing disease. But both of those two things are horrendously complicated, and will probably take us centuries to understand fully. The part in the middle though, the “damage” caused by metabolism, which is not yet disease, turns out to be a short-list of fairly straightforward problems, all in-principle reversible.

In fact, scientists understand this “damage” so much better that, rather than taking centuries like it will to master metabolism, Aubrey de Grey thinks that there is a 50-50 chance that we will have treatments able to reverse the damage, and thereby suspend aging, within the next 25 years.

For emphasis: TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!!!!!!!!!

Well, that’s a big deal for me personally, because I’m sort of expecting to still be around in 25 years.

And yes, it is not a sure thing, and that’s only an estimate from one person. But to me, it’s such a dramatic possibility that it warrants further thought, even if it takes a bit longer, or doesn’t happen at all.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about this, you probably have a lot of concerns and questions. There are some fairly obvious looming social issues related to ending aging: overpopulation, resource scarcity, long-lived dictators, etc. Then there are moral issues: should we do this; do we even have the right to make this choice; what about people who are currently alive but won’t live long enough to benefit from these treatments.

And yes, these are all big issues, that we will have to come to terms with as a society as this research goes forward.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I’m interested in is: how should I, personally, live my life differently if I might live several more centuries instead of decades? I’m choosing to ponder this for obvious reasons of self-interest, but also because nobody else seems to be talking about it, instead focusing on those social and moral issues.

So after some thought, here are my preliminary ideas about how to change your life if you expect to live indefinitely:

1. Take things slowly. We live in a fast-paced world, where we can’t make time for anything, rarely finish what we start, and nobody stops to smell the roses, because ain’t nobody got time fo that. But, although we don’t think about this very often for obvious reasons, this mostly stems from fear of our impending death. Well, if your death is suddenly approaching more slowly, then maybe you do have time for that. So, start now: finish things, set aside time, and move slowly. Take in the world and people around you to the fullest extent possible.

2. Play it safer. Although aging might be ending soon, bus routes won’t be, and all the medications in the world won’t stop you from getting hit by a bus. The big problem is, if you live for 700 years instead of 70 years, you’ll be crossing the street a lot more times. All of those small dangers that we ignore because they probably won’t kill us in the next 50 years? Well, they might kill us in the next 500, so we’ll have to re-think our level of acceptable risk.

3. Don’t Make Lifelong Commitments. People can change dramatically in as little as a few years, so how could you possibly pretend to know that your needs and desires when you’re 335 will be the same as now? Imagine working at the same company for 200 years. And nobody would ever marry anybody if at the altar you had to literally commit for 1,000 years (it gives a whole new meaning to this song…). Instead, give yourself reasonable time-frames. You may still be in love with that person in 100 years, or you might not. But either way…

4. Get out when you should. We’ve all met people who’ve worked the same lousy job for 40 years, or have been fighting with their spouse non-stop since before the kids were born. Again, we don’t think about this, but they’re really just riding it out until they die. That won’t really be an option in this brave new world. Instead, recognize a bad situation, and take responsibility to end it when you should. But!!! On the flip side…

5. Explore possibilities. For the last 100 years, the average person’s life goals could be summarized as “pick a job, learn that job, do that job, have fun along the way,” biding the time until you die. And that’s been nice, but most of us have more than one thing that interests them. Imagine what you’d do if you really had the time to explore all of your passions? Maybe instead of 1-2 careers, people will someday have 9-10 or more. If you have a lot of time, then you can try more, and it wasn’t wasted even if that experiment didn’t pan out. Since you have more time, there’s less pressure to do things right the first time, and more freedom to try more jobs, more people, more books, more shows, more activities, more everything. You don’t have to be afraid of making a commitment anymore.

6. Re-think retirement. Yeah. That’s just not going to happen. More likely, you’ll work for some amount of time and save money, maybe 30 years, then use that money to take 5 years off and travel, then go back to school, and start in a new field. So plan your money accordingly.

7. Don’t forget that everything else is going to change too. We routinely make the mistake of making long-term decisions while assuming that very little is going to change between now and our death. But with the pace of technology, it has never been more obvious than now that that is just not true. So if you’re trying to make far-ranging decisions of any kind, you have to look to the fringes of what’s possible today. Because 30 years ago, there were no smartphones, no internet, no laptops, etc. In another 30 years, the world will run on fusion power, robots will do most of the jobs, and knowledge will be downloaded directly into your brain. And people will be living forever. That really is all stuff you should probably be considering now, because it’s coming.

 

The Shy Extrovert

I recently stumbled across a list which describes a personality type known as an “Outgoing Introvert.” You can read it here.

I didn’t identify with any of it.

If anything, it pretty much describes the exact opposite of me. So since we live in this world of creating categories of people to blend in with, here’s one of mine, the opposite of the outgoing introvert: the Shy Extrovert.

Introversion/Extraversion refers to your ability to gain energy and feel revitalized in certain social settings. More introverted people are more likely to feel refreshed by engaging in solitary activities, while more extraverted people are more likely to feel refreshed by engaging in conversation or other group activities. (These aren’t mutually exclusive, and most people are a little bit of both, but I’m sure that you, dear reader, can probably relate to one more than the other).

Outgoing/Shy can have a lot of meanings, but here I’m referring to how someone handles interactions with unfamiliar people, especially the initiation of those interactions. A more “outgoing” person confidently interacts with new people, and probably enjoys initiating. A more “shy” person feels more anxiety or awkwardness when interacting with people who aren’t close friends, and might find it very difficult to initiate. (These aren’t mutually exclusive, and most people are a little bit of both, but I’m sure that you, dear reader, can probably relate to one more than the other).

So a shy extrovert is someone who gains energy and feels revitalized by people and groups, but feels awkward around new people and finds it difficult to initiate with them.

So yeah, I can write lists too. Here’s a list about what it’s like to be a shy extrovert:

1. We crave interaction but have a very hard time getting it.

2. We don’t seem shy to close friends, because without the awkwardness of somebody new, we’re the life of the party.

3. With a close friend, we could have hours-long discussions, but with a casual acquaintance we can’t think of much more to say besides “nice weather, huh?”

4. We’re very sensitive to social cues and what other people are feeling. We have to be, otherwise we’d never make any friends ever.

5. Because of our extraversion, we love to talk, while because of our shyness, we love to listen. So,

6. We genuinely enjoy listening to other people’s problems, even complete strangers (within reason, of course. Just because we like people doesn’t mean we enjoy listening to you yammer on and on).

7. In fact, we’ll engage on pretty much anything you want to talk about, because engaging makes us feel good.

8. Parties are both amazing and terrible. There’s so much life exuding from the participants, and observing and participating in that gives us energy. But we’re also surrounded by strangers, and might end up stuck in the corner not talking to anyone. Going to a party alone is always a huge gamble, because,

9. Sure we like some alone time now and then, but usually it’s boring, isolating, and depressing. And being isolated while surrounded by people enjoying themselves is even worse.

10. We’ve been described by some people as “the quiet one” and by others as “loud and annoying.” (…well, I have anyway…)

11. Making friends is the worst. But having them is the best. We’re good on social media because we take a genuine interest in what people are doing, even ones we haven’t seen in a while.

12. If we act outgoing sometimes, it may be because we actively push ourselves to do so. (On more than one occasion in my life I have tried to observe how some of my extremely gregarious friends behave, then mimic that.)

13. We like organized activities like group classes, music ensembles, and sports or competition teams because they help us meet new people by giving us common ground.

14. We go out of our way to find people to hang out with.

15. In a good dating situation, we’re the one limiting how much we communicate: we could definitely talk more, as much as you like, but we don’t want to infringe on your space.

16. We often don’t bring up our own issues unless asked, because a) we’re afraid you don’t care, and b) we find yours more interesting anyway.

17. Conversely, we love sharing something we find exciting, because a) it might help strengthen the friendship and b) we like seeing other people get excited about stuff.

18. We desire and enjoy attention in the abstract, but then as soon as we have it we’d rather everyone looked away.

 

And there you go, it’s a list. If you’re so inclined, share your thoughts if you can relate to this, or if you think I’m full of shit.

(I haven’t found many other good sources on shy extroverts, but here’s a decent one: 7 Tips To Better Care For A Shy Extrovert.)