Last week I explored immortality when I compared Alaska’s giant mining machines, the dredges, to the human body. Two of Fairbanks’ ten dredges ran 24 hours each day and 254 days each year before winter set in, from about 1930 to 1963. They ran for roughly 30 years because of constant maintenance and repair. If we could discover how to reverse every type of cell damage or replace body parts ravaged by aging (like the characters in my book) we could potentially live forever, the same way a well maintained car or machine can run indefinitely.
What else does the dredge I described last week have to do with immortality and aging? To find out, I’ll tell a little story
about Dredge Three’s sister, Dredge Number Two. In April, 1959, a stern deck-hand found a frozen jam in Number Two’s waste rock chute and rather than clear it using the metal pole provided, he decided to use a stick of dynamite tied to a willow pole. The blast went off at 6 PM, and by 7 PM, she was at the bottom of her pond.
It was June before the pond was fully drained, then the mud had to be washed out of the hull and motors. It would be September before she was digging again, just in time for freeze up in October. The dredge’s owner, Fairbanks Exploration Company, was willing to spend the time and money to resurrect Number Two, yet today there are hundreds of dead cars pushed into old mining and gravel ponds in Alaska. Why not fix those cars? Why not leave the dredge there?
The difference is the value of the machine. It was reported that between 1928 and 1964 the ten dredges around Fairbanks brought in $125,000,000 in gold at $35 an ounce. Replacing Number Two would cost more than repair. The company would also have to pay to build it’s parts in the lower 48, then transport them thousands of miles.
Which leads me to ask, what would happen if we could maintain and repair human body parts and cells well enough to make people immortal? It would be expensive, if only at first. The wealthy would be able to afford it, if they were inclined to undergo something experimental, but the dredges were machines owned by companies, companies that made a lot of money from them. Would companies recruit people with high value and make them immortal, while the rest of us watched and died?
Political and business leaders might be given immortality by the companies that support them so the world wouldn’t lose a “good leader”?
Or would companies find new CEOs all the time, to re-invent the business?
Would people in the United States stop electing the immortal representatives in favor of someone new? (Everyone knows politicians will never vote for term limits, especially if they are made immortal.)
Would immortal dictators be even harder to shake loose?
How would immortality change sports?
Athletes would never have career ending injuries. Would we demand new players?
Would sports become more violent?
Did we admire Michael Jordan because we thought we could “be like Mike?”
If we knew he was maintained in his prime by his sponsors, would we root for him?
If all the stars were kept in play, would there be any more rookies or rising stars?
Are there individuals that could outdo Michael Jordan if talent scouts still existed to look for them?
Finally, what would happen to business leaders, politicians and sports players if they got fired?
The dredges, like Number Three and Two, so valuable in 1928, were eventually abandoned because an ounce of gold bought
less and regulations made companies more responsible for safety and environmental concerns. Dredge Two, once resurrected, now sits abandoned and rusting. Dredge Three, abandoned but explored by hundreds of locals and visitors each year, burned earlier this month, leaving only a metal skeleton.
One thing is certain, if we become like machines with interchangeable parts, and treatments that restore health and youth are in someone else’s hands, we will be used like machines. Those of us considered valuable will be immortal as long as we are useful, and mortal as soon as we are not.