A generation ago, Ernest Becker taught us that the fear of dying is the mainspring of all human activity, from our smallest efforts at survival to our loftiest cultural achievements. So far as I can tell, our species continues to confirm that thesis. Even if it bankrupts Social Security, takes down Medicare and leaves half the population requiring assisted living quarters, most of us want to live as long as possible, and we order our lives accordingly.
Never mind that we don’t know what we’d do with all the extra time we’d have if our lives stretched on for decades. As the late British novelist Susan Ertz observed, “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” Yet we exercise, pay for medical plans, support cancer research, enforce seat belt laws and work in countless other ways to stave off dying.