Who wants to live to be a hundred? What’s the point of it? A short life and a merry one is far better than a long life sustained by fear, caution and perpetual medical surveillance.

– Henry Miller

Longevity: living long. Something we humans, I would say, fetishise. Hang on, hear me out. I’m not, unfortunately, pointing to the respect that we all have for our elders – we know that’s not the case, sadly. No, I’m talking about how we seem to attribute things with authority if they are long-lived; or to assume that things we respect have long lives. By contrast, the ephemeral [from the Greek epi + hermera, one day] attracts less human respect. The elephant, the tree, the land or the May fly…Unless you believe in reincarnation, of course, when you can put yourself in the shoes of the laughing Dalai Lama, who giggled at a journalist who asked him what the previous Dalai Lama would have thought of what he was doing re: China (the point being, he is the same person, only in a new body).

But we look at the world around us, and measure it in our own terms; that is understandable. But do we forget that the “age-old” things we festishise are in fact as fleeting, as momentary as a split-second themselves? Pause for a moment. Remember the Philosopher’s Axe? Are you truly the same person that you were last week, five years ago, that you will be tomorrow, in five minutes? Or are you instead a constantly changing entity, more fluid than rigid, reacting to the world around you? If you listen to Richard Dawkins on the theory of the selfish gene, you can take the view to an even smaller micro-perspective: your very genes have a survival strategy, they are self-serving and are so – where necessary – at the expense of the larger organism: you. [Black widow genes mean the female will eat the male; not great for his larger organism, but great for the Black Widow genes].

So, as a chicken is a way of making more eggs, you are a way of making more genes. Simple.

Looked at in this way, you can see longevity as less about the single lifespan of one large organism (the elephant or your great grandmother) and instead as a unified and as-yet unbroken chain of smaller units of organic life, cells, genes and so on. And when the larger, carrier, organism (whether we’re talking about Dumbo or Nana) ceases to live as a whole, the lives that make it carry on: the cells will go into the earth or similar, be eaten, become energy and so on; the genes will at an earlier stage have tried to propagate themselves through the larger organism’s reproduction. IE everything can be reduced into these smaller units of life and life-span, because ultimately, life is driven by those smallest units.

Or is it…?

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