2014-2015: Age and Aging

The Annual Ethics Theme for 2014-2015 is Age and Aging, and a rich set of programs and curricula will be taking shape across various Departments and Centers of Distinction.  The novel, "The Postmortal," by Drew Magary, will serve as the Common Reading to introduce and raise questions surrounding this theme for the Class of 2018 and the broader campus community.

Humans have long sought a “cure” for aging, capable of stopping the process in its tracks.  In "The Postmortal," Drew Magary imagines that scientists have achieved such a breakthrough, enabling people to choose to stay at their current age forever – unless illness, intentional harm, or accident strike them down.   This new world initially seems filled with limitless possibilities for John Farrell, the newly postmortal and now permanently 29-year-old protagonist.  But as John fills his many years with drinking, youthful celebration, and even decade-long walkabouts through exotic locales, the world begins to come apart.  Freed from the threat of death through old age, society begins to turn its back on conventional morality, and people begin to forego marriage and forsake bedrock beliefs.  As the world becomes ever more packed with people, the utopian dream of living forever becomes a dystopian nightmare, a sere landscape crowded with roving gangs of green-skinned thugs, cultists, and End Specialists – government-sanctioned men and women authorized to euthanize the suicidal and the criminal alike.  "The Postmortal" beckons readers to question the pursuit of eternal youth, and to look again at what they value most about living across all the stages of one’s life.

These are among the many questions that this Annual Ethics Theme and Common Reading beckon us to ponder:

  • How likely is that scientists will unlock the very causes of aging and achieve radical extension of the human lifespan?
  • What effects will the rapidly rising average age of some countries’ populations have on their politics, economics, and cultures?
  • How has literature dealt with youth, middle age, and old age across the 20th and 21st centuries?
  • What are the gains and losses associated with the protraction of the traditional definition of adolescence?
  • Is retirement an economically viable pattern of behavior, and is it good for the health and longevity of those who partake in it?
  • What policy steps ought the United States take to ensure the sustainability of Social Security and Medicare?
  • Will the healthcare sector of the economy continue to expand rapidly as the American population ages?
  • Is American society becoming more effective at administering end-of-life care?
  • How do senior members of various animal species come to hold crucial social roles during the advanced stages of their lives?
  • Why do geniuses in various fields tend to produce their greatest accomplishments at widely differing ages?
  • If it would be evolutionarily advantageous for all tissues in an organism to regenerate, why does that not happen?
  • What will be the effects on the world’s economy if China’s population becomes the first in history to grow old before the country becomes wealthy?
  • Does aging make people better-suited for particular analytical processes, tasks, and vocations?
  • What products, designed for the aged, are now in the planning and testing phases by entrepreneurs and various companies, large and small?
  • How are elders regarded and treated in various cultures?
  • Why, according to happiness studies, are older people likely to be happier than the young adults or the middle-aged?


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