I say yes. A number of you have been asking me for comments on this now-famous Atlantic piece by Ezekiel Emanuel. You should read his whole argument, but here is one bit:
…here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
Ezekiel basically wishes not to live beyond age 75. Not that he will do himself in, but he regards that as a limit past which it is probably not desirable to go. Just to be clear, I don’t read Emanuel as wishing to impose or even “nudge” this view on others, he is stating a personal vision. Still, it strikes me as a somewhat strange approach to understanding the value of a life or estimating when that value ends. The value of an individual life is to be sure somewhat ineffable, but for that same reason it is difficult for a life to lose so much of its value.
It is easy for me to see how a person could be a valuable role model for others past the age of seventy-five. I expect Ezekiel in particular to fulfill this function superbly. I still think frequently of the late Marvin Becker, the Princeton (later UM) Renaissance historian, who for me was an important role model at the age of seventy-seven. Marvin often used to say “Oh, to be seventy again!” He had more than his share of aches and pains, but he was always a comfort and joy to his wife Betty, and most likely to his children and grandchildren as well.
Or visit the list of words in Emanuel’s paragraph, cited above. Many people are “disabled” to begin with, and many other lives are “deprived” to begin with, for one thing most of the lives in the world’s poorer countries. But they are still, on the whole, extremely valuable lives. I don’t just mean that external parties should respect the rights and lives of those persons, but rather internally and individually those lives are of great value.
To pick another word from that paragraph, “creativity” is overrated and most of us do not have it in the first place. And if one does have it, perhaps its passing is in some ways a liberation rather than a personal tragedy.
I would rather be remembered as “that really old guy who hung on forever because he loved life so much” than as vibrant. At some points I felt this piece needed a…marginal revolution.
And to sound petty for a moment, I don’t want to pass away during the opening moments of a Carlsen-Caruana match, or before an NBA season has finished (well, it depends on the season), or before the final volumes of Knausgaard are translated into English. And this is a never-ending supply. The world is a fascinating place and I fully expect to appreciate it at the age of eighty, albeit with some faculties less sharp. What if the Fermi Paradox is resolved, or a good theory of quantum gravity developed? What else might be worth waiting for?
I cannot help but feel that Emanuel is overrating some key aspects of what are supposed to be making his current life valuable, and thus undervaluing his future life past age seventy-five. (See David Henderson too on that point.)
It was Dan Quisenberry who once said: “The future is much like the present, only longer.”
More to the point, and coming from the marginalist camp, there is Art Buchwald, who noted: “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”