Thought experiment. Imagine some cosmic event renders all humans sterile. After a number of decades pass, humankind literally enters a Golden Age, with an exclusively senior population. Although, ‘senior’ might lose its current meaning when the youngest among us is 64.
I wonder if those in good health will resent the burden of care imposed by those in poor health. Or whether survivors will pull ranks and tend each other like a band of refugees. Or if each, one by one, sets sail on a proverbial ice flow.
Will survivors become inured to death, or despair under its immanence? Wonder at the stars? Savour the fruits of the earth? Or be too distracted by the burden of survival — bent both by age and by the labour of procuring food, shelter, and water — to wonder much at all? Will life be a blessing, a curse, or a series of days that are what they are, sometimes better, sometimes worse?
And what will be missing? The smell of a newborn, children’s laughter. Although, some younger survivors are children of the older, and most of these will bury their parents. The rest will bury each other until the remnants lay down to leave their bones exposed.
Some will say, it’s better this way. Spare children a life of suffering and the Earth from human plunder. Others will say, it’s a terrible loss. Life has its share of sorrows, yes, but also of joy. Humans have done terrible things, yes, but also very fine things.
With humans gone the lion will not lay down with the lamb. The lion will eat the lamb, as it always has. Animals will fight for resources and sexual access as they always have. The struggle for survival will still be a struggle. Harsh winters, drought, famine, predation, and disease will all take their toll. And when the world does come to an end, it’ll just be without us.
Ah yes, but we know better, some will say. And others ask what difference knowing better makes. Still others, what ‘knowing better’ means.
Exiting my thought experiment, a newborn cries. Assuming she survives childhood, she’ll very likely see 64. And, but for the swell of younger generations ageing in her wake, how does her life differ from the band of senior-survivors I’ve sketched?