Apologies for the late reply.

The original disagreement was you saying "The concept of retirement is ... fairly new" and me disagreeing. I still think that sentence is plainly false for most sane values of "retirement".

The concept of retirement isn't new. But the phenomenon of mass and/or purely age-based retirement is new. My original comment may have been unclear about this. I never intended to imply that the concept itself was new and retirement completely unheard-of; but it was until recently very rare and not a significant driver of social change. There wasn't much point in talking about "retirees" as a group with particular needs or behaviors.

Only kinda because first, as your Wiki link shows, that idea in its contemporary form appeared more than a hundred years ago;

I'm counting that as "new". (Also, in most of the world, it appeared much later, almost within living memory.) My original point in mentioning retirement was that it's not a universal, common, or necessary feature of human societies, it might plausibly disappear again in the next century, and so it might be a bad model for deathist attitudes.

and second, because retiring after a term of service is an ancient custom, going back to the Romans (as usual :-D).

I thought Roman soldier retirement was more a change of career: they took up farming and settlement instead. But maybe they did so with a nice pension that let slaves do all the work. So I concede that yes, this is a good example of widely practiced retirement, and there may well be others. The introduction of retirement in the 19th century wasn't a unique invention. But I don't think this detracts from my original point, that such retirement is uncommon and likely to disappear again in the future.

Going back to the question of why contemporary retirees are... problematic, let me suggest what I think is a standard explanation -- the main cause is the breakdown of the extended family and the alienating character of cities.

I don't think this and the following passages contradict what I said. People didn't retire in the sense of not doing anything productive; they just did other things, and maybe less of them, as they became less capable over the years. Modern retirement is a new phenomenon.

Both the Luddites and you say that automation causes unemployment and that is empirically not true.

I disagree.

Automation causes, almost tautologically, job loss. Whether there are enough other jobs, pre-existing or created, to avoid unemployment is a separate question. Until today there automation has been insufficient to cause high unemployment. I believe that in the next 50 years there is likely to come an inflection point after so many jobs will be automated away, so quickly, that the market will not be able to keep up (even if in a much longer term more jobs might be created again), and societies will have to choose some non-market answers to letting people live without earning money.

I think it's that dreaded point in the conversation when we actually have to start defining things :-/ We probably have a different idea of what the word "retirement" means.

Let me throw in a few edge examples.

Alice has a hobby farm. She mostly lives off her savings with the farm providing occasional addtional income. Is she retired?

Bill has the last name of Gates. Is he retired?

Charlie has some money, but he spends his days day-trading the financial markets for fun and profit. He doesn't have to do this, but he likes the excitement. Is he retired... (read more)

Why people want to die

by PhilGoetz 1 min read24th Aug 2015175 comments


Over and over again, someones says that living for a very long time would be a bad thing, and then some futurist tries to persuade them that their reasoning is faulty.  They tell them that they think that way now, but they'll change their minds when they're older.

The thing is, I don't see that happening.  I live in a small town full of retirees, and those few I've asked about it are waiting for death peacefully.  When I ask them about their ambitions, or things they still want to accomplish, they have none.

Suppose that people mean what they say.  Why do they want to die?

The reason is obvious if you just watch them for a few years.  They have nothing to live for.  They have a great deal of free time, but nothing they really want to do with it.  They like visiting friends and relatives, but only so often.  The women knit.  The men do yardwork.  They both work in their gardens and watch a lot of TV.  This observational sample is much larger than the few people I've asked.

You folks on LessWrong have lots of interests.  You want to understand math, write stories, create start-ups, optimize your lives.

But face it.  You're weird.  And I mean that in a bad way, evolutionarily speaking.  How many of you have kids?

Damn few.  The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive.  It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring.  A well-adapted human cares above all about sex, love, family, and friends, and isn't distracted from those things by an ADD-ish fascination with type theory.  That's why they probably have more sex, love, and friends than you do.

Most people do not have open-ended interests the way LWers do.  If they have a hobby, it's something repetitive like fly-fishing or needlepoint that doesn't provide an endless frontier for discovery.  They marry, they have kids, the kids grow up, they have grandkids, and they're done.  If you ask them what the best thing in their life was, they'll say it was having kids.  If you ask if they'd do it again, they'll laugh and say absolutely not.

We could get into a long argument over the evolution of aging, and whether people would remain eager to have kids if they remained physically young.  Maybe some would.  Some would not, though.  Many young parents are looking forward to the day their kids leave.

A lot of interests in life are passing.  You fall in love with a hobby, you learn it, you do it for a few years, then you get tired of it.  The things that were fascinating when you were six hold no magic for you now.  Pick up a toy soldier and try to play with it.  You can't.  Skateboarding seems awesome for about five years, and then everyone except Tony Hawk gets tired of it.

Having kids might be like that for some people.  Thing is, it's literally the only thing humans have evolved to be interested in.  Once you're tired of that, you're done.  If some of you want to keep going, that's an accidental by-product of evolution.  And there was no evolutionary pressure to exempt it from the common waning of interest with long exposure.

The way to convert deathists isn't to argue with them, but to get them interested in something.  Twist them the way you're twisted.