This is getting a bit messy, let's recap.

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".

You also said that what's new is the idea of retiring at a particular age, in cohorts, and that's kinda true. Only kinda because first, as your Wiki link shows, that idea in its contemporary form appeared more than a hundred years ago; and second, because retiring after a term of service is an ancient custom, going back to the Romans (as usual :-D). The Roman army conscripted young men who served for 25 years after which they retired -- they were released from the military service and given a noticeable sum of money and a plot of land. That practice (conscripting young men for a long term of service with a large payout or an annuity at the end) survived in some armies until the XIX century.

I also disagree with pretty much all of this passage, I don't think it correctly reflects life in pre-industrial societies:

Only a few people lived for many years after becoming physically or mentally decrepit and unable to do productive work; most people declined and died unexpectedly and quickly. The rich and ruling classes grew ever richer and more powerful until their deaths; old kings, generals and businessmen didn't sit around "waiting for death peacefully", they kept doing the same things they had always done, just less vigorously.

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.

Imagine someone old and frail in a village. She lives in a house (or a hut) with her family, many of them her descendants. There is a lot of life going all around her. There is an innumerable number of small tasks which she can do -- watch the grandkids, patch up some clothes, cook something for the workers, fix the hole in the wall, etc. etc. She is not isolated, she continues to be part of her family and part of her community. She always has something to do.

Compare that to an opposite case: someone old and frail living in an apartment in a big city. She lives alone because her single child has his own family and lives far away. The only things she really needs to do is shop for food, cook it (or eat out of the can), and clean the apartment. She doesn't have much of a support network -- the great majority of people she sees every day are strangers. And, of course, there is the idiot box to make the passing of time less painful...

About Luddites -- I agree that "the textile machines priced humans out of the market is a fact". The point, however, is the link between machinery and unemployment -- the link which you asserted in your original comment and what the Luddites really cared about. I doubt they were terrible attached to manual weaving -- what they wanted was a job, sustenance. Both the Luddites and you say that automation causes unemployment and that is empirically not true. Whether it continues to be not true is, of course, a different question.

As to predicting the future, yes, I have a low prior for specific predictions far into the future (50+ years) because I don't think there's any evidence that humans can consistently do that. In this particular case you're not predicting that the usual pattern will continue, but you argue that it will break, so it seems to me the burden of proof is on you to show why that pattern will not hold.

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 driv... (read more)

3VoiceOfRa5yWith the expectation that they'd start a family and farm said plot of land. This is not the same as what we normally think of as retirement.

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.