A top CIA official called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un a “very rational actor” who doesn’t want a war with the United States, despite a string of provocations that has sent tensions soaring across East Asia.
“The last person who wants conflict on the [Korean peninsula] is Kim Jong-un,” Yong Suk Lee, the deputy assistant director of the CIA’s newly created Korea Mission Center, told a Washington audience Wednesday.
In rare public remarks that appeared to contrast President Trump’s assertion that Mr. Kim is a “madman,” Mr. Lee said the 35-year-old dictator actually “wants what all authoritarian rulers want … to rule for a very long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”
One of the most common objections (or rather knee-jerk reactions) to the goal of radical life extension is the ‘immortal dictators’ argument. If humans can become practically immortal, then surely that will lead to evil dictatorships existing in perpetuity, as the dictators wont die off?
Reading the article quoted above gave me a couple of ideas. Like any sane person, all Kim Jong Un wants to do is apparently live happily and healthily for as long as possible and then to die peacefully in his bed. He therefore would only use nuclear weapons as a last resort, when it was clear he and his regime were not going to live happily ever after.
So if we assume that is a fundamental rational motivation underpinning his actions, what effect would the knowledge that he could ‘live forever’ with advances in life extension research, have on his behaviour and that of his regime?
First of all, one presumes it would make him even more rationally inclined not to risk the premature end of his regime and his own death. That would certainly make any casual use of nuclear weapons on his part even more unlikely.
But would it make his regime even worse, in clamping down on the freedoms of its citizens in order to preserve its survival? Perhaps Kim would be wise to link his own personal survival and his desire to live forever with the continued existence of his brutal dictatorship.
On the other hand, perhaps such regimes would be less likely to get off the ground in the first place if the dictator knows that one day, however distant, he is likely to be deposed through revolution or external war, violently leading to either his imprisonment or ‘premature’ death. What would be the point of Kim Jong living the fine life for even a few decades, enjoying the best food, adoration (at gunpoint), limitless sex etc if he knew that even the poorest North Korean peasants that he currently ruled over would have a chance, unlike him, of living for centuries, as well as possibly benefiting from all the advancements in technology that will arise, barring global catastrophe, in the next centuries? The experience of the last one hundred years would certainly suggest that the life expectancy of brutal dictators is even less than that of a peasant. The disparity might be even more acute in the long run, in an era of radical life extension. To stand the best chance of ‘living forever’, you likely should aim to be wealthy (but not rich enough to stand out), healthy, and to make as few enemies as possible. Kim Jong Un might have the best health care in North Korea, but being contantantly on the edge of nuclear war with the USA is hardly likely to help lhim ead an age defying stress free lifestyle. And being the brutal dictator of the most isolated country on Earth and threatening the total destruction of the most powerful country in the world, is hardly the way to avoid standing out or making enemies. We cannot even be sure perhaps that any radical life extension breakthroughs in the next 20 years would reach Kim. It’s not as if he could simply jet off to a Swiss or Venezuelan clinic for some senescent cell clearance therapy when such clinics start popping up very soon. I also doubt if the North Korean budget has much left over to invent their own life extension therapies after the costs of building a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the entire American nation.
In an age of radical life extension, the lives of brutal dictators will give a new meaning to the phrase ‘nasty, brutal, and short’. What is the point of a few years of (reputed) teenage sex slaves when every Dick and Harry (and Kim) could hope to live into the 23rd century and into an era of abundance, both sexual and economic, with countless adoring sex robots servicing his every need?
Still, even if dictatorships might be less likely to arise, it is conceivable that in 20 years or so, Kim Jong Un is still defying their odds and securely in place as the dear leader of North Korea, and that furthermore life extension technology has become so simple and routine that he himself is benefiting from it and is no longer aging. In such a case, we might also consider what the effects would be on the population, supposing they are allowed or prevented access to the same technologies? If they are allowed them, it would be likely that the populace would be less likely to risk everything in attempting the overthrow of Kim (or any dictatorship). Life extension for all could become the most powerful opium of the masses ever invented. If they were denied, and saw Kim looking forever young year after year, then perhaps they would finally be prompted to start a revolution. Or perhaps the brainwashing of the North Korean state could actually convince the population that the eternal youth of Kim was proof that he is indeed a God.
Another possibility is that the children of dictators might get restless waiting for decades, if not centuries, for their turn at the head of the table. Or perhaps dictatorships are simply not viable over very long periods, at least not with the same dictator, meaning that dictators, instead of continuing in perpetuity, will be more likely to be internally overthrown rather than simply smoothly handing over the reigns to their sons or chosen successors. Not many dictators have relinquished power voluntarily, and not many dictators can avoid repeated assassination attempts or at least plots – something difficult to pull off over the course of several (present) lifetimes.
Another objection to radical life extension often heard is that it will be harder for societal renewal. Society needs the constant generational changes. If this is true, it would surely at least count against the ‘immortal dictators’ objection. Perhaps if Lenin were immortal, it would only have meant that he would have lived to see the economic collapse of the Soviet Union – and a lot sooner than the late 1980s.
In short, no-one could possibly know what impact radical life extension will have on the existence, whether present or future, of brutal dictatorships. I called this objection a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ because it is, like every other so-called ‘objection’ to longevity goals. To be honest, nobody is seriously arguing these points outside of the transhumanist community. Yes, you will read these objects floated about casually in comments underneath news articles or have to listen to friends or acquaintances make them when you mention anything about life extension technology, but we are the only ones currently considering them. They are knee-jerk reactions rather than considered objections, and to be truthful, I suspect merely forms of virtue signalling from people who will be scrambling to take advantage of these technologies when they arrive in the next few years, just as eagerly as you or me. It would take a dictator to stop them. 😉
*Update – I didn’t read any of the following articles before scribbling down my own incoherent thoughts, but the following websites probably did it far better than me :