On Thursday, November 4, 2021, I made the two-hour drive from Tucson, Arizona up to Scottsdale to be interviewed by Luke Burbank for a segment to air in a CBS Sunday Morning primetime special titled “Forever Young: Searching for the Fountain of Youth.” We met at the facilities of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, where a couple hundred people and many pets have had their bodies preserved in liquid nitrogen after their death. The radical idea behind this chilly alternative to burial or cremation is that future breakthroughs and medical technology will someday make it possible to resurrect us.
I became a member of Alcor in December 2007 when I signed a contract after arranging for a life insurance policy that will pay out to the company upon my death. If all goes well, a cryonics standby team will be waiting by my side when I am declared legally dead. They will stabilize my body (a sequence of medical procedures to keep blood and oxygen circulating) while it is cooled and transported to the Alcor facilities in Scottsdale. Once there, the team will preserve my body with cryoprotectants (chemicals to reduce or prevent the damage caused by normal freezing) and then it will be further chilled until it can be stored in liquid nitrogen in a metal dewar. There in the “patient bay” at Alcor, my body will await the future technologies we hope will make resurrection possible.
I was an enthusiast for the future back in 2007 when I signed the contract, a transhumanist in my early thirties interested in radical life extension, the Technological Singularity, and other fantastical, fringe, or emerging technologies and social movements, but I had been interested in cryonics longer, after I read an article about it in Omni Magazine, if I recall correctly. By 2007, I had co-founded a transhumanist club at the University of Arizona in which we hosted presentations and talks, including presentations about cryonics by members of Alcor. I learned that, for me at least, cryonics was an affordable option. To this day, I pay a monthly insurance premium of $21.55 and annual Alcor membership dues of $730 (increasing to $860 in 2022.)
A few years from now when I am writing this (2022), I’ll need to decide if I want to continue as a member of Alcor. That’s when my life insurance policy is up for renewal. Back when I signed the first insurance policy, I was a younger, healthier person. When I enter my fifties, I expect a new life insurance policy will be significantly more expensive. I’m also not nearly as enthusiastic about the future as I used to be. Age and wisdom, maybe, an ongoing pandemic, the threat of social media to mental health and democracy, climate change and global warming, ongoing white supremacy and inequality, and other developments over the past fourteen years… all these have left me much more critical of technology and skeptical of progress.
When it comes to transhumanism and related social movements, I was turned off by rampant racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and other bigotries that leaders and other members failed to address in the early 2010s. Transhumanism to this day has little to say about social justice and equality. Even platitudes are rare. I’m not sure transhumanism or technology are up to the challenge. They only seem to be making things worse.
My concerns about technology and who gets access to the future came up in my interview with Burbank, the correspondent from CBS Sunday Morning, but this conversation was not included in the segment. For example, he asked me about the typical member of Alcor, and I responded that the typical member is generally a white man like me. Cryonics, like other technology sectors and futurist social movements, is not inclusive. Because of my status in society, I have a great deal of privilege, and this includes access to the future, or at least our predominately white male vision of possible futures. We have seen how white supremacy and patriarchy are entrenched everywhere, including in the larger technology sector, and revelations and movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have revealed just how deeply this entrenchment cuts, and how difficult it is to fight against or heal from.
I would love to see more diversity in science, technology, and policy. I would love to see more women, nonbinary, LGBTQ, people of color, people with different abilities, and neurodiverse people involved in cryonics, emerging technologies, and futurism. I would love to see a future where everyone is welcome, where there is room for a spectrum of relationships to technology, where technophobes (for want of a better word) and technophiles can co-exist and make their own decisions about their personal relationship to technology.
I am no longer optimistic that this vision is possible.