"Sit down son." Jerry's mum and dad were on the sofa opposite him. This was his End Day, his sixteenth birthday, and so the day he would be told how long he had to live, the day the law said he had a right to know. His mum was biting her lip, her knuckles were white with the ferocity of her grip on his dad's free hand. His dad held up the piece of paper the government sent three weeks after Jerry was born, but his fingers were trembling, and tears sprang from Jerry's eyes as he began to accept that their trembling grief was like the rumbling of a train that was about to smash him to ruin. "Jesus, Jerry. Do you want to know?" "Yeh dad, yeh, all my mates know. Pete, Donny and the rest are partying, they're all forty years or more. Wilson's got eight years, he's gone crazy." His dad shook his head, the tears on his cheeks glistened like lines drawn through moisture on a window. "You got three my beautiful boy."
Our civilization rests entirely on our not knowing how long we’ve got to live.
If you did know (short of actively taking your own life or being murdered), how differently would you live your life?
Discrimination in this other society would cut along different lines; the haves and have-nots’ fault line would not be money but years remaining. Yet it would also be money, for those with enough years could aspire to and gain enough experience for the top jobs. Job descriptions would specify a minimum End Day for an application to be considered.
The have-nots would form gangs, their bond the brief flame of life that will soon extinguish. These gangs might decide to rob banks, or kill that politician whose guts they hate so much, because the reward now outweighs the risk. Nothing really matters. They are unemployable except in high turnover/low pay jobs for no other good reason than their End Day. They cannot get mortgages or loans as their End Day diminishes their credit rating.
There would be more police, and they would be armed. Curfews would be a fact of life.
The children of the rich that had an early End Day would join the poor; colour and creed would not matter.
There would be ghetto-isation of large swathes of the country, communities would be constituted with those of like End Days. Social mobility would be driven by it.
Government spending would be driven by it.
The hippocratic oath would not apply when the End Day was imminent. The healthcare lottery would derive from the End Day.
Could a woman with a fifty year End Day prove she was more in love with a man with only six years left than he with her? Would he spurn her love to save her the grief of six years hence? And if not, would he love her less for allowing it?
Would ethics or religious teachings preach the immorality or transgression of love between such disparate End Days? Single parent families would be rife as a result of such trysts. Could the state afford it? Would the ‘long-lifers’ begrudge paying taxes for such irresponsibility? There would be a huge number of orphans, assuming sterilisation and abortion hadn’t already been statutory, those ‘short lifers’ looking to leave some mark on the world before it’s taken from them.
With one year to live would you quit work?
With ten years to live would you look up the greasy ladder to the boardroom and wonder if it was worth giving up those final years for?
And yet…..you would care so much more for those around you that you love that did not have so long as you and were desperate to make the most of what they had. You would be a better person.
Or you would be a bitter person, your child delivered with only a three year window, or any window that meant you would bury them.
Suicides would be common, but not among the ‘short-lifers’. They will rage against the dying of the light.
Those with religious belief would be largely unaffected, except the fatalists would have all the proof they needed regarding their interpretation of God’s universe as pre-ordained.
I think we can be thankful we don’t live in that world. But ask yourself:
With fifty years on the clock would you relax, knowing the days were counting down?
And if you are reading this and would like to believe you have forty or fifty years to go, with a fair wind, don’t you already know the days are counting down?
What are you doing about it? It’s later than you think.
Thought provoking I grant you, though not sure I get the argument entirely. Your scenario offers no clue to how such a society came about. In the short term, a big brother society being life’s timekeeper has already, in a sense, happened in Nazi Concentration Camps, though I know the analogy is not 100%. How they met their end is a matter of historical record. That is the only way it could work IMO. It’s just not a vote winner for governments or even despots to put such a thing to their people as a universal pre-requisite: You lose office in the former, and get a grenade shoved unexpectedly down your pants in the latter.
In any society, even totalitarian regimes there have to be winners and losers; someone would have to gain, surely for a society (though not one we would recognise) to continue. How such a world wide consensus might be reached I couldn’t even begin to surmise; though I guess it’s an attractive plot line for near future sci-fi writers.
On the other hand, we all know pretty much when we’re going to die. Statisticians, Insurance Company bean counters et al can pretty much tell you within a few years or so, once you’ve answered a few lifestyle questions. What seems to be vexing you is whether, if such a thing could be known, what would be the subsequent reaction of any individual voluntarily wanting to know the time of their demise down to the very last second? I doubt such knowledge, even if available, would be taken up on any great scale. So once revealed, would it have an impact on society at large? In this case I would think society would carry on much as before. To quote a football adage, ‘no player is bigger than the club’.
But if, and only if….Anarky rulz OK!!
Thanks for the reply!
I hadn’t really thought through how a society would be able to understand to within one year how long somebody had to live, though as you infer, it’s likely to happen as scientific advancement progresses.
If knowledge that this ability got out, there might be a great deal of social pressure for people to understand how long they have, it would begin to raise the questions in people that this post raised in me as I thought about it. Perhaps the power structures (overt or covert depending on how much conspiracy you can take) might want to understand who and who shouldn’t be given great office, and beyond that, might see the economic ramifications of discriminating on ‘End Day’ purity rather than racial purity, as you imply with the Nazis.
I disagree it wouldn’t make much difference, particularly where the End Day wasn’t far off. To know that my son has ten, even twenty five years to live would fundamentally alter my relationship with him, and unless I kept it from him, though my behaviour would surely manifest in some way that would cause him concern, the things I say, the way I am around him, would also alter the way he felt about his own life and what he could and should try to achieve. While there’s any doubt, we cling onto the hope that we’ll have ‘a good innings’, we effectively behave as if we’re immortal. As you say, we probably have a very good idea even now, but not good enough to tip the balance. Nevertheless, it feels like it’s worth asking ourselves what our priorities are, as we would were we in possession of the End Day.