Drugs, booze and dead blokes. What happens when we don't pay attention.
There were a few grim pieces of news this week that show that humanity’s relentless advancement is anything but baked in.
The first is that life expectancy in the UK is going backwards:
British adults’ life expectancy has been cut by six months in the biggest reduction in official longevity forecasts.
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which calculates life expectancy on behalf of the UK pension industry, declined to speculate on why longevity is deteriorating for men and women in England and Wales. Some analysts, however, blame austerity and cuts in NHS spending, others point to worsening obesity, dementia and diabetes.
The institute said it now expects men aged 65 to die at 86.9 years, down from its previous estimate of 87.4 years, while women who reach 65 are likely to die at 89.2 years, down from 89.7 years.
The actuaries said the evidence of slowing life expectancy that first emerged around 2010-11 is “a trend as opposed to a blip”.
Falling longevity has accelerated. Last year’s analysis cut forecasted life expectancy by two months. This year it took off another six months.
Compared with 2015, projections for life expectancy are now down by 13 months for men and 14 months for women.
That’s a full year Brits have lost of their lives. Those aggregate statistics feel kind of meaningless – like they don’t apply to you. But they have to apply to somebody.
And as a society, Britain has to face the fact that its citizens are going to enjoy a year less than expected.
(Where’s the rioting and blood on the streets?)
At the same time as all this is going on in the UK, across the ditch in America, life expectancy has also fallen for three years in a row.
This trend has been driven by drug, alcohol and suicide deaths, which have risen to record levels.
That drugs one is alarming. Look at that sudden spike. But this isn’t your hardcore street drugs like heroin and ice. This is opioids and over-the-counter pain killers.
But the suicide rate is tragic as well (and connected). This is one area where you don’t want to be going backwards as a society. But with rural areas being hollowed out economically, rural American men are becoming very vulnerable to tragedy.
Anyway, I guess I wanted to share this because it reinforces the idea that human progress is human-made. For a few hundred years our life expectancy has been steadily advancing.
But there’s no ‘natural law’ driving it higher. It’s a result that has built on the back of economic development and scientific advances in medicine.
Each additional year was a year hard won.
And now, for whatever reason, we’ve reached a point where life expectancy is starting to slip. We are being dragged back towards the primordial ooze from which we came.
And it shows us that we cannot get complacent. We cannot take what we have for granted. We can’t let our leaders get away with pissing away the benefits that our ancestors fought for.
Life is naturally nasty, brutish and short. It’s only our collective efforts that separate our fates from the fates of monkeys.
Let’s not forget that.