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How does “The Jetsons fallacy” muddle our longevity plans?

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Anja M
Anja M Sep 11, 2020
If you are wondering what The Jetsons fallacy is, remember the intro of this 60s famous cartoon first. We see a family set in the futuristic out-of-Earth space city, in the time some hundred years from the original airing time of the show. The family is almost fully traditional, comprised of a working father, housewife mother, teen daughter, elementary school son, dog, and a robot maid. But, is the family as we know it possible with such a prolonged life span? The fallacy lies in presupposing just that.

Even today, with the various gender and sexual revolutions, we witness a change in the structure and thus meaning of ‘family’. But with a much-prolonged life, here are a couple of scenarios: couples would perhaps witness a much higher rate of divorces, willing to live through more qualitatively (at least at first sight) now they have a life in more quantity. But it doesn’t stop there: perhaps they would still have more children with their new partners, which would in return be probably much, much younger than their first-marriage kids. Freezing eggs and using sperm donors on a much more regular bases is something to be expected, as well. Why also not children adoption. “We may be living in a world where the family has itself become a kind of a cloud, a networked or latticed arrangement of relationships”, this article on the topic says.

But another very important highlight of this article is this: “Why think about family composition when we’re talking about longevity? Because, in addition to being an inventive species, we are a caregiving species. Our relationships matter. The care we do—or do not—give one another is a big factor in how long we live […] How we experience life as we approach 120 or 150 depends on the technology we create and our access to that technology, but it also depends on our access to people we love and who love us back.”

So, if a nucleus of family radically disintegrates or changes, I pose the same question as in the previous brainstorming session: Do you think we would be able to cope parallelly well with our mental and physical longevity if we do not reframe our understanding of these before we actually get to “live long and prosper”?
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The concept of family is changing through history

Povilas S
Povilas S Dec 18, 2020
I want to expand more on something that’s already mentioned in the description of the session, that is - society’s moral values are ever-changing. Or maybe it's more truthful to say that the emphasis shifts from one value towards the others, then sometimes back again, etc. And family concept is not an exception. Pre-modern human societies were 85% polygynous. Later monogamous marriage became dominant and in many places even enforced by law. Recently things are changing again to a new and rather peculiar direction - gay marriage is getting more and more widely accepted, at least in the west, while some decades ago this was hard to imagine. Values shifted from more traditional ones towards human rights. Also, open relationships, solitary living, and women’s choice to have no children are becoming more common in the western and probably to some extent in the eastern world as well. In this socio-historic light, it seems that traditional family structure is more a byproduct of cultural circumstances rather than something having an intrinsic value.

Similar conclusion could be derived by looking at the topic from biological point of view. Monogamy is beneficial for humans in a sense that it increases the chances of offspring survival, but there’s hardly anything inherent in human nature about it. About 90 percent of all mammals and most primates [2],[3] are non-monogamous, so there’s no substantial reason to believe that humans are an exception to this. This is also supported by frequent infidelity among humans, even though it’s largely considered immoral. This article argues that monogamous marriage is a purposeful cultural phenomenon that has evolved in western societies and then spread across the globe. It reduces crime rate, increases economic productivity, and affects other factors important for forming a successful and competitive socio-economic unit. It has its benefits and is useful in particular circumstances and for particular aims, but its disadvantages become clear in other contexts.

Therefore if traditional family is a societal construct, serving its purpose and fitting into a certain frame of social circumstances and cultural values, this puts a different perspective on the topic. Quality relationships and human connection are without a doubt very important for both psychological and physical well-being, but the way social units, including families, are organized is not necessarily directly responsible for that. It’s more likely that this reflects societal and cultural needs and values of a particular time. So whatever circumstances the future will bring, family structure might be adapted to those in order to serve the society in the most efficient and beneficial way. To be loved and be able to love is a primary human need, but whether it will be realized in a traditional or non-traditional family or in a society that has a totally different or no concept of family at all is of secondary importance.

In distant or not so distant future the concept of a traditional family might become totally redundant or replaced by other societal constructs. For example, children might be viewed as being a responsibility of the whole community, not of the family, the whole society might literally become one big family, the idea that now seems like an infantile utopia. Another extreme scenario is that of people being engineered with predetermined qualities and as a result of that not being born in a natural way anymore. Society might decide that it’s better to bring people, that are resilient to physical diseases, mental illnesses, and other “flaws”, to life in an artificial way rather than go on with the natural way of reproducing. And then the individual that is not born from and to a father and a mother would have no natural grounds to belong to a family. Of course, the latter scenario seems a bit dystopic now, but this is again just to illustrate the idea that family is mostly a social construct and that construct changes together with society’s values and collective understanding and it’s not so easy to predict where those will lean in the future. A particular family structure might not be that important and in certain circumstances even an obstacle for human well-being.

[1]Clutton-Brock T.H. (1989). ‘Review lecture: mammalian mating systems.' Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 236: 339–372

A sense of belonging

J. Sep 13, 2020
As a member of a highly connected family, I am glad you started this session. The traditional family you described is the foundation of our society, at least in a biological and religious sense. But, at the same time, we witness families falling apart, dysfunctional marriages, or siblings full of hate to each other. Things do not always work out perfectly and that is ok. But how beneficial is it to have a disintegrated family in comparison to not have a family at all? Is there something else responsible for our happiness and longer life? The study showed that loneliness could lead to functional decline, cognitive impairment, and even coronary diseases in older people, leading to premature death. Comparatively, accompanied people lived a statistically longer life [1]. Other researchers stated, based on the extremely old population of Sardinia, Italy, that highly sociable people and connected families, together with physical activity, are responsible for their longevity [2]. Few other studies confirmed the same [3]. So yes, families could give a significant contribution to our longevity. But, what makes it interesting is the fact that 43 % of people over the age of 60 feel the lack of companionship – and they usually have families, too. I see it this way. The psychological impact of longevity could be both, devastating or incredibly uplifting, which I discussed in the other session [4]. The character and the society will be the ones to determine the outcome. Sociable people, compared to asocial ones, will always find it easier to be accompanied. But if we consider that, at the moment, almost half of the 60+ people feel isolated and alone, it can't get much worse. The lack of familiar faces and emotions are already taking high tolls. Families fall apart and older people sooner or later become a burden for their kids. If the future can bring bigger families, more friendship opportunities, more kids, easier and more realistic virtual connection, longer healthspans, easier medical prevention, and treatments of illnesses, it could turn things beneficial for everyone. Asocial people would find it easier to date, contribute, and be a part of some society. Families would find new ways to feel connected, even when far apart. Care for older family members could become unnecessary or much easier, resulting in more time spent together and happier relations between parents and their children. It's just my perspective. Happy families will always be alike, and the unhappy ones will always be unhappy in their way. But to give care (and live longer?), you just need a companion you care about. Can it be that easy? References: [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4383762/ [2] https://www.mpg.de/14064449/children-influence-parents-life-expectancy [3] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/parents-live-longer-more-time-spend-them-study-claims-a7627031.html [4] https://brainstorming.com/sessions/what-are-some-valid-objections-(and-their-counterarguments)-to-extreme-human-lifespan-extension/47
Anja M
Anja M7 months ago
Juran, thank you for a not just a scientific, but also a personal contribution, I think for these topics they are equally important. :) Yes, I think your paragraph before the last conveys the point. I think the main problem of old people's loneliness is the lack of those everyday talks and tit-bits of common information about their loved ones. Additionally, if they have some sort of a more serious disease, and with it a disproportionate care and attention from their families, it gets worse. So, if longevity does not only imply longer physical life, but also an adequate maturity level, yes, the scenario you mention should solve the problem to a great extent. Meaning, it also depends on how in such a (for now still a more SF scenario of such a prolonged life) scenario the notion of "relationship" will change.
J.7 months ago
I agree. Let's hope the concept of love will never change and will always require/extort more than a video call :D

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