As I watched a television news program on Sunday evening, it occurred to me that whoever said nothing is certain except death and taxes didn’t reckon with either modern politics or modern science.
That’s understandable if Benjamin Franklin really was the first to make that often-quoted observation. I found what seems like a well-reasoned online blog that says Franklin wrote in 1789 that “Our new Constitution is now established and has an appearance that promises permanency, but in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.’’
The blog went on, though, to cite the Yale Book of Quotations as suggesting Christopher Bullock made the comment in 1716 and Edward Ward said it in 1724. Another online source said Mark Twain or Daniel Dafoe said it first. So just who does a person trust? I’m going with Ben Franklin until somebody proves me wrong. Old Ben helped get us this far, after all.
But Franklin couldn’t have known how politically appealing tax cuts would become. I mean, most people still pay federal income tax and state sales tax and local property and other taxes, but I’ve read plenty of well documented stories that show pretty convincingly that a fair number of people with quite a bit of money pay little or no tax. Taxes aren’t quite as certain as I once thought.
Had Franklin seen tax cuts coming, he might have said “in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death.’’ He probably would have thought himself on solid ground there, unless he’d been sitting with me watching “60 Minutes’’ last Sunday. Had he been watching that program, Franklin would have seen a piece about a Harvard Medical School researcher who, according to the program introduction, “is working to make humans immune to all viruses, eliminate genetic diseases and reverse the aging process.’’ Well, I tell you, that’s a researcher with a full plate.
The reverse aging thing, the researcher told Pelley, has “been proven about eight different ways in animals where you can get, you know, faster reaction times or, you know, cognitive or repair of damaged tissues.’’
And get this, from a transcript I found online:
Pelley: “What’s the time horizon on age reversal in humans?’’
Researcher: “That’s in clinical trials right now in dogs. And so, that veterinary product might be a couple of years away, and then that takes another 10 years to get through the human clinical trials.’’
Reversing aging in dogs seems a particularly worthwhile effort.
I’m no scientist, but making humans immune to virus, eliminating genetic diseases and reversing the effects of aging? That would take some certainty out of death. People would continue to die, I’m sure, unless and until researchers can eliminate accidents and murders and so forth. But is it possible that some day in the future some people will not die? Boy, does that raise a galvanized pail full of issues, huh?
Eliminating genetic diseases has to be a good thing, right? What a way to improve both quality and quantity of life for many, many people. And without knowing details, I’m aware that researchers have made many breakthroughs in genetic changes and that they continue to work toward others.
Making humans immune to all viruses sounds good, too. Over time, science has come up with ways to provide immunity against many, but not all, viruses. To never have even so much as a common cold, not ever again, is pretty attractive.
Reverse aging? My first thought was of that Fitzgerald story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.’’ Benjamin is born old and grows younger and younger through his life. I pictured me, 75 years old, out of shape, two artificial shoulders, no appendix, bad hearing. A treatment or two and, what, I’m young again without a paunch or hearing aids? Shoulders of a 20-year old? Able to stack hay the whole day long?
I approve of research and of seeking knowledge of the world. I have a hard time imagining a world in which death isn’t a certainty. I wonder what lives we’d all lead if we never had to think of it coming to an end.