Researchers recently published a study on attitudes to longevity that is reminiscent of the 2013 Pew survey. When asked, people want to live a little longer than their neighbors, at the high end of the normal life span for old individuals today. When asked how long they want to live given the guarantee of perfect health, people pick a number close to the maximum recorded human life span. This sounds like a collusion between the instinctive desires for first conformity and secondly hierarchy, deeply entwined with the human condition, present in all of our primate cousins, a self-sabotaging gift from our evolutionary heritage. We are hardwired to feel comfortable in a hierarchical social structure. We desire to be higher in the hierarchy than those around us, yet not so high that we are non-conforming.
One might argue that the interaction between the need for hierarchy and need for conformity is also at the root of the essential conservatism in human nature: the urge to preserve the present state of the world, to change it as little as possible. Given a teacup, ambition is restrained to the safe, conformist goal of two teacups – rather than, say, the disruptive
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