Materialism is a badly flawed philosophy, at least when taken as a comprehensive explanation of reality. As a partial explanation, it fares much better. I've sometimes used an analogy with the history of physics: Newtonian physics was once seen as offering a complete picture of reality, but then was superseded by quantum physics, which subsumes classical physics while going beyond it. Newton wasn't wrong — he was right in a certain (very large) context — but his description of the world was incomplete and therefore unhelpful in certain areas. Materialism, too, is right in a certain context — it has immense explanatory and descriptive power in dealing with large areas of reality — but it is incomplete and leads its proponents into error when they go too far afield. It, too, needs to be subsumed within a larger system of thought that can address those parts of reality that materialism is unequipped to face.
Materialists often tout the track record of scientific and technological success in recent centuries as proof that materialism works. But this argument misses the point. No serious person denies that materialism works. Classical physics also works; using nothing but Newton's laws, it is possible to chart a course for the moon and land a spacecraft there. But just as classical physics breaks down when dealing with black box radiation or the double slit experiment, so materialism breaks down when dealing with psi phenomena, after-death communications and experiences, and consciousness itself — not to mention spirituality, love, art, and morality, among other things that materialism is at a loss to explain (and prefers to ignore, debunk, belittle, or dismiss). It is not that materialism doesn't work, but that it works only in certain limited (albeit large and important) areas. Outside those areas, it fails. Materialism is like the proverbial drunk looking for a lost item under a lamppost; even though he didn't lose it there, it's the only place where there's enough light to see.
Old Mutt 'n' Jeff cartoon strip illustrating the "streetlight effect"
All of which brings us, naturally, to Silicon Valley billionaires who want to become vampires.
Say what? No, really. There are such people. Peter Thiel, who recently made news as the first openly gay person to address a Republican convention, is one of them. Well, he doesn't actually say he wants to be a vampire. But he does want to extend his life indefinitely, and he hopes to do it with chronic infusions of younger people's blood.
Now, let's just stop and take a look at this little notion. And let's assume it could really work (doubtful). What are the practical implications?
This planet's human population is already growing out of control. The only thing holding it in check is mortality. If everyone became immortal, the population would surge to hopelessly unsustainable levels. Unless, of course, people stopped having children altogether, in which case the present generation would be the last generation. Neither alternative sounds appealing.
But of course the would-be vampire billionaires already know this. They are blissfully unconcerned, because they have no intention of making everybody immortal. Immortality is for the special people, the movers and shakers — you know, them. It's not for the hoi polloi. They can continue dying off as usual. Who will miss them? One hamburger flipper or landscaper is the same as another.
No, the gift of immortality will be enjoyed only by a select few, who already enjoy massively concentrated wealth. But what of the morality of using young people's blood to keep septuagenarians and octogenarians and nonagenarians forever youthful? Pish posh — morality is a fable told to keep the masses in line; it doesn't apply to the superman. What, then, of the sheer creepiness of it? Well, perhaps it is creepy. Perhaps it is even a bit insane. But anything is justified, if the goal is to stave off death.
Because death is the end, utter extinction, eternal oblivion, and it must be postponed as long as possible, no matter the means or the cost.
And here we circle back to materialism. The hopeful vampires think their project makes sense because they can imagine no reality beyond physical reality. They're unconcerned with morality because materialism has taught them that morality is an arbitrary construct. They're willing to go to insane lengths, even to risk social strife and political upheaval, because their number one priority is the perpetuation of the ego — the ego being the facet of the self that is most directly focused on and connected to the tangible physical world.
Now, I'm not saying we should sit back and accept whatever nature wants to do to us. This was the position of doctors who opposed anesthesia because, they thought, God intended man to suffer. It's the position of today's "deep ecologists," who want to undo most or all of the advancements of the scientific era and revert to a pre-technological lifestyle.
But it's one thing to make life better for oneself and others. It's another thing to make the perpetuation of one's own life the be-all and end-all, trumping all other considerations. This impulse, I think, displays both a spiritual poverty and an embarrassing immaturity. Coming to terms with the inevitability of one's earthly demise is a big part of growing up. Adolescents, who typically think of themselves as immortal, are notorious for their self-involved thoughtlessness. The realization of mortality deals a blow to the ego which allows for the development of empathy and concerns larger than self.
Adults who haven't accepted this reality are not really adults in the full sense. They cannot see past the boundaries of the ego. They're blind to a larger and more interesting world.
Could they see farther, they would regard the inevitability of death not as shocking, cruel, and unfair, but as normal and even comforting — a chance to rest after a long earthly struggle and to prepare for further growth and personal evolution. They would prepare themselves mentally and spiritually so as to make their transition as gracefully as possible. And they wouldn't be tempted to batten, leechlike, on the next generation in order to keep their physical bodies going on ... and on ... and on.
If Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that this plan rarely works out well.