On the one hand, it makes huge sense for Jeff Bezos to pour millions into a company seeking the secret to eternal life. Karmic reincarnation may only be an outside possibility. But Jeff should hedge against the likelihood that under that scenario, he’s coming back as a Yemeni woman.
Further developments in fauxlanthropy for the Amazon overlord, then, who has decided that death is as inevitable as taxes. Which is to say: not at all inevitable for the likes of him. Bezos was this month reported to be a significant investor in Altos Labs, an age-reversal firm which is on the scientific quest for immortality. Among other expansions, it is thought the firm will now open a lab within the UK, which I think you’ll agree means so much more to our nation than a fair tax contribution from Amazon. You know we’d only spend that shit on social care or the NHS or something, when Jeff can see it’s far better for us to get people on ordinary incomes to pay extra for all that, so that guys like him are freed up to spaff their money on Earth’s most preposterous midlife crises. How else to interpret the fact that this eternal-life news emerged in the very week it was revealed that despite Amazon UK sales increasing by £1.89bn last year, the firm paid just £3.8m more corporation tax?
Anyway, you’ll be aware that the old immortality game is already being played by a number of other tech bros, from Google co-founder Larry Page to Peter Thiel, both of whom have siphoned serious millions into the idea that “death is a problem that can be solved”. Other figures have been linked to firms investigating the benefits of transfusing yourself with the blood of someone younger and poorer (I paraphrase, but only slightly).
Indeed, as he ascended to the astral plane of gazillionaire retirement this year, Bezos quoted Richard Dawkins in his farewell email to Amazon shareholders. “Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at,” they learned. “If living things don’t actively work to prevent it, they would eventually merge with their surroundings and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.”
Far better to live on indefinitely – probably in a vast Lalique test tube – than to log off earthly existence and risk entry to the notional next world, where Bezos could easily be subject to retributive divine justice for all eternity. Or for the time it takes to get a call-back from Amazon customer service; whichever is longer.
As for his other hedges, the form book shows us that Bezos loves to make splashy charity announcements at times he senses a kind of planetary disdain being levelled at him. A couple of months ago, he got straight off his little space rocket and declared that he’d be graciously parting with $200m to launch some new initiative called the Courage and Civility award, which will reward “unifiers and not vilifiers”, and “never ad hominem attacks”. What can you say, other than: well I should hope so, sir! To put things into perspective, Bezos’s wealth increased by $13bn on the single calendar day before he popped to the edge of space for four minutes. Even allowing for the $5.5bn he’d spent on getting his space operation to that point, giving away a couple of hundred million dollars is the equivalent of someone on the average UK salary parting with about £1.30 for charity. It feels insufficiently ad hominem to suggest that Jeff is showing his arse; better to point out that you can actually see that arse from space.
Then again, he has long tended toward what Charles Dickens called telescopic philanthropy – a convenient focus on faraway “good causes” as opposed to the ones on his own doorstep he could fix pretty much immediately. Incredible, really, that a man who steadfastly refused to pay so many of his workers a living wage could ever publicly utter the words: “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel.” Yet here we are.
It’s best to think of Bezos as Phony Stark, the kind of off-brand superhero who could only be thrown up by a planet seemingly incapable of rising to the challenge of itself. We must hope the boffins do manage to grant him eternal life. At his current rate of personal growth, it feels like it will take Jeff that long to work out that charity begins on his home planet – and that philanthropy starts with paying tax.