I was prompted to create a story that forces us to abandon the principle—that ostensible principle we advance, at least—of equality under the law. It's a benchmark which has served our needs for the progress of society to this point through—once again, ostensibly—fair governance. And then there is a footnote in recorded history that a good number of people believe, which marks a point when humanity had been clearly divided into two separate classes with vastly different privileges and benefits. Humans who had been recorded to live for centuries, suddenly had their lives truncated down to 120 years. How, in the transition of such a thing, would a society possibly govern?

And so that led me to telling this story. The 120 year benchmark was simply to form that juxtaposition in the reader's mind, but there is nothing supernatural going on here. But for it all to work, I needed a clear division between all of humanity, such that there are people who reap far greater benefits than others, or as well, suffer far greater evils than others, according to their natural condition. These two classes would have to come to some decisions about what this equality actually means at that point. The world need here is simply to find the logical breaking point where the two classes could no longer realistically be treated as equals; because laws for one class would be abusive to the other class, and vice versa, by the very nature of the classes. And so this is the scenario I came up with to split humanity.

Societal condition

A virus strikes humanity but its only effect is to bind a receptor in our DNA which unlocks a 120 year human life expectancy, oddly like what was promised in Genesis 6:3, but not actually connected.

However, some are immune

A large section of humanity are immune to the virus and maintain ≈ 80 year life span. The difference is noticed by 2035, that tens of thousands of humans are now entering their 105th year, and remaining healthy. It is noticed that the group tends to represent family lines, and the ages reached have far surpassed their forbears. Studying the centenarians, we discover the virus in all of them, and not in people dying of natural causes before 100.

At the time of the story, an age limit is not known, however there are clearly a large set of humans who are living past 105, and a large group who have historically normal lifespans.

The such-and-such law

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." ~ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. I

Governments have no choice but to look at their budgets and try to provide for “seniors” who collect benefits an extra 25 years average, but without knowing when it will end.

Q: How long will laws be able to treat all humans equally?

At what point (in budgetary % is fine) would laws be forced to treat humans with the Methuselahs virus with different laws, or grant special protections for one group over the other based on having a virus?

Note: No pandemic will wall itself in to one country, and to try to make any useful story of such a thing would be impossible. Think "World War Z." Putting the crisis into a national box leaves everyone just saying, "You silly! Just move to... " or "Go get help from... " Thus, the story only works if we're all in the same boat. Sure, we all live in different boats. But not really (UN/WHO/HRC/...)

Story-based votes note:
Please consult (Why is my question "Too Story Based" and how do I get it opened? before assuming this is "story based.") as this has story elements to help your answer. However this is a textbook on-topic world-building question of the form: "What could cause a government to pass such-and-such law given these societal conditions."

I thank you for your patience :)
  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Sep 14 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ This should have been closed, but not for the sake of being too story-based. It should have been closed as not being about worldbuilding as described in the help center. There is no objective, definitive, "right" answer. There is no difference between a normal humman and one infected with the Methusaleh Virus and a newborn baby vs. an adult. In fact, in an ideal world, there's no difference between anybody and anybody. But that's the probem here. ... (*Continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 14 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ ... You need to choose the outcome you want (because there is no right outcome, only that which depends on narrative necessity) and we can help you achieve it. Inviting us to help you choose the outcome is the essense of helping you write your story - which is prohibited in the help center. You write your story, then ask us to help you rationalize wht you chose to write. Please stop asking us to help you write it. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 14 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ As always, I literally have no idea where you see anything asking “what would happen.” The outcome is provided in the question: Humanity has two classes; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Art. I has fallen apart (All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.) My story takes place that world. I’m trying to build it. Nothing more. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 14 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ "What could cause a government to pass such-and-such law given these societal conditions." is asking about a decision a character or organization in your world makes. Questions about the actions of a character in your world whether an individual or organization are explicitly listed as off topic for this site in the help center $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 15 at 20:23

4 Answers 4


There would still have to be "equality under the law," as you put it, but the laws would have to take changing life expectancy into account. You might note that there is significantly different life expectancy in different parts of the US population, yet many laws apply to them all.

The main area where this really does matter seem to be pension and mandatory retirement ages, and rules for health insurance based on the switch from 'working age' to 'pension age.' At first, governments would notice that the average life expectancy is going up, and try to deal with this by shifting retirement ages and pension rules for the entire population. There might also need to be bailouts for companies offering life annuities.

The obvious way to deal with even greater differences would be to apply a health test to all age cutoffs. The test would not be 'is this person a methuselah?' but rather 'is this person too old to work?' Relatively easy for things like Medicare or mandatory retirement ages. Changes might have to be phased in so that people who did plan their retirement under the old rules are not unduly penalized, but as you put the scenario the realization will come over many decades, even generation.

This avoids having laws based on the presence or absence of the genetic marker for methuselahs, which would go against many legal principles. Instead, people below a certain age would have to show medical impairment to get benefits, and this age would go up for the entire population. A 55-year-old immune who worked as a firefighter, a 75-year-old immune with an office job and otherwise good health, a 75-year-old methuselah who worked as an air traffic controller, and a 105-year-old methuselah with an office job would all get tested under the same rules, and they might get the same level of pension eligibility and benefits based on their inability to function in their job any more.


In most of the World it would make little difference. These people are still voters, so would have a strong voice in a usually small demographic. But many places having the potential means little as the population are not dying of old age so much as rampant obesity and other issues. In my locale many people have trouble walking by the time they're fifty, by 60 they're physical wrecks.

Also in most nations outside the First World pensions are pitiful amounts anyway if they even exist. It would just be a good excuse to raise taxes I would think everywhere. How much of that would actually trickle to the pensioners would depend on locale.

Socially I would expect these families to eventually take over everything as they would have more experienced and numerous members. Where instead of just grandparents having a huge impact, there would be great grandparents as well. Assuming they also stay reasonably healthy. If not then they're a huge liability, you'd be changing their nappies into your own old age.


There would have to be some sort of marker that methuselas have that immunes do not. Provided that the marker could be found and readily tested for, governments could reasonably increase the retirement age for all people who do not test immune.

If anyone doesn't want to take the test, fine, they're deemed to be a methuselah until they're tested.

The onus is thus applied to each person to prove that they should have an earlier retirement age due to a shorter expected lifespan.

Anyone who becomes unable to work due to age-related illnesses should also be permitted to retire and receive government benefits, regardless of tests.


Somewhat a frame challenge: equality does not erode, instead present inequality is challenged by a new form of inequality.

In the question, there is an implication that today everyone is equal in front of laws. However, it is quite far from the truth. There are no democracies, today, that truly follow the "one person, one vote" rule. Every democratic legislature is at least a bit corrupt. The laws create inequalities everywhere. They favor and protect some people more than others, systematically.

Most of the rot comes from expensive elections campaigns. The better you are funded, the bigger your chance to get elected. That makes the bedrock for the bias: those whose campaigns are funded by the wealthy are overrepresented in all nominally democratic legislatures simply because they have more resources available to help them get elected.

Then, there is such thing as allegiance. If it is found to be lacking, you won't be funded anymore, and your chance to get re-elected plummets. Over the years and decades, that bends nominally democratic legislatures towards plutocracies.

In practice, the super-wealthy always have more than one vote per person. Sometimes the super-wealthy minority has more actual votes than the whole majority. For example, the US is now considered to be a flawed democracy because of this.

This is how it represents itself:

There were plenty of cases in which policies supported by the wealthy or the big lobbies became law even though they were opposed by the popular majority. (He mentioned a few, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Bush tax cuts and the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall law — which was widely blamed for facilitating the economic collapse of 2007-8 — that were adopted even though they were opposed by the majority of Americans.)

But they found no cases in which a policy with majority support was adopted without additional support by wealthy Americans or organized influence. That’s the key to Gilens’ statement that “only people with money or organized influence matter.”

(Source: https://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2015/05/disturbing-data-rich-and-powerful-get-their-policies-adopted-even-if-opposed/)

This is reflected in every law that matters such as tax laws, property laws, and even in minor transgression whose punishment is a fixed-sum fine:

  • for an average person, it is a transgression to be avoided because the price is too high
  • for a super-wealthy person, it is but a permit that can be purchased afterwards for a small price when compared to income.

Summa summarum: is is not plausible to start from the presupposition that laws and legislature are now equal and bias appears due to Methuselahs virus. They are corrupt now in one way, and the virus adds a new factor that the super-wealthy might see as a threat to status quo that favors them.


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