The discovery is a long time coming. I remember reading in history books that way back in the Dark Ages the silly Dark-Ages-people all thought that life was "essentially" a waiting room experience with one good magazine that everyone fought over until they remembered that none of them could read, and then you died and went to heaven.
Then, in the Renaissance, science started, and all the beginner scientists started to believe that life blew. It wasn't until the 1800's before science-greats like Darwin and other guys who actually knew things figured out that life really sucks, as we now know today.
But it is one thing to know that life sucks. It is quite another to know HOW life sucks, or to possess the video. This is where 21st century scientists have it all over 19th century scientists: even though they aren't as smart, there's lots more of them, so when you put them all together they end up knowing more. Besides, they have cell-phones and digital cameras and laptops.
Anyway, here it is. Scientists just learned last month that if you experience long-term hardship, and if you experience it as chronic stress, then your telomeres will shrivel up. This is bad, the scientists say, because telomeres are the tips-of-the-shoelace thingies at the end of your chromosomes that need to be big and long so that your cells can divide and multiply. So it's like, you know, with shriveled telomeres your cells might as well be neutered, and pretty soon the cells you have die without replacements, and so do you.
There's more: they've actually figured out how much shriveling happens. As much shriveling happens in a typical case that we are talking about losing roughly a year of lifespan for each year of stress experienced. Give or take a month or two.
So let's say someone, we'll call him Herbert, was genetically predisposed to live 70 years if his life went as well as it does for normal people. But suppose instead the beginning of his life, for the first 35 years, is a genuine living hell, comparatively speaking. According to our old understanding we would have thought that at least Herbert would have had a second 35 years left to him during which things might start looking up. But now we know that Herbert's telomeres will be entirely useless as of his 35th birthday and Herbert will die of premature old age within days. Or a couple of years. Or he's already dead. Approximately.
Now, some see a silver lining to this discovery. They point out that the telomeres only shrink if you experience the stress. In other words if you don't know you're miserable you won't suffer the ill effects of it. Right, that's it, I could just whack myself up-side my head so hard I don't notice anything at all ever again.
No, there are only two alternatives. Either you're so stupid you not only don't know when you're suffering you also can't fully know when you're having a good time, i.e., you're a fish, metaphorically speaking. Or else you're a sentient being and every year that you suffer you lose that much opportunity to make up for it.
So we may sum up this new discovery as follows. If you're screwed, you're screwed. Unless you're stupid, in which case you're screwed.
Has there ever been a time when we could so clearly see the need for justice as this? Let's stop putting people through genuine living hells, at least until we can find a way to enlarge telomeres.