WTF?! is a new MONTAG.WTF series that imagines which of today’s ways of life will lead future generations to scratch their heads and exclaim “WTF were they thinking?!”

Just as we look back at medical surgery in the 18th century and declare it a horrorshow of butchery, and laugh uproariously at early attempts at powered flight, our antecedents will regard plenty of what we think of as normal as absurd.

In keeping with this Issue’s theme of “Better Bodies”, we’ll start by looking at how healthcare is going to change - and make some guesses at what they’ll find ridiculous about what we did to our bodies…


WTF?!... Handing out antibiotics like candy

In a weird way, if there are future generations left to gnash their teeth at the stupidity of humans today, we ought to be grateful - because it means that humanity will have dodged one almighty bullet.

Scientific American calls it a “problem.” Some in the scientific community are calling it a “crisis”, and some journalists in the hardest-hit parts of the world are calling it a “disaster.”

Whatever it is, the growing resistance in bacteria to antibiotics is going to have a terminal impact on a lot of lives quite soon, unless we find another way to bump off bad bacteria in our bodies.

"Bacteria resistant to Antibiotics," via By Dr Graham Beards

Our future selves will shake their heads. “They had it coming,” they’ll say, with a roll of their augmented eyes. “The bacteria was doing exactly what it was designed to do: adapt and survive,” they’ll muse over virtual reality chatrooms.

“WTF were they doing dispensing these amazing antibiotics so freely? Probably the same reason they burnt all the fossil fuels,” they’ll ponder, as they zip off for a holiday on the moon via sky-elevator.

Superbugs that are ambivalent to antibiotics already exist: that’s why hospital corridors are cluttered with hand sanitiser at every turn. The idea that tuberculosis or typhoid might become resistant could mean we face the Black Death 2.0 sooner rather than later.

The idea that tuberculosis or typhoid might become resistant could mean we face the Black Death 2.0 sooner rather than later.

The dumbest part of all this is that the hindsight of future humans isn't even needed here: it’s been obvious for a long time that antibiotics are being over-prescribed, abused and handed out for things like colds and flu - viral infections that antibiotics literally can’t touch.

As usual, we have ourselves to blame. And a bit like how bacteria become resistant to what kills them, our antecedents might just be need to be genetically resistant to the superbugs to become the last ones standing.

Either way, unless we develop some new antibiotics sharpish, or figure out who to harness Bacteriophages - viruses that kill bacteria - the future is going to look back on our world very dimly indeed.


WTF?! Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

Cancer is, you know, big. About half of us will get it, and about a quarter of us will die because of it.

And cancer is scary: anyone who’s witnessed someone they love fight a brave battle might even start to feel a weird empathy for social media users who scream “#fuckcancer :(“ into the endless void of the internet.

Incidentally, the all-pervading fear of cancer turns out to be the tastiest of clickbait: below are just a small selection of Daily Mail Online stories about cancer from one 24-hour period.

Cancer treatment has, of course, improved dramatically recently, which can be attributed to a combination of novel treatments and early detection. And the blunt instrument that is chemotherapy can often completely cure some common cancers like testicular cancer - but the hardest part to fathom about cancer is our general struggle against the ravages of it, compared to other disease.

That’s what our antecedents will think too - and they’ll cartoonishly rub their sparkling, perfectly healthy eyes in astonishment when they learn that the best method we came up with to combat it was a combination of poison, radiation, some freakishly expensive experimental drugs, and lots of crossed fingers.

The possible solution comes in the form of scientists being able to control what sounds like the line-up at a provincial death metal gig: Gene P53, Death Receptor 5 and TRAIL.

The near future offers a lot of hope: Targeted cancer therapies will carefully pinpoint the root of cancer at a cellular level. Cells become cancerous when they mutate uncontrollably and become A Big Problem.

The possible solution comes in the form of scientists being able to control what sounds like the line-up at a provincial death metal gig: Gene P53, Death Receptor 5 and TRAIL.

The idea is fairly simple, and yet obscenely hard: gene p53 controls genes inside our cells, and has the ability to trigger the genes Death Receptor 5 and TRAIL, which tell a cell to die, in order to make way for new ones. In cancerous cells, p53 often fails and the damaged cell keeps on growing. If a new drug could switch p53 back on, cancer could be halted.

Even more cunning will be a successful version of immunotherapy, where the body’s own immune system, like Henry Hill in Goodfellas, is convinced to turn against the organisation it lives within, and kill off the cancerous cells.

Once we figure out a way of denying cancer victory against such a huge percentage of humanity, we'll need to figure out where to put all these extra people - but that's another problem.


WTF?! - Circumcision

Oh boy, this one might look interesting to future generations.

And “oh boy” indeed: as recently as 2010, in the United States, 77% of baby boys had their foreskins cut off. It’s hard to imagine future history classes not degenerating into giggles when the robot teacher explains that pieces of babes’ penises were commonly removed for reasons that amount, on the whole, suspiciously sound like superstition.

Or will they?

In the USA, at least, all this snipping-and-screaming is a combination of out-of-step medical guidance, and traditional religious and cultural reasons. But the American Academy of Pediatrics actively recommends circumcision, apparently deciding that this was just one flap of skin that nature got wrong, and internationally, circumcision is commonly practiced by a huge number of religions and cultures.

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As odd as it sounds, and perhaps because of deep and long-held cultural traditions, an international consensus on the benefits of circumcision has not been found. At the very least, there is agreement that, generally, any health benefits are negligible for most people – although it is of use in areas with high HIV infection rates.

Either way, our future families may raise an eyebrow at the fact that a third of the world’s men have had their genitals deliberately bloodied and bandaged before they were old enough to say “yes,” “no,” or, “hell, no, get that scalpel away from my junk.”

Maybe in the future it’ll still be happening, but they’ll use special penis lasers and do it more painlessly.


WTF?! Death itself

Finally, when it comes to finding cures, the biggest and most pressing health issue of all is not necessarily off the table - or the mortuary slab, to be precise. Because death itself could essentially become a lifestyle choice (albeit potentially a very final one). Humanity may one day look back as us with bewilderment: "they used to... stop being alive?"

The Battle Against Death has already begun, and its poster boy is Trump-lovin', Paypal-foundin', Bond-Villain-IRL Peter Thiel, who, when he’s not using a Hulk Hogan hand-puppet to dispose of media empires he doesn’t care for, is quite interested in living forever.

And when I say “quite interested,” I mean that he’s generating the kind of headlines that suggest he’s either aiming to become some sort of Human Overlord, or that headline writers have been listening to a lot of Metallica:

PETER THIEL WANTS TO INJECT HIMSELF WITH YOUNG PEOPLE’S BLOOD

No Death, No Taxes

Peter Thiel Wants You to Get Angry About Death

With his hacker’s mind and startup-founder mentality, he essentially says that it’s us who are strange – by wimping out of killing death, whilst ignoring the inevitability of it. Or, as he told inc.com, “The way we deal with mortality is through some strange combination of acceptance and mortality.”

Still, like Peter, there’s reasons to be cheerful: we can learn from plenty of living things that have been cheating death for a very long time. And through a combination of organ re-growth, DNA fiddling and cell-bamboozling, we might be able to last a long time as well.

Fancy splicing some jellyfish DNA into your own? The Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish has the ability to live forever - but, you know, only if it really wants to. Basically, it can hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete and reboot itself: refreshing all its cells to its infant state, and starting all over again.

But is it the same jellyfish?, you ask, furiously. Well - genetically, yes. Whether you’d carry all your memories with you if you turned yourself off and on again is a different story – but if the same ability could be applied to individual organs in the body, you’d be laughing (forever).

In the end, death might really become a choice - albeit most likely for the rich. And if the people who will live forever are the kind of people who are popping up now on The Rich Kids Of Instagram, would you even want to spend eternity with them anyway?

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