“It is every citizen’s final duty to go into the tanks and become one with all the people.”Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
As a young kid, my parents would often reference their age as a sign that their opinions held weight, that they should be obeyed, and that their logic was more sound than mine. Their experiences throughout life had led them, of course, to believe that their reasoning was more robust than that of a 7 year old child who thinks picking up all the toys doesn’t necessarily need to be done “this” particular moment. As many of us know though, not all experiences are good or pleasant. Least of all the realization I had throughout young adulthood that as illogical as my parents seemed at times as a kid, the harsh reality was that they were even dumber than I imagined.
The quote above from science fiction hints at a facet of material existence we sometimes forget in the Baby Boomers’ America of abundance (for the wealthy). Faced with survival on an alien world, the colonists of Chiron recycled the organic matter of their dead rather than bury them to preserve the precious resources so that the colony could subsist. America is not a Confucian country, but often acts like one in the privilege of its elders. In a world where nations are increasingly choosing young faces in their 30s and 40s, the most powerful political and economic figures in America are all complete geezers in their mid to late 70s. America’s arch-grandparents Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Warren Buffet, and Charles Koch command considerable wealth and power, and hence America cannot seem to escape a zombified Reaganism, the influence of a decrepit Christianity, nor the ghosts of the Confederate States of America.
Warren Buffet recently said during his company’s shareholder meeting (while sipping a Coca-Cola, in perfect branding) that if he considered any era of time and any polity within it, he would choose today’s America to be born. This quote captures perfectly the spellbinding power of mythology that has entranced a large portion of our society. Someone ought to point out to Warren that no fewer than 30 countries have a better infant mortality rate than the US (meaning Warren would literally choose a higher likelihood of his own death), a plethora have more efficient healthcare systems (meaning his parents won’t be driven to poverty by his own birth), and a fair number have lower child poverty rates (I’m not sure Warren would “choose” to be a black child in Chicago, but perhaps reincarnation could take care of that). So I’ll take Finland, thank you.
A common moral commandment throughout human history has been to “Respect your elders”. America however, seems to have taken it to the extreme. While I exercise nearly every day and eat a healthy diet, my health insurance premiums are dragged higher by the largest generation in American history who drank, smoked, and ate enough Big Macs to put Anheuser-Busch, Marlboro, and McDonalds on the map. The inequity is tangible as my $500 per month student loan bill. I often hear fellow liberals tremble at the thought of cuts to Social Security and Medicare. I would ask, why do you care? These byzantine edifices of social support were created by and for the elderly , and subsequently used as a piggy bank and destroyed by and for the elderly.
The generation that made Ayn Rand mainstream ought to live with their choices as they’ve asked me to live with mine. After all, when Social Security began the average life expectancy was far lower than today’s upper-70s (if you’re wealthy, it’s even higher) and the number of expected beneficiaries was much lower (the Greatest Generation truly outshines all others). It is simple mathematics to see that the largest generation in American history retiring would create a fiscal crisis unlike any other. My grandparents will be fine. While yours were sweating about dialysis and medical bills, mine started his own company at 65 ! I can’t think of anything more American than an America that puts us in control of our own destinies as we age. As anyone that has read Atlas Shrugged would know, society is made up of makers and takers (as I write this, the treasury announced billions more in pandemic relief to the financial sector). It’s only fitting that the greatest users of social programs ought to pay their fair share for them, especially when one considers their share of the national wealth. Just make sure you leave your wine cellar to me in the inheritance. If the rest of America can stay in crappy jobs for the health insurance, our seniors can too.
I’ve often heard it claimed that ageism is rampant in workplaces and it’s difficult to get a job if you are elderly. Why not take a cue from the millennials they claim are babied by participation trophies and ask their parents for resume help? Oh, parents are dead? Ouija boards are cheap. Need help applying to Target because the personality test keeps failing you? Might want to think about if you put the right answer for “I can work independently with little to no supervision” or “I would steal if no one was looking”. Also, get in line behind the other 20 people in my family that can’t adjust their pop-up blockers without my help. Starbucks didn’t work out because you couldn’t remember what a Macchiato was or couldn’t handle the rude customers? There’s always basket weaving, but you ought to do it soon before the millennial that has a college degree in it gets there first. The exhilaration of entrepreneurship! If you’re out of work and want to make a difference, might I suggest Peace Corps? I’m sure South Americans will enjoy hearing your rationale for being a Reagan Democrat. The freer the markets, the freer the people, after all.
The nexus of privilege itself, the United States Congress, has been beset by calls from its younger members to allow remote meetings and remote voting but the “flip phone caucus” would have so much difficulty with it that it’s been reported to be a non-starter. It’s not hard to see who the culprits are (hint: the one from San Francisco is one of them, ironically). News flash: if you don’t know how to adjust your smartphone privacy settings, you aren’t qualified to make laws that affect people who do and you’re jeopardizing national security.
For a party run by old white guys, I have to give Republicans credit here for being forward-thinking. The Lt. Governor of Texas said about the state reopening for business that “some things are more important than living” and that he would be happy to give his life to ensure his grandchildren would have a “country” to come back to. Amen, Dan. Let’s not get distracted by Dominionist thinking about the end of the world being close at hand (rather than just predicting the rapture, they seem intent on bringing it about) and remember that this is all the prologue to eternal life in heaven (personally these days, I might prefer to be reincarnated as a plant). I couldn’t think of a better demonstration of solidarity than for our seniors to be on the front lines risking their lives to defend their idea of America and make sure I get the right discounts on avocados at the checkout counter. After all, that money spent on avocados could be going to a house down payment.
I have a better proposal for our nation’s seniors who feel the urge to manifest their “wisdom” through politics: retire to the South Pacific. Why not Florida? Well, they have enough old folks already. I’m not sure The Villages can fit anymore people, and I’m not sponsored by the golf cart business. Everyone wins! You can free up the housing market in Los Angeles for young people that want to have kids, help island nations bring wealth to their communities, and experience these beautiful places for the rest of us while they’re still there. Don’t believe in climate change? Perfect! The rising water won’t bother you then. Keep Calm and Carry On Watching Cable News. There’s nothing more American than showing resilience during a crisis, don’t let coronavirus protesters desperate for a haircut mislead you. Don’t worry about voting, young people can handle it. We’ll make an app, or something.
Coronavirus will teach us many lessons, but I hope one of them is that deference to elders ought to be as dead as Confucius. Leave us younger people to sink or swim on our own. Let us take the reins and run things to see if we can match up to your greatness. It’ll help us build some of that character you’ve been telling us we need. That’s what you want, right?