No thing reveals the fate of a nation more than the plight of its old. In America, at the dawn of the 21st century, people who sought expansion of personal horizons and independence are suddenly finding themselves confined and utterly dependent.
Doubling the trouble is the tendency of the utterly feeble to rely on the decrepit twin highwaymen of our political system – to wit, the Republican Party and its bastard sibling, the Tea Party – to cling to privilege and to restore a lost golden age that never was. This is not to say that the Democratic Party lacks its own deficiencies. But at least the Democratic Party contains the diversity of microbes necessary to digest change and excrete failure through the natural family processes of internal bickering, back-stabbing, inheritance hunting, and deathbed watching.
Through all the bitterness over the Affordable Care Act, I was guilty of not being sufficiently livid at the obstructionists who spent untold effort trying to prevent, overturn, repeal, slander, and otherwise block implementation of health reform. That is until I witnessed first-hand the desperation of the old and uninsured who need good information and more rational and fair health insurance coverage. To the dimwits who fought the Affordable Care Act tooth and nail with every underhanded deceit known to man, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for calling it Obamacare. You have insured that one of the most significant advancements in health services in this country will be forever linked with the president whom you refused to give a chance and the Democratic Party, which sacrificed much to hold the tiller firmly during a gale of lies, whining, privilege-seeking, and self-indulgence. May you not suffer in your old age as you would have others suffer.
The old – and that bracket includes baby boomers – don’t have much to fall back on in terms of the children next in line: many of our children are lost in cyberspace and consumed by their own selfish concerns and presumptions of superiority. And, too, progeny in every developed country are but one Internet or electrical-grid failure away from complete helplessness themselves.
It is assumed by those who wish it so that the old will whimper, rollover, and die. An alternative plan on the political right and left is for the old to claw back in elder rage and irrationality that further dooms the long view and the arduous climb out of the hole we have dug for ourselves.
There is another way, as usual. The old can accept their duty to mentor and pass the baton responsibly to another generation. They might delay retirement but be ready to step aside and let jobs go to the young who need to start their overdue careers. They might vote and speak as if they acquired common sense over their many years of prosperous existence. The young can accept greater responsibility and maintain sensible engagement in politics and the lives of the old.
Never has it been so apparent how maturing Americans have inched themselves, and our society, out on a flimsy limb far away from practical community. It is not the fault of this generation of elderly or the past one. It is not the fault of evolving youth culture, either. That is except where the habits and culture of each generation have fused seamlessly and energetically with the unbridled consumerism of the past century and a half and neglected the future.
The most giving and creative society can indeed simultaneously be the most selfish and shortsighted. Too tired to try, the old fall back on bitching and recliners. Though high time for generational change, few new friends of mankind stand out: no figure, no group, no ideology, no method leaps to mind to make our evolutionary path easier or surer.
One cannot hear the sounds of the environment with embedded ear buds. One cannot see one’s surroundings in the illumination of a hand-held device. One cannot connect when constantly plugged in and tuned out. Neither can the old hear, see, or connect from the cave of their dens, strangers to the Internet, immobile, and steeped in denial until it is too late.
No external solutions exist, only the basic everyday ones. The momentum is with each household and tribe pursuing its daily survival. That is how we have gotten by for centuries. That is how we will rise or fail together – one by one.
Precipitously, our old fall off the playing field. Nothing changes – except that the wisdom of the ages is diminished in a steady dribble. Forgetting is what we do best. It is what we do worst. The brittle gray claws of the old crumble and break. And the spaces left when they decamp are beyond filling.