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Monday, November 05, 2007

Longevity Is Class Struggle

Edited and Upgraded from Comments, Friend of Blog Anne Corwin writes:

I don't think biogerontology is going to get much further unless great strides are made socially to affirm the value of older people and not push them to the corners, marginalize, or warehouse them by default.

I see your point, and of course I agree with your concerns about addressing the needs of all aging people, especially those neglected because of their poverty or marginality otherwise.

However, it is key to realize here that while you speak of a general need to affirm the value of older people it is also true that some older people are certainly already valued enormously, and since many of these happen to be the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world their needs will continue to drive advances in biogerontology come what may. And so you can be sure that the real political barrier to a genuinely progressive and emancipatory address of the unnecessary suffering, indignities, and diminishments of aging in general is far from some broad "Deathist" or "Ageist" prejudice per se (especially not the former), so much as the very familiar barrier of the precarity and abjection of the poor.

As Jameson has put the point: Longevity Is Class Struggle.

5 comments:

Greg in Portland said...

I have to say that the "warehousing" of aging people seems to me to largely result from the intense propaganda coming out of corporate America in favor of the isolated nuclear family as the basic unit of society. This is pretty easy to understand since, from demand for McMansions to demand for electricity and food to the need for paid "caregivers" in nursing homes this creates the greatest amount of waste and thus profit. The current society is intensely propagandized to accept this model. For instance the idea (which you see in everything coming out of Hollywood) that any single person who "lives with parents" is a loser unsuitable for dating when they may actually be taking care of them to keep them out of a worse situation. All of this is done to create demand among a middle class that refuses to think critically about what real "needs" actually are and that has absurdly unrealistic notions of "romance" and "the good life". It's frightening to think what all these people will do when Peak Oil, Peak Water, climate change and all the other converging and largely unhandled disasters make all this untenable. One thinks of what happened to another not very tightly wrapped society when the glue that held it together (in this case the brutal Sadaam Hussein) was suddenly removed. I have to say that while I'm more optimistic than Dale seems about longevity increase I tend to think that the US at least will likely dissolve into chaos long before anyone in it can benefit much. It is also likely that in the short term nothing useful will be done to fix a health care system that will deny care to an ever increasing proportion of people. Even if the Immortify[tm] pill was invented tomorrow it's useless if you can't afford it and don't have insurance that will pay for it.

Frankly, beyond consumerism and "economic growth" there's just not much holding American society together. Put the place in a long depression driven by collapse of the resource base and it's every man for himself. Imagine an Ayn Rand novel but with everybody armed and trying to be John Galt. Or think of Rwanda with nuclear weapons...

AnneC said...

Dale said:
And so you can be sure that the real political barrier to a genuinely progressive and emancipatory address of the unnecessary suffering, indignities, and diminishments of aging in general is far from some broad "Deathist" or "Ageist" prejudice per se (especially not the former), so much as the very familiar barrier of the precarity and abjection of the poor.

Recent observations would seem to support this conclusion.

As much time as I've spent arguing against what I perceive as "death apologism", I'm beginning to wonder if that kind of argumentation represents so much noise blowing in the wrong direction.

It would be one thing if this line of argument actually helped save people's lives, but at this point I'm not convinced of its practical efficacy nor the accuracy with which it chooses its "targets".

Most people (unless they're Christian Scientists or similar) don't oppose medicine in principle -- and what your observation above makes me realize is that perhaps what people do oppose is "medicine for people who can't function easily within the status-quo economic system".

That is, if there were effective longevity treatments available, it seems a fairly safe bet that (so long as they didn't entail embryonic stem cell research) they wouldn't be banned by a bioconservative congress.

You wouldn't have world leaders debating over whether anyone should be "allowed" to seek such treatments, any more than we have people debating over the use of modern sanitation to reduce infant mortality, or over (per the familiar example) hypertension medication.

But you would likely still have people arguing against ideas like universal healthcare.

And you'd also still have folks claiming that we live in an "everyone for him/herself" world in which you only get to live so long as you can "earn" your right to do so, or so long as you have enough powerful cronies backing you up.

It makes plenty of sense that a lot of what manifests as "ageism" is actually a kind of economic phobia -- non-wealthy older people are considered (like disabled people, regardless of whether or not they would classify themselves as "disabled") to be "bad investments" with regard to employment, medical care, other forms of support, etc.

This, combined with the "independence myth" can lead to particularly pernicious conditions for many. So in other words, I'm curious to explore this line of reasoning further.

Dale Carrico said...

Yes, this is very much along the lines of my thinking in this area as well. And the emphasis on the non-wealthy aged as "bad investments" and its connection to attributions of "disability" seems very useful indeed.

Greg in Portland said...

It makes plenty of sense that a lot of what manifests as "ageism" is actually a kind of economic phobia -- non-wealthy older people are considered (like disabled people, regardless of whether or not they would classify themselves as "disabled") to be "bad investments" with regard to employment, medical care, other forms of support, etc.

Much of what goes on in the work world under the name "age discrimination" is more like discrimination against anyone perceived as being not cheap, expendable, easily bullied into overwork and being mature enough to see through the bullshit produced by the 25 year old MBAs who run the place. The IT industry is one of the worst for this kind of thing and is why I'm leaving it (well forced out to a large extent).

Richard S. said...

Hi. I've enjoyed this little conversation. I especially liked the comments of Greg in Portland, but all of it is good.

I have talked about it at one of my own blogs (which should be linked to from this comment), adding some additional thoughts.