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Where do longevity and ageism clash?

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/happy-senior-couple-in-love-with-bunch-of-fresh-flowers-in-nature-4148984/

Anja M
Anja M Sep 11, 2020
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In 1968. a pioneer in the gerontology studies, Robert Butler MD , coined the term “ageism”, although it was first recorded in the Washington Post interview in 1969. His turn to the world of the elderly was mainly due to noticing the maltreatment and the lack of proper attention the elderly patients witnessed in hospitals. So, my question for this session is have we really awoken the real reason behind a long-desired wish for longevity, even immortality?

The sub-question behind this probably is: how do we actually picture longevity? How much do the layers of meaning overlap in every individual thinking about it? Usually, the notion is preconceived in the aura of youth and excellent health. And inherently, there is nothing bad in it. However, why we almost exclusively match young age and longevity, as much as can be answered from a perspective of aesthetic values and inherited view of it being one of the overall vitality-brimming periods of our lives according to our general life span so far, cannot be justified for just that. Prolonging life while still facing older and older versions of ourselves is a very probable scenario.

Butler defined the problem of ageism this way: “The underlying basis of ageism is the dread and fear of growing older, becoming ill and dependent, and approaching death”. If we imagine, say, a future lifespan of 140 years, would we lose this feeling and attitude towards being older? I believe we would then certainly mitigate the effects of what Butler was warning about, but I doubt they would really be gone. And why so? Because even then we would face the possibility of dying and feeling “old” on a different mental level than now, but still about the same matter. Secondly, prolonged life in that furthest “SF sense” would probably also mean much different associations about death. That could mean death would concern us much less, primarily in the sense of indifference, or something “really far away”. The latter we indirectly do when we stick to the ideal image of youth. “Denial is a close cousin of ageism, since it eliminates ageing from consciousness”. And this elimination is not being a product of some normal amount of reasoning about old age, and eventually dying, it is more of a postponement of reasoning, and precisely a reason we subconsciously stick to the symbolism of youth so much.

But what would happen if we manage to substantially prolong a healthy life? One way of thinking about it is well presented by professor Joel Garreau , summed here. On a completely different way about potential cultural problems arising with old age, read about in another session here .

For now, I would like to hear your opinions on the images of young and old we foster each in our own cultures, but also globally. Do you think we would be able to cope parallelly well with our mental and physical longevity if we do not reframe our understanding of these before we actually get to “live long and prosper”?

[1]The Gerontologist, Volume 54, Issue 6, December 2014, Pages 1064–1069 *Text on Roger Butler

[2]Bernstein C . (1969). Age and race fear seen in housing opposition. Washington Post. March 7.

[3]This is perhaps his most important work: Butler R. N . (1975). Why survive? Being old in America. New York: Harper and Row.

[4]His book: Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- And What It Means to Be Human, Broadway books (2006)


Creative contributions

An interesting post scriptum

Anja M
Anja M Sep 11, 2020
When I was searching for a potential cover photo for this session, I really liked this one. The search term was: "old couple". But when I downloaded it, I saw they weren't really old. They are a mid-aged couple, with even less grays you would expect in what you consider "old", for this topic at least. And that is even more visible on another photo of them from the same author. So perhaps, no matter how debatable and context-dependent these words "old/young" can be, maybe we really have at least some issues at what we perceive as old, or we place this tag too easily. And I am addressing this without too many restraints and sensitivity any general political correctness would imply. Just a food for thought. My mind on this can be easily challenged. However, if for a minute we contemplate this, it can also be supported well enough. At least for the sake of a discussion. Thanks @Gustavo Fring for capturing them. Here's that another one: https://www.pexels.com/photo/happy-elderly-couple-in-love-with-fresh-flowers-in-forest-4148988/
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