28th June 2011
America today is startlingly segregated by age relative to historical norms, a change that is as lamentable as it is unremarked upon. Alarms have not been sounded — partly because we have chosen this separation, partly because it is unnoticeable in its progress, partly because its harms are not concrete or statistically measurable. They fall on our patience, our humility, our relationship to history, our gratitude, our preparation for death, in short our wisdom — things that are hard to put before Congress or in a think-tank finding.
What is the origin of age segregation? Most broadly, it is a component of modernization as the expansion of individual autonomy. Modernization in that sense includes the agricultural revolution, which inverted man’s relationship to his environment, and the Enlightenment, which inverted the individual’s relationship to the political order — man went from creature to a creator of each. (The troubling prospectus for modernization’s future is that computer science and biotechnology may invert even our relationship to human nature, making the next generation’s biology and consciousness a product of human design rather than an inheritance.) And with our new autonomy we have chosen to part with the elderly for obvious reasons: They can be costly, grumpy, or stodgy, they are not useful for advancing our careers, and we are not attracted to them. Let them live in their own communities, then.
HAH! Slow are we to anger, but implacable in our wrath….
‘A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.’ — Edmund Burke