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Gerontocracy

Published on July 12th, 2020

Mark Harris had a great article for The Cut about the power and vulnerability of elderly people right now. Below are excerpts.

Each day’s headlines jolt us with the same unnerving reality: There has never, in the history of the Republic, been a stranger time to be old. We live in a kind of gerontocracy that feels both accidental and deeply entrenched.

The futures of all Americans are largely in the hands of people who are entering, or well into, what one of my uncles used to call “the bonus round.” And yet the aged, at the height of their power and disinclined to relax their grip on it — just look at who votes — have also never been more vulnerable.

Almost 60 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. were 75 or older. Almost 80 percent were age 65 or older. Residents of nursing homes or assisted-living facilities have made up as many as half the fatalities in some areas of the country, and the reaction among many people, either by implication or outright declaration, has been, “See? That means most of us have nothing to worry about!”

This virus continues to rob old people of their futures — futures they are as entitled to invest with hope and energy as anyone else. Because the elderly are both a hardy and a precarious population — one that is depleted every day even as it welcomes new members to its ranks — it has become easy for some people to treat them as both more and less than human; they’re either a population of noble Yodas we can mine for every nugget of gnomic sagacity before we discard them, or they’re obstructions interposed between the idealistic and/or selfish and the things they respectively crave.

“They” are us, only with more miles, more wrinkles, more history, more joint pain, sometimes more money, often more knowledge, almost always more perspective. If we’re very fortunate, one day we will become them, even if, as a 98-year-old neighbor told me a few years ago on his way out for a short walk, “I know what you’re thinking. But believe me, it’s no picnic.”

Joe Pioletti
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