Weekly Column by Daniel Kalder
Recently I have been feeling slightly long in the tooth. It was the death of Mrs. Thatcher that did it. Watching the street parties on TV, I couldn’t help but notice how very young the revelers were: most of those idiots had not been born when she stepped down from office. And yet I remembered her resignation as if it were yesterday. Suddenly I realized that I was of a different era, that I was now in the same position as those bores who were always banging on about Woodstock when I was a teenager.
And if Mrs. Thatcher’s resignation is increasingly “ancient history,” then that means some of my other memories must be positively Jurassic. Here, the pop culture index is most telling. 1960s rockers like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney have always seemed “old” to me, but now even the members of rubbish New Romantic bands from the 1980s are closing in on their pensions. Simon Le Bon will turn 55 later this month, for example. His song “The Reflex” is older now than Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” was in 1984, the year Duran Duran released that terrible single.
There is nothing unique in this sudden anxiety about aging, of course. Indeed, it is very banal – and what’s more: I knew it was coming. Regardless, awareness of the steady piling up of the years stirs new concerns – about my health, my strength – how long can I keep going before I become decrepit? I have health insurance, but in the United States, co-pays can still bankrupt you. Will “Obamacare,” which was launched this week only for many of the online health insurance exchanges to promptly crash, improve the situation? I have no idea.
And I’m not the only one who’s getting on a bit. Apparently the entire global population is aging. This week I read the Global Age Watch Index 2013 report and discovered that by 2050, people aged 60 and over will outnumber those under 15 for the first time in history. There will be 10 times as many old codgers as there were in 1950.
Now this is mainly a cause for celebration: it is good that so many of us will outlive our ancestors who for millennia struggled to make it out of their childhoods. But how will societies pay for all these pensioners as the youthful tax base dwindles? Old folk will be required to keep working much longer than before, and the aisles of Wal-Mart and Home Depot will surely fill up with helpful gray-hairs. We should all get some retail experience if we are not to starve in our dotages.
Currently, according to the report, the best country for old folk is Sweden, while the top 10 is rounded out with the usual boring countries that always score so highly in global welfare lists: Norway, New Zealand, etc. At the bottom end, Afghanistan is worst and Russia is also shockingly bad, placing 78th out of the 90 countries under study. The United States actually did pretty well, coming in eighth, but I am skeptical. Conditions in the US are too diverse: if you’re a wrinkly old coot in Connecticut, then yes, things are probably pretty good. And if you’re an aged Mexican immigrant living in Texas’ impoverished Rio Grande Valley? Not so much.
But that’s not all: there’s another problem with the study. Researchers measured four factors: “income security,” “health status,” “employment and education” and “enabling environment” (e.g. the accessibility of public transport, pottery classes for seniors, etc.). But what about factors that cannot be measured? For instance, one of the greatest pleasures of old age is the freedom to be a cantankerous old devil, revered for your wisdom by younger generations. In this regard, developed countries lag far, far behind the likes of Afghanistan or Turkey, or even Russia where elderly ladies are viewed with such terror that they are frequently recruited to work as security guards in museums and apartment buildings.
In the United States and Europe, however, there is an imbecilic cult of youth, and the old are usually sidelined. Indeed the White House is staffed by absurdly young people, which may explain much about why so many policy decisions seem naive and half-thought-out to those of us who are older than, say, 22. In parts of the United Kingdom, respect for the elderly has broken down completely and pensioners live in fear of feral youth, or at least that’s what the tabloids tell me. Of course, I’d much rather be a comfy codger in Sweden than a revered elder dodging drones in Afghanistan. But how much better it would be if we could combine the best of both worlds!
Ultimately though, growing old is rubbish, no matter where you live. The experience is perhaps summed up best by the once virile, now nearly geriatric country singer Kris Kristofferson, who sang the following lines: “You know old trees just grow stronger / old rivers grow wilder every day / old people just grow lonesome.” Billions more humans than ever before will soon find out precisely how lonesome.
Then again, as my Texas grandma used to say: “I hate getting old, but it sure beats the alternative.” She lived to be 98.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”
Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.
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