Samuel Moyn on The Trouble with Old Men
February 10, 2024 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Gerontocracy is as old as the world. For millennia, to greater or lesser degrees, it has been the default principle of governance, from ancient Greek city-states to the Soviet republics. Though there have been exceptions, when you look for gerontocracy today, you find it everywhere – aged men and women at the helms of states the world over. [CW: suicide, senicide, ageism]

I am posting this with the USPolitics tag out of consideration for MeFites who do not want to read about that, but I think the topic of the essay is broader, even if the author frames the topic specifically around the dangers posed by the election of either Biden or Trump to the U.S. presidency this year. The author tweeted the following yesterday morning: "With Joe Biden clearly doddering, I have a new snippet out on gerontocracy. Note that the US Constitution imposes an age minimum for the presidency but no age maximum - and the age minimum of 35 was only two years shy of the average age of death in 1787."

This article is imperfect. It has been criticized already on multiple counts, from misuse of statistics to mischaracterization of Greek political philosophy and practice. I am posting it because it is the best non-specialist article about gerontocracy that I have read recently that does not have as its premise either "how dare you" or "this can never be discussed because the rights of the older people to autonomy should be paramount."

This article discusses suicide, community pressure to commit suicide, and the killing and removal of rights from the aging and elderly. It is inherently ageist, in the same way that discussion about the rights of the young (and why they should or should not have them) tends to be ageist.

It would be cool if comments, at least initially, avoided sweeping generalizations based in prejudice or preference instead of fact.
posted by cupcakeninja (79 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is carnival, where there are many krewes and social clubs with an aged 'king' and a much younger 'queen'. Many harvest festivals also share this duo.


So, there s a gender thing to the capitalist patriarchy, too, swhatimsaying. Queen Liz being an exception proving the rule

I mean, how are we going to patriarchy without the patriarchs?
posted by eustatic at 7:07 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I think this is a thorny and difficult problem, ultimately, and in part, a societal problem that takes place because of the way that we structure our societies.

I note that to me, this seems like an inherently white problem, and I don't say this to be dismissive - when I say that, I mean that I think that the white Anglo-Saxon norms of individualist family structures tend, I think, to create the impetus to hold onto power because it's the most satisfying thing you have left in an empty home. I think of my own parents and grandparents, who took their retirements or work reductions cheerfully as soon as they could accomplish them, because they meant coming to live with family, and being involved in the life of the family and friends and companions and having a high level of social interaction. And then I think of previous white partner's parents and grandparents, who were alone in empty houses and who tended to continue to work long past when it seemed reasonable.

I've experienced working to shield me from unhappiness before; I think there's some forms of it acting now. Under such circumstances, I don't think you would need to force people into retirement, I think that they could go peacefully.

But I think that the way that we fetishize power also contributes to this - in this society, you're no one unless you're earning and having a position, which is poison, and so it's no wonder people want to continue having positions and continue earning.
posted by corb at 7:12 AM on February 10 [22 favorites]


One thing the article leaves out is that until extremely recently most of the world has been illiterate. Not only did the elders carry the tribal legends along but they carried the extremely import current state -- like who was who's child and who had rights to what land. They were actually present when events happened and their experience was valuable.

With literacy (and more recently video) that experience has lost a great deal of its value to the community. There were still "there" when things happened but frequently that was through writing and pictures that are still available today.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:13 AM on February 10 [14 favorites]


I note that to me, this seems like an inherently white problem

I know this is the standard MetaFilter answer for literally everything, but this thesis just doesn't hold up. It's just factually wrong.

If this thesis was correct, you should see less gerontocracy in non-white/non-Western/non-Anglo-Saxon societies but even within just the OP article this isn't the case. And any knowledge of societies around the world/throughout history demonstrates a marked tendency towards reverence of elders, authority of the aged, etc.

If anything I suspect that the opposite is true, that places with very strong familial bonds that feature large multi-generational family groupings would favor the concentration of power to the elders of the family, with fewer opportunities for the younger members to advance due to the emphasis on the age-hierarchical family system, which would be reflected in society at large. You saw this even in the West where multi-generational family dynamics existed during, for example, Roman times when the paterfamilias, the oldest living male in a household/clan had absolute authority over the entire extended family.
posted by star gentle uterus at 7:40 AM on February 10 [50 favorites]


The OP quotes a tweet from the author that states, after taking a gratuitous political potshot that makes it difficult to sustain any presumption of good faith, that "the age minimum of 35 was only two years shy of the average age of death in 1787."

I am having a surprisingly hard time finding an authoritative source on the adult modal age at death in the late 18th century United States (help?), but this seems unlikely to be accurate. For example this study found that the adult modal age at death in French Canada remained in the 70s from 1740 to 1799. I know there's a lot of local variation in these stats, but it's hard to believe USians were actually dying twice as fast as Canadians in this period. Seems more likely these statistics come from compounding infant, childhood, and adult mortality into the unhelpful construct of "life expectancy."

FWIW my current theory on gerontocracy is that it will inevitably tend to arise whenever positions of authority are distributed based on how much power an individual has already accumulated. Accumulating power on a national scale takes time, usually decades, and even the most dedicated ladder-climbers seldom really hit their stride until their 30s. I'd rather not be ruled by ladder-climbers at all, but since that isn't currently on the table, I'd actually prefer an older, slower climber to a younger one who has likely taken a lot of risks to rise so quickly and, believing their success is due to skill rather than luck, is likely to keep taking them.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:47 AM on February 10 [20 favorites]


Seconding communications technology as something that
Upends the perceived need for elders.

Also, the authoritarian organization of communications production, right now, seems to favor this horrid dualism, which profits from instability. Fox needs MSNBC. When Fox declines, CNN moves to become more like Fox. Two sides are clinging to the older people in the face of the manufactured uncertainty, as of we didn't have enough to deal with.

With elders, there is a lot of uncertainty. The article lists different ways that the uncertainty can be managed, but most of the positive stories are of the elders managing it themselves, by actions of the elders themselves or rules.

I think that uncertainty becomes impossible to resolve in an era of rapidly changing life expectancy, impossibly mutating cultural production, and a destabilized climate.

And I am thinking about the RGB conundrum as a product of this. But also Clinton and Feinstein. In a patriarchy there is no consensus possible on any rule for a senior woman. What if RGB had lived another two months? It could have happened.

The course of action on climate change and human rights would have been very different in 2021 and 2022 if one woman had lived to Nov 2020. But there was no way to know for sure that she didn't have two more months in 2020, and no cultural rule to produce consensus.
posted by eustatic at 7:47 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


It's just factually wrong.

Yeah. I think corb's point about broader societal manifestation, outside of government, is interesting. I don't have enough experience or knowledge to really speak to it, though non-white friends and coworkers I've had over the years have not seemed notably less inclined toward revering elders. Non-white elders I've known have, however, seemed a little less inclined to hold on to jobs until the bitter end -- not saying that's generally true, just my available anecdata.
posted by cupcakeninja at 7:51 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


The elephant is money in politics. If significant fundraising is required, if deep networks of donors are required, then your politicians will be older. They have had more time to build networks and they know more wealthy folks. If you have money, you usually have more of it as you get older.

If you fix campaign finance you help fix gerontocracy.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:53 AM on February 10 [18 favorites]


I note that to me, this seems like an inherently white problem, and I don't say this to be dismissive - when I say that, I mean that I think that the white Anglo-Saxon norms of individualist family structures tend, I think, to create the impetus to hold onto power because it's the most satisfying thing you have left in an empty home.

Yeah, I also disagree. On the contrary, in the European/Anglo cultures I'm familiar with elders get less automatic respect than in pretty much any other cultures I'm aware of (and I think this is true both for white members of the European/Anglo cultures in questions and for acculturated non-white members). Being old doesn't make you right by default, in "Western" cultures. Being old doesn't make your preferences more important than younger people's, in "Western" cultures. Kids aren't brought up to see deferring to, providing for, and caring for their elders as the basis of society. They absolutely are in other parts of the world.

I mean, in much of the world you're not even going to be promoted too high until you're considered old enough. The concept of a young person being an expert at anything just plain doesn't compute in many cultures. You earn your cred, and the only way you earn it is with time and paying your dues. The concept of a young person overriding an older one? Totally common in the US, outright heresy in much of the world.

"Western" cultures are much less patriarchal and otherwise obsessed with age-based hierarchies than most of the rest of the world. Which is not to say that older people don't still have a lot of power there. But complaining about it in the US, for example, is something you can do without being accused of advocating for an overthrow of the entire social order, which you would be in some other places.


Maybe old people in less age-revering cultures are more likely see work as their only remaining source of power, while older people in other cultures have inherent power due to being old? Maybe. But old people do rule the political and economic hierarchies in most of the more age-revering countries too, so I'm not sure that holds up.
posted by trig at 7:58 AM on February 10 [10 favorites]


people still aged to an overripe 65-70 years old in ye olden tymes but "Average Age" also includes deaths of babies, death in childbirth (women & babies) death by disease at a younger age.

Common misconception that people all died at 42 years old before 1900 or 'tevs.
posted by djseafood at 7:59 AM on February 10 [12 favorites]


I note that to me, this seems like an inherently white problem

This is very true for the United States, where we have an Australian media apparatus dedicated to making everything a white problem, and manufacturing white problems out of fiction where none existed but I have less of an idea about the degree of this being a white problem in other places. Europe, too, very likely.

I've been told by Native American scholars that white people 'lost their medicine', i.e. went nuts or lost their way, after the church killed the women elders as witches.

So, that might be a pretty white valence on this problem.

I think there could be some consensus, or it would be interesting to examine, that the "Hammer of Witches" era of Europe as a lesson of how not to decide to remove elders from power.
posted by eustatic at 8:04 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


With literacy (and more recently video) that experience has lost a great deal of its value to the community. There were still "there" when things happened but frequently that was through writing and pictures that are still available today.

And specifically in the case of governance, in complex modern states the actual officeholders are supported by countless staff, many of whom come and go. So much of the experience that an officeholder represents is 1) not actually their own and 2) transient anyway. In government, the elderly hold a disproportionate amount of power and status, yet they're often not the ones doing the actual work or holding unique experience.

For example, each US Supreme Court justice hires 4 clerks each term, who (and this should be a much bigger scandal than it is) do a lot of the opinion writing and have "substantial influence in cases that are high-profile, legally significant, or close decisions" despite typically being in their mid to late 20s. Most go on to either take $500,000 signing bonuses at large law firms or to land coveted tenured professorships, the high value of both of which demonstrate that the clerks hold valuable knowledge and/or influence, which is significant evidence of the capture of the judicial system and legal profession by elites. But anyway.

The solution in this particular case seems to me to be to expand the court from 9 justices to 45, since that's the number we effectively have right now anyway and would (sort of) track the country's population growth*. Each of those 45 could be allowed a single, full-time clerk. Cases would be heard by panels of 9 randomly selected justices, with the option for a hearing by a larger or full panel in especially important cases, much like the federal circuit courts. I would also add a mandatory retirement age. To my knowledge, the United States is the only country in the world that combines judicial tenure (i.e. judges can't easily be removed) with life appointments, and as between the two I value judicial independence over life appointments. There is also evidence from state supreme courts that imposing a mandatory retirement age improves judicial performance [pdf], as measured by output (number of published opinions) and influence (number of citations to those opinions).

* The law could increase the court's size by 9 every 4 years to avoid a single presidency completely remaking the court for generations. Fun fact: the Supreme Court has had 9 seats since 1869, when the US population was approximately 38 million. If the court had been expanded in line with the population it would have ~78 seats today. There would have been a similar expansion if it had kept up with the rate of litigation and appeals. Yet despite all that (and the clerks and modern legal research technology) the court's output has steadily declined since the early 20th century while the justices are staying on the court longer and longer, with the typical age of departure now 83.
posted by jedicus at 8:13 AM on February 10 [18 favorites]


Moyn regards senicide -- the systematic killing of the elderly -- as a feature of premodern society that is now 'alien and unacceptable' to us. As senicide is not an option, he proposes an alternative method 'to root out the foundations of gerontocracy tooth and nail':
Society could be organized to equip children for their future, to encourage youth to make their mark, and to build social support for men and women in their prime. After that, there would be caretaking and memory, playing for time in the face of inexorable decline, necessary death, and ultimate oblivion.
Moyn's confidence that senicide is 'alien and unacceptable' is touchingly naive. It would take very little societal change for senicide to become the norm again. Already in the UK we have had one NHS hospital practising an unofficial policy of involuntary euthanasia where over 400 elderly patients had their lives prematurely ended. (That was over 20 years ago, and not a single person has yet faced criminal proceedings for their part in that scandal.) Cases of elder abuse are, sadly, all too frequent in care homes. Rather than talking about ways to strip the elderly of their power, we need to be talking about ways to protect them from abuse and neglect, which is a far more pressing problem than gerontocracy.

And what of Moyn's alternative -- that gerontocracy should be rooted out 'tooth and nail' (the violence of the metaphor is revealing) and the elderly consigned to 'caretaking and memory' and 'inexorable decline'? It's been tried before. "Tis our fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths, while we / Unburden'd crawl toward death." It didn't work out too well for Lear.
posted by verstegan at 8:17 AM on February 10 [9 favorites]


In terms of American democracy, there are younger options out there, it's just that nobody wants to take them. I think the underlying prejudice is that anyone who went into politics after a certain cutoff date did so because they weren't smart enough to start a business or attractive enough to be an actor. You can't tell me that Nikki Haley, Gavin Newsom, and Ted Cruz are the greatest minds of a generation. They're probably not even the greatest minds in their neighborhood.

That and it ages you to have someone of your own age as president, and we're all youth-obsessed.
posted by kingdead at 8:26 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


From the article:

James Frazer – author of the landmark anthropological study of comparative religion, The Golden Bough

Is this some sort of elaborate satire I would have to be a Yale Law professor to understand? Because this guy seems to be straight-up citing Frazer as authority. For anything.

Also it seems worth noting that the Samburu social structure used by the author as another example of "premodern gerontocracy" actually appears to have arisen in the early 19th century. "As this study shows, they were anything but the hidebound conservatives that their foreign masters labeled them. Nor had the Samburu and their flexible transhumant system of pastoralism existed from time immemorial."

Lawprofs gonna lawprof, I guess, but isn't this guy supposed to be a professor of history too?
posted by Not A Thing at 8:34 AM on February 10 [8 favorites]


I have not read the article yet, but I just want to note my appreciation to cupcakeninja for how they posted this article. I think Metafilter can and should be a place where controversial or even flawed ideas are shared/discussed as a starting point - but for that to work, it requires the initial post to do some framing work for users- i.e. acknowledging where an article might be weak/imperfect, giving MeFites the heads-up for why they might not want to engage, and then explaining why the user thinks the text is worth engaging despite it's flaws. I imagine if all users made the effort to spell this out when posting potentially controversial articles there would be less work for the mods - just a hunch based on my experience as a teacher!
posted by coffeecat at 8:47 AM on February 10 [17 favorites]


Maybe old people in less age-revering cultures are more likely see work as their only remaining source of power, while older people in other cultures have inherent power due to being old?

Yeah, to be clear, I am absolutely not saying that non-white cultures have less respect or reverence for the aged. What I was saying was essentially a form of this - that from my viewpoint, white cultures tend to see their use and importance in relation to their function within capitalism, whereas non-white cultures from my experience, including my own, tend to see their use and function as more relational. And ultimately, IME, the latter is less prone to age-related errors than the former.

So for example: my grandmother is retired from work and is in her late nineties, but still holds a lot of relational power, which translates into socio-economic power within my family: she dictates ultimately who receives familial support in various endeavours and at various moments, dictates the flow of inheritances. People, by and large, do not gainsay her; if they do, they may temporarily gain in some ways, but they are largely cut off from the relational power of the rest of the family. However, she is making these decisions largely based on decisions based on her understanding of interpersonal dynamics and how people tend to act in various circumstances. I haven't really noticed her making any errors in these regards: she's been sharper in her predictions than I have. (For example, she called out my dirtbag now-ex-husband as being a dirtbag and precisely the way in which he would fail ten years ago). However, she definitely can't do advanced math calculations anymore or handle her own finances without someone helping her. For whatever reasons, those sections of the brain tend to go faster.

And so I think it's more of a problem when we have people holding on to complicated and intricate jobs that require a lot of decisionmaking about intricate and complicated systems as they age, more so than a problem when people are holding onto relational power as they age.
posted by corb at 8:48 AM on February 10 [11 favorites]


I spend a lot of time with elderly people in my day job and, as always, I just need to say that 80 years old is a looks a lot different among actual 80 year olds. A lot.

Maybe this is just my peri-menopause talking. I’m not fond of the gerontocracy either but I’d also point out we in the US, in particular, and the west, in general, spend far too much time obsessing over the youth. I mean, this is the same place where 28 olds get Botox because they are afraid they look too old and being older than, say, 45 on the job market(or God help us, the dating market,) is a real liability. There’s something kind of hilarious about the fact that 50+ year old friends can’t find work in the industries they spent their whole lives because the HR team would rather hire a hip 28 year old for “relevance” or whatever (to say nothing of having to offer less generous benefits) regardless of experience, but it somehow no one blinks if you’re a senator .

I mean, this is coming from a perimenopausal woman, who was recently set upon on a dating app by an actual 78 year old man who 1) lectured me on how ageist It was for me to be less than super-enthusiastic about voting for Biden and the 2) told me he thought I was borderline too old for him I should be flattered because “most men would not give an old lady like me so much attention.” This was not a joke.

Anyway, old men=land of contrasts
posted by thivaia at 8:48 AM on February 10 [22 favorites]


What I was saying was essentially a form of this - that from my viewpoint, white cultures tend to see their use and importance in relation to their function within capitalism, whereas non-white cultures from my experience, including my own, tend to see their use and function as more relational. And ultimately, IME, the latter is less prone to age-related errors than the former.
corb

But this reformulation is still wrong.

Again, if this were true, we should see fewer older people holding positions of power in the political, business, cultural, etc. sectors of non-white cultures, and that just doesn't seem to be borne out by reality.
posted by star gentle uterus at 9:00 AM on February 10 [10 favorites]


we need to be talking about ways to protect them from abuse and neglect, which is a far more pressing problem than gerontocracy.

I wish no one a terrible end of life, nor abuse in a care home. Old age comes for us all, and we should have the greatest empathy we can for those who suffer.

Being mindful of the points being raised by thivaia, I do think the world is being run increasingly by and for the old, and that it's problematic to point to specific instances of elder abuse as reasons why gerontocracy is not a problem. This is a demographic fact that is the subject of hundreds, if not thousands, of threads on MetaFilter, about the extent to which people younger than, say, 30 (40? 50?) are disenfranchised, unemployed, or cannot find housing, to say nothing of the women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Indigenous, and other folks whose rights have been stripped away by patriarchs and their accomplices who were told in their cradles that "those people" don't deserve full participation in society, bodily autonomy, or good things.

These are only some of the problems of gerontocracy, and they are (per the 2024 U.S. presidential election, and per TFA) worsening. The ladder is being pulled up, destroyed, and used as kindling so frequently and thoroughly by people who are doing it that many of them stare with blank eyes at criticism of their actions, unaware that they are ruining lives, societies, and ecosystems in the process, and not longer able to be convinced that other opinions might be correct. I think that gerontocracy, among other things, is the foundation underlying the ability of many elders in position in power to lament the disappearance of plentiful housing, union jobs, the forests of their youths, etc., etc., at the same time as they are voting, petitioning, and donating in ways that ensure the process will continue. These politics are not the sole province of aging or elderly politicians, by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they are especially dangerous in the mouths of powerful people who refuse to let go of power, even as their minds deteriorate in ways that are predictable, common, and are extraordinarily difficult to discuss seriously in public because of gerontocracy.

[That's a lot. I'm going to bow out at this point, but I thank you all for your willingness to discuss this difficult topic and article.]
posted by cupcakeninja at 9:07 AM on February 10 [12 favorites]


One thing the article leaves out is that until extremely recently most of the world has been illiterate. Not only did the elders carry the tribal legends along but they carried the extremely import current state -- like who was who's child and who had rights to what land. They were actually present when events happened and their experience was valuable.

I thought this was an interesting point, but I can't help but come to the opposite conclusion from the same premises. Less literate times perpetuate the status quo in a very familiar fashion.

When elders assume and perform functions that police current ownership and systems of power, they enshrine the system that already put them on top. These records aren't passive, they're active decisions about whether inheritance matters, that private property should be reserved. That reinforces the idea that the current way of organising society - its definitions of value and ownership - is the normal and desirable one. Not uncoincidentally, that will necessarily produce future elders with exactly the same values that produced the old ones.

And if a group's authorised narratives about itself privilege a certain age group's set of knowledge - because those stories are owned, authored and authorised by a group based on the automatic "wisdom" of their age - then again, thus perpetuates their idea of what values matter. They don't reflect, they produce by continuing to normalise existing definitions of what stories matter, who should be told what. Again, doesn't that reinforce the existing structure? An oral tradition can be repeated and passed on constantly by closer peers, rather than being located explicitly as part of Elderism - but it won't be if the story everyone grows up with is that the elders are the only ones with the wisdom to do so.

This example isn't about how older leaders had a higher value in pre-literate societies - it's an example of how existing power structures replicate themselves as if they are normal regardless of literacy levels. The gerontocracy replicates itself by defining power in its own image and reinforcing itself downwards. Here comes the new boss...
posted by onebuttonmonkey at 9:13 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


With literacy (and more recently video) that experience has lost a great deal of its value to the community. There were still "there" when things happened...

Talk to a teenager with access to the internet and tell me this holds up. It doesn't. Experience is still valuable.

I have only skimmed the article so far but this seems like extrapolating the present in America across the world and history. How many Western countries currently have geriatric leaders? Not many. This is really a problem with economic inequality and apathy in America. Experience is valuable everywhere and power tends to accumulate in the hands of those with staying power, but the US is wildly anomalous.
posted by klanawa at 9:19 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


It's not automatic, necessarily forever, and it's not only this power group that does this. But privileging age does perhaps drive a certain set of values that keeps the young down.
posted by onebuttonmonkey at 9:23 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Again, if this were true, we should see fewer older people holding positions of power in the political, business, cultural, etc. sectors of non-white cultures, and that just doesn't seem to be borne out by reality.

Nah - think about how patriarchy works: yes, men in general tend to have more power than women in general, but power is far from evenly distributed among men. Instead, a small number of patriarchs wield a large amount of power. The risks of loss of power being quite high, leading to an elite subset of older people (mostly men) holding on to their power very tightly is entirely consistent.

It’s also like how being boastful, or making a show of ignoring others’ feelings or needs, is not the opposite of being a doormat, but both in fact are potential manifestations of low self-confidence; or how that whole internet thing of “I’m an empath - I feel other people’s emotions so much that it hurts and I have to withdraw from helping others for my own safety” is just a more femme presentation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. The actual opposite in both cases, someone with a firm sense of self, is someone who can help others or sit with others’ pain in a balanced way because their own sense of self and confidence is strong enough that the needs or pain of others isn’t an existential threat for them. Or how always doing the hard thing is no more brave than always doing the easy thing - bravery being about always doing the right thing regardless of whether it is hard or easy. The parallel I’m trying to describe is that having some seniors with great political and economic power and having other seniors with even less power than your average middle aged adult are flip sides of the same coin, both outcomes of the same system and dynamics, not a contradiction.
posted by eviemath at 9:23 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


I agree with corb's posts, and note that the Welsh farming extended families around me behave in the way they describe, i.e. it's usual for inheritance to be decided and facilitated by the grandmothers rather than by individual wills.
posted by Rhedyn at 9:25 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


There is a more radical approach: to root out the foundations of gerontocracy tooth and nail. Society could be organized to equip children for their future, to encourage youth to make their mark, and to build social support for men and women in their prime. After that, there would be caretaking and memory, playing for time in the face of inexorable decline, necessary death, and ultimate oblivion.

What does this actually look like, and how is it to be accomplished?

Also, easy to write when you're still middle-aged. It's easy to talk about necessary death, etc, when you're still more or less in your prime.

~~~
It feels like there are two separate problems that get conflated, and I worry that we're going to end up with the worst of both worlds.

Problem one is the political problem - rule by the elderly when that is neither representative nor reasonable. Our society is age-diverse as it's diverse in other ways, and decision-makers should represent everyone as much as possible, maybe even down to having some kind of actual power for children and teens.

But even that problem is three problems - the exclusion of young rich white people from power, which is what people are mad about, the exclusion of poor people including poor elderly people from power and the specific generational issue in the rich West where rich white older people had radically different opportunities than everyone else and used those to cement themselves and their right wing greed into power, so it's not just that other people are shut out, it's that the older generations are looting society.

Problem two is the social collapse problem. The world is getting worse. That's not the fault of most old people. Most old people are not in fact powerful, wealthy patriarchs. But as the world worsens, everyone is going to look for some vulnerable group to turn on, and who is more vulnerable than, eg, impoverished elderly people?

I worry that given how the United States operates, we're going to turn "rich powerful people, mostly but not exclusively white, should not get to keep calling the shots until they fall over dead" into "fuck the boomers, they don't need social assistance, they should have saved more".

Can't you just see Proud Boys beating up some poor little old lady in the name of youth? I sure can.

~~
We should have truly small-d democratic representation, rather than a life-long wealthy political class drawn mostly from the always-already advantaged. I do not know how to get there from here and I'm afraid that the future is on the other side of a sea of blood.
posted by Frowner at 9:29 AM on February 10 [19 favorites]


Or how clinical depression and compulsory happiness are not opposites, but both stem from an unhealthy separation of emotions from external stimuli that would normally impact and cause variation in one’s emotions.
posted by eviemath at 9:33 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Or how regularly sending a significant percentage of young men off to die or be physically or emotionally maimed in wars is as much a common feature of patriarchy as the higher comfort, health, and life expectancy of men who become patriarchs.
posted by eviemath at 9:36 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


It is weird that in the US we have privileged relative youth, presidentially, from Clinton through Obama, and at various other points in the 20th century, and now we have found ourselves in a place where the parties have selected older candidates.

I think this is less the case for Republicans--lotta people argue that Trump is sui generis and I somewhat agree. The other contenders this year weren't that old.

The Dems though ... if we didn't have Biden maybe we'd have the similarly aged Bernie.

Not to oversimplify, but the average American voter is in their 50s, which means in our Electoral College system the decision-making voters are older than that. Is it a surprise that the plurality of decision-making voters have chosen someone in their cohort?
posted by kensington314 at 10:46 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


It’s a thorny, complicated issue for sure, but it’s also a bad thing that people as old and obviously (to my untrained eye, IANADoctor) in decline as Trump, McConnell, Biden, and (until recently) Feinstein, and (going back a bit) Thurmond are or were still in positions of great political power, either because they refuse to relinquish it or because the realities of US party politics and incumbent advantage result in situations where they have to be propped up until the very end because they are too valuable as a guaranteed “yes” vote for their side to risk losing it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:48 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


It's a fallacy to imply that Donald Trump or Joe Biden were once intellectual powerhouses, laid low by age. A decade and a half ago, the Obama administration knew to keep Biden off TV as much as possible. The problem isn't that these guys are older, it's that they're not any wiser.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:51 AM on February 10 [10 favorites]


Lots of our gerontocracy also comes from a lack of term limits---SCOTUS and Senate come to mind. So that seems arbitrary and structural rather than deep and cultural. I'm not even a strident term limits guy, or at least there are tradeoffs either way, but I do think long term incumbency is a major causal factor, particularly when you finance elections how the US does.
posted by kensington314 at 10:52 AM on February 10 [9 favorites]


we had a worldwide financial crisis in 2008, worst since the Great Depression (or so I'm told). Roughly eighty years (a reasonably healthy lifetime) between them. In other words, by the time we got to 2008, there were very few competent, functional humans left who'd been competent, functional adults in 1929, who might have had real experience of how it all went down, what they did wrong, how they didn't see it coming, all the various and complex factors that fed the ensuing fuckup.

Shrug it all off as correlation if you wish, but that feels apocalyptically careless to me. We need maximum experience and wisdom wherever we can get it. Which isn't to say that everyone who reaches a certain age has it. Not even close. I'm turning sixty-five this year and when I look around at my cohort, I see a lot of folks who I'm damned glad will be retiring soon. But that's to be expected. Most humans suck at power/responsibility regardless of their age. But of those who don't (and still have their faculties), their accrued experience and wisdom and insight likely can't be topped.

Which still doesn't argue for an eighty-two year old President being a good idea. A highly valued advisor for sure. But running the show? No. That just isn't wise.
posted by philip-random at 10:53 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Frowner's onto something (as is often the case).

I truly believe that one of the reasons elderly people in positions of power tend to hold onto it with such grim determination, by fair means or foul, is because they're terrified of what will happen to them personally if they give it up.

If someone lives to their late 70s-80s, they've seen multiple friends and family members aging and dying; they've seen elder abuse; they've seen terrible conditions in cash-vampire care homes; they've seen abandonment and isolation of people with dementia. In short, they've seen what happens if you're elderly and powerless: loss of agency, loss of dignity, loss of choice about what happens to you, loss of control.

Holding onto power and wealth is a way of forcing people to take care of you, because you understand that no one will take care of you unless they are forced to.

The alternative is to build a society that takes care-- not just of our elders but of anyone who needs it. But how can we do that when power and resources are held in a deathgrip by people who are terrified to let go even a little?
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:53 AM on February 10 [17 favorites]


Metafilter: Inherently a white problem.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 11:03 AM on February 10 [10 favorites]


Now that I've read it - an interesting if flawed article - as alluded to by Not A Thing, Moyn has a sloppy tendency to blur "pre-modern" with "non-Western" a common trope among Westerners (critiqued throughly by Fabian in his book, Time and the Other).

Anyway, I'd say the main flaw of the article though is less what it says and more all that it leaves out, some of which has already been pointed out in the comments.

As thivaia points out, in the US you have a privileged minority of 75+ elders who are incredibly powerful, which is in stark contrast with the majority of elders who are obsolete (politically/culturally) and have very little social mobility. I was just trying to see if I could find a comparison of wealth inequality within different generations (interesting, hard to find - all of the focus seemingly on inequality between generations), but came across this, which won't shock anyone: “wealth inequality has grown tremendously from 1989 to 2016, to the point where the top 10% of families ranked by household wealth own 77% of the wealth ‘pie.’ The bottom half of families ranked by household wealth own only 1% of the pie.

The only people I know who have opted to not retire in their mid-60s were either poor and so couldn't afford to do so, or are people in powerful and/or culturally desirable positions (like tenured faculty).*** But it's worth pointing out that those in the top 10% got there because of wealth/power/career growth that they built (or inherited) in their 20s-40s. I'd be curious if the American version of gerontocracy is found in wealthy countries with a high safety net - I just did a very non-scientific scroll through some nordic countries' wikis listing current and past leaders, and interestingly they all look much younger - more in the 50s/60s range. In the other direction, "non-Western" countries with high wealth inequality are among those with a similar gerontocracy as America.

Anyway, this discussion has made me wonder if the hope of the "late bloomer" narrative has perhaps replaced the American dream as our most treasured myth - because sure, some people do get their break later in life, but the odds of this happening are about as low as a rags to riches story.

***This isn't quite true - there is another group - people who don't retire because they equate retirement with death (having seen peers mentally/physically decline post-retirement) or people who do retire but then re-enter the work force not because they need to financially, but because they find themselves mostly bored doing the things old people are "supposed to do" in our society, like caring for grandchildren and gardening. Just like how many women find being a housewife to not provide enough fulfillment, it's clearly so for many elderly as well. Given that, it's interesting to me that the retirees I know who seem most fulfilled are mostly women who engage in a lot of volunteer labor (whereas I know of way more men who couldn't hack retirement - it's clearly gendered in our current society). I don't find Moyn's solutions all that thoughtful, and I'd say that we'd probably better serve elders by making it easier for them to find meaningful volunteer (or hell, paid labor opportunities) that let them contribute to society.
posted by coffeecat at 11:07 AM on February 10 [9 favorites]


OK I read about half of TFA, and that's some minutes of my life I'll never get back. The tweet quoted by OP is a fair sample of the quality of perception and thinking that went into the piece. I bailed when, in the discussion of geronticidal societies, the writer moves from the well-known cases of the Arctic peoples with

Killing the elderly wasn’t just the preserve of peoples in harsh climates. Ancient Greeks believed that in Hyperborea, the blessed and mythical land to the north, old age was not tolerated.

and proceeds as if that, and an admittedly mythical alleged Roman practice were evidence, instead of citing any examples from the real world.

The rest of it is no better.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 11:26 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


Everybody sing together, "Throw the Oldie in the well".
posted by sammyo at 11:39 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


The Prime Ministers, or other heads of the executive, in Western Europe don’t really demonstrate gerontocracy. Scholz Is the outlier at 65

Germany: Olaf Scholz, 65 (Chancellor)
France: Emmanuel Macron, 46 (President)/ Gabriel Attal, 34
Italy: Giorgia Meloni, 47
Spain: Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, 51
UK: Rishi Sunak, 43

I stopped at that point so there may be some more variance if you spread your net wider.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:56 AM on February 10 [8 favorites]


No shouts yet in this thread for Carousel?
posted by kokaku at 12:10 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


And oh what a coincidence, somebody at another place I look threw this over the transom today.
ABSTRACT

Gerontocracy, in its narrowest sense, refers to political systems ruled by elderly people, whether de jure or de facto. Although formal gerontocratic rules are progressively disappearing, contemporary political systems are still governed by individuals who are significantly older than the mean voter. This article reviews existing explanations for the prevalence of gerontocracy. To summarize main findings, gerontocracy cannot be explained by the leadership qualities of older rulers: aging leaders do not perform better in office and voters seem to be aware of it. Instead, existing research suggests that gerontocracy can be explained by strategic considerations. In autocracies, the selectorate tends to choose aging leaders in order to reduce their expected tenure length. In democracies, voters are more likely to select experienced candidates, which they expect to be more effective at advancing the interests of their constituency: this premium put on experience mechanically lengthens political careers and increases the age of the average politician. Finally, older voters, which participate more in politics, tend to prefer older politicians, because they (correctly) expect them to better defend their own interests.
Some actual peer-reviewed scholarship on the topic, if anybody's interested.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 12:24 PM on February 10 [8 favorites]


Comparing Biden and Sanders is pretty informative, actually. Both have had long careers in politics, but Biden was in the Senate from 1973-2009: 36 years. Sanders was first elected to the Senate in 2007. To Not A Thing's point, Biden was accumulating power on a national scale for decades before Sanders. Biden was only 31 when he was elected to the Senate. Pelosi 47, Grassley 48... Gerontocracy isn't the problem; the limitless accumulation of political and financial capital is. The people calling the shots in Silicon Valley are much younger than their political counterparts because you can make your beachhead there through luck - but once they're in, the same principles apply.

Term limits, campaign finance limits, ranked choice voting... and then maybe we can do some real work on wealth.
posted by McBearclaw at 1:11 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]




In the decades that followed, after any revolutionary challenge, one counterrevolution after another has restored the authority of elders, and displaced the youthful pretenders.

I recently heard that unhappy Mexicans sometimes referred to their parliament as "the museum of natural history" early in their revolution.
posted by doctornemo at 1:41 PM on February 10


I am having a surprisingly hard time finding an authoritative source on the adult modal age at death in the late 18th century United States (help?)

Health and the Economy in the United States, from 1750 to the Present has a nice chart -- Panel A, in Figure 1
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:42 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


You will never get rid of old people in power, so stop wasting everyone's time complaining about it unless you're willing and able to create something even better for old politicians to move on to.

My hobbyhorse in this area is that you should kick them upstairs as a retirement plan. Create an honorary upper chamber to which career politicians are automatically promoted after a certain age (70, for example). At that point, they lose direct voting power and can't run for office, but they are no longer subject to election: for the rest of their lives, they retain their pay and privileges, get advisory seats on committees, and take on some more honorary and ceremonial roles. They could untie their tongues and say what they really think (within reason), because votes would mean nothing to them anymore. Politicians would love it.

Do that or accept that you're eventually going to have 100-year-old politicians governing the people of 2050 based on what they learned in the 1950s from teachers born in the 1800s. That's the kind of deep wisdom and experience you want in the upper chamber, but not running things from day to day.
posted by pracowity at 1:52 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


Comparing Biden and Sanders is also interesting in that while Biden built a multi-racial coalition among 40+ voters, it was Bernie who was able to build a multi-racial coalition among 18-40 voters. He also got endorsements from a lot of younger progressives and groups like the Sunrise Movement.
posted by coffeecat at 1:53 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I mean we also have Kim Jong Un and Mr. Bone Saw, so not all of the kids are alright
posted by credulous at 4:14 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


>Not only did the elders carry the tribal legends along but they carried the extremely import current state -- like who was who's child and who had rights to what land.

I thought this was an interesting point, but I can't help but come to the opposite conclusion from the same premises. Less literate times perpetuate the status quo in a very familiar fashion.


We're not in disagreement. I was trying to point out why gerontocracy has been the default for time immemorial. Piss off the elders and you may find yourself down the memory hole.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:17 PM on February 10


The linked article and resulting discussion here ignores some facts.

Power in the US is not limited to old people, especially if wealth equals power. Among the wealthiest in the country we have Bezos (young boomer), Musk, Sergey Brin and Larry Page (all Gen X), along with Zuckerberg (millennial). They all have the opportunity to improve the country’s lot, but instead choose to contribute to the shittification of society.

And when it comes to politics, the number of potential silent generation and boomer voters is far surpassed by the combination of gen X, millennial and gen Z voters.

Yep, term limits and mandatory voting in the US could solve the problem, but JUST voting and more engagement by the younger generations would have the same effect.
posted by SteveInMaine at 4:26 PM on February 10 [9 favorites]


"I worry about people who throw rocks."

-Chrisjen Avasarala.
posted by clavdivs at 4:30 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


Comparing Biden and Sanders is also interesting in that while Biden built a multi-racial coalition among 40+ voters, it was Bernie who was able to build a multi-racial coalition among 18-40 voters. He also got endorsements from a lot of younger progressives and groups like the Sunrise Movement.

Neither of them appear to have much interest in naming a successor from among those groups.
posted by Selena777 at 4:30 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Neither of them appear to have much interest in naming a successor from among those groups.

"Naming a successor"? That's not up to them. That's up to us.

I feel like so many of these discussions have a surreal aspect to them... in which everyone pretends that old people in elected positions in the U.S. ... weren't elected to them.

Biden was elected to the presidency a little over 3 years ago. Nancy Pelosi has faced reelection every 2 years as long as she's been in the House. Schumer and McConnell have to run again every 6 years. As someone said upthread:

In terms of American democracy, there are younger options out there, it's just that nobody wants to take them.

And as someone else said:

Not to oversimplify, but the average American voter is in their 50s, which means in our Electoral College system the decision-making voters are older than that. Is it a surprise that the plurality of decision-making voters have chosen someone in their cohort?

I also appreciated this quote from the peer-reviewed study on "gerontocracy" (which I put in quotes because I question the degree to which it's really even a thing, at least in the U.S.):

In democracies, voters are more likely to select experienced candidates, which they expect to be more effective at advancing the interests of their constituency: this premium put on experience mechanically lengthens political careers and increases the age of the average politician. Finally, older voters, which participate more in politics, tend to prefer older politicians, because they (correctly) expect them to better defend their own interests.

Then there's this:

Gerontocracy isn't the problem; the limitless accumulation of political and financial capital is.

...accompanied by commentary on how long Biden was in the Senate. He may have accumulated some political capital, but not much financial capital: He was poorest member of the chamber pretty much the whole time he served in it.

And his path to the presidency wasn't linear or inevitable. He was VP for 8 years, then out of office for 4, then he had to compete in a very crowded primary.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 5:27 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


It feels like the author is bummed out - as many people are - about the number of very old people currently in charge of the US, and the very old presidential candidates, and in his bummed-out state he wants to sweep away the system and replace it with something else.

As y'all have pointed it, the situation for old people in the US is much more complicated (and for most, much worse) than "they're powerful".

...

There's also the possibility that the number of very old people with a lot of power in the US right now is just a coincidence. Of the last 8 American presidents, 2 have started their terms in their 40s, 2 in their 50s, 2 in their 60s, and two in their 70s. To me that seems like a pretty random set of data points rather than an inexorable trend toward gerontocracy.
posted by clawsoon at 6:40 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


I'd like to point out that in the early months of 2020, the idea that we would all ditch masks and distancing and throw our sick and old and young and vulnerable to the wolves was abhorrent and unthinkable. All it took was an enthusiastic PR campaign to make masking and precautions a political issue, and now it's not only thinkable, it's the accepted norm. And the vulnerable are dying by the thousands.

This may be the first time you're hearing someone propose killing old people as a remedy for various issues, but be assured, it won't be the last. As our planet turns more hostile, we are becoming less human.

These days we're not outright killing old people, we're just forcing them to be homeless without healthcare so they die on their own, which is more justifiable apparently. Personally I'd prefer a nice stabbing or an ice floe. So who knows what advancements we'll be seeing in elder care soon. Now that killing seniors is on the table as a solution to gerontocracy, it might turn out to be useful for all sorts of other problems.
posted by MrVisible at 7:46 PM on February 10 [11 favorites]


"In recent decades, the problem of old women, too, has appeared as an unexpected by-product of the feminist demand for political agency. Men long ago proved that with great power can come great irresponsibility, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision to remain in office until her late eighties, preventing President Obama of an opportunity to appoint a new, progressive judge, shows that the same is now true of powerful women."

Powerful women are exactly like powerful men, lately; also, powerful women are all alike.

Gerontocracy is a great discussion topic.
Reading this essay was like watching a cowboy cross a raging river, and I'm surprised it's from Samuel Moyn.

Side note -- when Ginsburg declined to retire at that time, why didn't the powers that be exert pressure on Justice Breyer?
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:25 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Average ages of legislatures by country. The oldest is the UK House of Lords at 70, though the House of Commons is much younger at 51. There’s a comparable but lesser gap between the US Senate (64) and House of Representatives (just under 58), which come in at seventh and twenty-fourth in the list.
posted by Phanx at 10:38 PM on February 10


>>Comparing Biden and Sanders is also interesting in that while Biden built a multi-racial coalition among 40+ voters, it was Bernie who was able to build a multi-racial coalition among 18-40 voters. He also got endorsements from a lot of younger progressives and groups like the Sunrise Movement.

>Neither of them appear to have much interest in naming a successor from among those groups.


Um, I think Biden did in fact do exactly that? Does Kamala Harris not count for some reason?
posted by Rhedyn at 12:31 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


It's crazy how much generalising there is from the US to "the West" or "white culture" in this thread, from norms and conditions that are specific to the US, or very much not common to "the West" or "white culture". It feels like a conversation about the US where people are pretending that isn't the case, it's about humanity or the West or whatever.
posted by Dysk at 1:16 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Gerontocracy is a great discussion topic.
Reading this essay was like watching a cowboy cross a raging river, and I'm surprised it's from Samuel Moyn.


Yes, one thing I failed to note in the framing was that this isn't a research or policy article. It was published in Granta, a notable UK-based literary magazine, and as such is supposed to be taken more as a literary essay or provocation than anything else.

Speaking as someone who's right in the middle of middle age, and who has definitely begun bumping up against the odd bit of age-based discrimination... yes, it sucks. And also, please think of the children. There are many reasonable concerns upthread, but it's worth reminding people that we are already killing the children here in America. As I tried to outline above, gerontocracy is already enacting violence of many types against the non-gerontocrats.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:22 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


These days we're not outright killing old people, we're just forcing them to be homeless without healthcare so they die on their own, which is more justifiable apparently

Again, there are some deep structural problems with how - I'll take the critiques and say the US - orders its society. And one of those things is how the elderly are expected to live on their own, and some of that is just because we've created housing that is oriented around the nuclear family and then made it nearly impossible to change it.

So take houses - most houses on the market are two or three bedroom houses, because that's the size of the average nuclear family, parents with one to two children. The bedrooms are usually way larger than necessary - like, take a look around the average master bedroom of houses on Zillow - and the same house could *easily* have been designed as a four or five bedroom house, with smaller bedrooms, except that it's not profitable to build it that way, because our society doesn't expect people to live that way.

And people are like "oh well then bedrooms would be too close together and not soundproof" but like: that's a design choice. That's a design choice made by people who built cheap shitty houses because they didn't think anyone would be able to tell the difference, because they assumed everyone would be flipping them every ten years rather than buying a house to pass down through their family over multiple generations. And that's also partially a societal thing, because we have a society where having an old house is considered vaguely shameful and people feel the need to redo their kitchen cabinets every ten years or whatever.
posted by corb at 7:00 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Um, I think Biden did in fact do exactly that? Does Kamala Harris not count for some reason?


I could've sworn he said he was going to be president for one term and bow out but reneged.
posted by Selena777 at 7:05 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Okay, restricting this to the United States, I think a big problem with this country is that in order to come into being it had to make people pathologically non-compassionate, this is indeed related to whiteness but not exclusive to white people and it is a factor in everything that is going wrong now.

I often think, when thinking about slavery, "how could people do that, how could you literally see another human being and hurt them, take their children, etc, why wouldn't you immediately think that just as this would be unbearable for you, it would be unbearable for them". It isn't sufficient to say, "it was easy to dehumanize people due to difference", because it wasn't - lots of white people, both in Europe and in the Americas, had normal human relationships with Africans and with Native people before. So obviously it had to be taught, and what had to be taught was being able to watch other people suffer horribly, horribly, and not care, to turn off the part of you that cares. Or maybe to take pleasure in watching other people suffer, or maybe after a while that's what it turns into.

Of course it's self-reinforcing after a certain point. By the time you create a nightmare hellscape of injustice, everyone has to be brutally indifferent just to stay alive.

I truly believe, as an American, that this what what underlies American culture, maybe settler cultures generally. I believe it more every day when I see how cruel we are to unhoused and needy people. And certainly they don't seem that nice in the UK right now, if we're bringing Granta into it.

The whole business of "let's just start off with the 'provocation' of maybe killing the elderly" is pretty gross and inexplicable to me. My dad is seventy-eight. If someone said, "by some magic your dad will live to be 120 in great health and as much happiness as anyone can have", I'd be over the fucking moon. And of course, there are lots of bad dads out there; I'm not saying that mere fatherhood makes someone lovable. But I sure don't find a natural tie-up between all the bad old eighties fascists being back in power and maybe needing to put my dad on an ice floe.

And I do find this a weird, uncompassionate moral tie up - "people should live long, good lives" isn't the same as "patriarchy is good" and honestly it's pretty warped to think "we can only make a society where people live long good lives if we have patriarchy". That's ageism if I ever saw it.

There's this lack of compassion and lack of imagination, like we cannot envision old people as anything except monsters and tyrants who are falsely overvalued.

This zero-sum thinking where naturally we have to pick between making life good for the young and making life good for the old - that might be true in some edge case where you can only have so many ECMO machines or something and we can deal with that when we get there, but it is only true in our current society because the very rich loot everything. We have enough wealth and capacity to run societies that are good for everyone.

I would be extremely, extremely surprised if you could run a complex society which had any kind of freedom where younger people were valued and supported and life was good but old people were treated like baggage soon to be jettisoned into death, because I think we only create good societies when we value all humans in all ways. "Old people, roughly defined as when you start to get a little frail, are on the road to death and we should think of them as a bit useless, really" is less than a step from "disabled people aren't productive, women past menopause aren't productive, everyone who isn't growing is useless and bad".
posted by Frowner at 7:41 AM on February 11 [16 favorites]


"Old people, roughly defined as when you start to get a little frail, are on the road to death and we should think of them as a bit useless, really" is less than a step from "disabled people aren't productive, women past menopause aren't productive, everyone who isn't growing is useless and bad".

This is why you're seeing the sentiment - it's less than a step away from the reality in which we live, that you describe at the end of your sentence.
posted by Dysk at 8:21 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


The oldest is the UK House of Lords at 70, though the House of Commons is much younger at 51.

The Houses of Lords is essentially by appointment and for life. It will inevitably skew old. It is also not very powerful constitutionally, due to being unelected.

The last 9 British prime ministers have been (age when taking office): Thatcher 53, Major 47, Blair 43, Brown 56, Cameron 43, May 59, Johnson 55, Truss 47, Sunak 42. The average age of the government and opposition front benches is usually around 50-55, not far off the average age of MPs.

The US senate seems structurally tilted towards gerontocracy, but the evidence seems to be that it is somewhat unusual in that regard.
posted by plonkee at 9:57 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I could've sworn he said he was going to be president for one term and bow out but reneged.

Remarkably, a number of people I know will swear up and down that he said this thing, despite him never really doing so. The personality type that runs for president is not the type that happily relinquishes power and fades into the sunset, lol.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:55 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


That started in Spring 2019: During his first interview after announcing his presidential run [on April 25th] on ABC’s The View, Biden said he wouldn’t commit to only one term and that making a determination on that was not necessarily his choice. "I may end up, if I get elected, only having one term, but the idea of committing not to do one term. Look, I, here’s the deal: I think it’s important for people, it’s a legitimate question to ask about my age, and the same question was asked of me at age 29, whether I was old enough to serve. It’s a question of whether or not, hopefully, I can demonstrate, not only with age comes wisdom, and experience that can make things a lot better. And look, that’s for you all to decide," Biden said on the topic. In an October interview, Biden again would not commit on running for a second term if he were to be elected. "I feel good and all I can say is, watch me, you’ll see," Biden said in an interview with the Associated Press. "It doesn’t mean I would run a second term. I’m not going to make that judgment at this moment." (ABC)

In March 2019, the New York Times had reported that Biden was considering pledging to serve only one term, as a way to meet concerns about his age; on April 26, 2019, the day of his announcement, USA Today reported: Asked if he would only serve a single term if elected, Biden said, "No."

On December 11, 2019, Politico had: According to four people who regularly talk to Biden, all of whom asked for anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters, it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for reelection in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president. "If Biden is elected," a prominent adviser to the campaign said, "he’s going to be 82 years old in four years and he won’t be running for reelection." ("Biden signals to aides that he would serve only a single term").

Later on Dec. 11, 2019, at ABC: "Joe Biden denies he is mulling a one-term pledge if elected president." "No, I never have," Biden said when asked by a reporter on Wednesday if those discussions were taking place. "I don’t have any plans on one term." A senior adviser for Biden's campaign has also pushed back on the report, calling it "just not true."
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:12 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


It's crazy how much generalising there is from the US to "the West" or "white culture" in this thread

MetaFilter is as MetaFilter does.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:03 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


We have enough wealth and capacity to run societies that are good for everyone.

I think this is sort of true-ish.

Like, I support us having good health and other care for the aged in the same way that I think everyone, not just the wealthy, should have access to fertility treatment even as they get older and excellent childcare for the resulting children; I don't think that people should be trapped by the vagaries of their bodies into living suboptimal lives for them just because Nature Said So.

But at the same time, I think that our society does need a profound reset on what sort of things actually make things good for everyone, and what sort of things are being done only because our society treats aging and death as this thing to be avoided at all costs. Giving people extra muscle flexibility and tone so they can live healthy active lives as they age is good for everyone: having access to wrinkle avoidance may not be. Giving people extra years when they want them is good for everyone: I'm not sure that doing extraordinary measures to give people an extra few weeks is. But also I think it is important to note that not everyone does want those years.

I think also, my experiences are shaped by having watched multiple members of my family pass in their late nineties and early 100s, at peace with dying - their friends dead, widows, having watched their children and grandchildren grow up. And I think - as I hit my 40s, I begin to understand that perspective more and more. There's so much richness to my relationships with people who have known me for decades. When they pass - when they all pass - the world will be significantly flatter. When those old friends are gone, when my partner is gone, and when the kids are in a good enough place that I think they'll be okay - I don't know how much I'll want to stick around past my expiration date.
posted by corb at 2:32 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


When you hit your fifties, you'll probably want to not have wrinkles. I think that we don't value the character of old faces; the wear of time, the sparkle of wisdom and deep intelligence in elderly eyes, the lines and creases that form when older folks smile. But I don't ever want to look like that. I want to be hot! Who doesn't, come on!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:19 PM on February 11


?
Wrinkles and sexiness are not mutually exclusive.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:36 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Look, I'm just being real. Let people have access to hair dye and wrinkle cream and what have you. It's not like young people don't spend hours on their appearance. Vanity is a thing for all ages!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:31 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


At some age, (maybe this last year for me), age hits.

I like to think of the larger, older man, in the Southern Comfort ad on the beach, who gets his drink, takes off his shirt, and heads down the beach. Fuck it. I am old, I've gained 30 pounds, and I have a gnarly looking scar. Deal with it. I'm not dead yet, let's see how it works for you youngster! Let's not even talk about my now sixhead...

Getting old in America tends to suck, because a lot of medical stuff happens when we get old. And many of those are hard situations. And our healthcare system and capitalism and all that. I fear dementia, having seen it in my mom. Don't ever want to become that burden on my people.

EDIT: Haven't volunteered for that trip on the iceberg yet though...
posted by Windopaene at 5:38 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


I want to be hot! Who doesn't, come on!

*raises hand*

Hi!

There are loads of people who just don't give a shit either way. The fact that aesthetic obsession is very much part of mainstream (Western) culture at the moment doesn't mean it's universal (within the West).
posted by Dysk at 9:37 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: [T]his seems like an inherently white problem.
posted by mule98J at 3:34 PM on February 13


Side note -- when Ginsburg declined to retire at that time, why didn't the powers that be exert pressure on Justice Breyer?

Ginsburg had a colon cancer diagnosis in 1999 and a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2009. I think there were valid reasons for pressuring Ginsburg more than Breyer.

On the other hand, both Ginsburg and Breyer were less strategic in how they retired than the liberal Republican wing of SCOTUS. Nixon appointee Harry Blackmun retired during Clinton's first term in 1994, while Republican appointees David Souter and John Paul Stevens both retired during Obama's first term (2009 for Souter, 2010 for Stevens). If Souter and Stevens had waited for a Republican president to replace them, which is a totally plausible alternative scenario, the overturning of Roe v. Wade probably would have happened several years sooner, along with God knows what other calamities.
posted by jonp72 at 4:56 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


When she wouldn't budge, I think he could have been persuaded. Linked retirements and the summer of 2009. Breyer published "The Authority of the Court and the Perils of Politics" less than six months before he retired.

2017's "The Disillusionment of Samuel Moyn" at the Chronicle of Higher Education (archived): Samuel Moyn looks suspiciously like a teenager. [Moyn was 47.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:41 PM on February 13


This article from today's NY Times, about youthful activism and aging rulers in Africa, seems relevant:

But to the frustration of its youthful population, Africa also has some of the world’s longest-serving leaders, who often place their own personal gain and political longevity above the welfare of their nations, experts on the continent’s politics say.

At least 18 heads of state in Africa have held power for more than two decades in the post-colonial era, and many have left legacies of poverty, unemployment, unrest and a wealthy ruling elite far removed from the everyday struggles of their people.

Age is a huge political dividing line. The 10 countries with the biggest differences in the world between the leader’s age and the median age of the population are all in Africa, according to data from the Pew Research Center. The widest gap is in Cameroon, where President Paul Biya, who took office in 1982, is 91. The median age there is under 18 — a difference of more than 70 years.

posted by Dip Flash at 5:48 AM on February 17


At least 18 heads of state in Africa have held power for more than two decades in the post-colonial era, and many have left legacies of poverty, unemployment, unrest and a wealthy ruling elite far removed from the everyday struggles of their people... The widest gap is in Cameroon, where President Paul Biya, who took office in 1982, is 91. The median age there is under 18 — a difference of more than 70 years.

Imagine my complete lack of surprise when I looked up Paul Biya and saw that his regime has been militarily propped up by France.
posted by clawsoon at 9:07 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


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