T-t-t-talking 'bout my generation...
August 18, 2004 8:30 AM   Subscribe

As the population of the world ages and the prospect for future technologies to either cheat death or increase longevity could we be looking at a schism between the conservative old and the young? Is it possible to heal this rift or should we be looking at alternatives?
posted by longbaugh (28 comments total)
I know MeFi doesn't like questions asked in the blue but I think that this deserves an informed discussion. Most of us as we grow older do become more conservative in our outlooks. If we end up living 100-150 years each of us (which is possible within our lifetime) then what will make those in power step down and hand the reins of society to the next generation?
posted by longbaugh at 8:33 AM on August 18, 2004

Are the "young" actually more "conservative"? And what do you mean by "conservative"?

Jerry Rubin, for example, went from being a Yippie protester to being a Wall Street guy, but he still seemed to believe in, say, gay rights, affirmative action, and other things that aren't on the US "conservative agenda".

In China, it seems, broadly, that the older generation is more committed to Communism and the younger generation is more interested in exploring free-market capitalism. Who is more "conservative" in that regard?

And in the Middle East, there are a lot of nations in which cosmopolitan parents wring their hands over their orthodox/fundamentalist children's seeming rush to embrace the traditions of the past. Again, who is "conservative"--the sixty-year-old Jordanian mother who tints her hair and wears Paris fashions, or her thirty-year-old daughter who wears the veil?

I think the premises of your question are remarkably faulty. I don't mean this as a personal attack or slam--but I don't think you've thought this through very clearly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:49 AM on August 18, 2004

Btruce Sterling addresses some of these concerns in Holy Fire. There, the only money that's worth anything is savings bonds which only the ultra-old have. And the young slave away to support the medical treatments which keep the old alive.
posted by signal at 8:50 AM on August 18, 2004

This would be "resistant to change" Sidhedevil. That being the definition of small-c conservative that the rest of the world generally agrees on. With that being the case the premises of my question should be clear to all. Do you have anything to add on the topic?

Let me put it another way for you -

1: Old people want one thing.
2: Young people want something else.
3: Old people are getting older and generally hold the keys to power.
4: What do young people do if they want to affect social change? (example - support for gay marriage is more likely in younger generations).

(hint - the answer is not "profit")
posted by longbaugh at 9:12 AM on August 18, 2004

are there any real conservatives left? the wacko extremists in the white house have turned "conservative" into a synonym for "mean" (if not "evil").
posted by muppetboy at 9:28 AM on August 18, 2004

This is part of an interesting contradiction that's always amused me. Older or more "conservative" folks (the ones that espouse less taxes or government welfare) are the ones that benefit the most from Medicare or Social Security, while the young (or the more "liberal" group) are the ones who have to pay for it all. Yet they both maintain an ideology that's contrary to their interests.

A similar comparison could be made between urban vs. rural. The urbanites, which tend toward the liberal, pay the most taxes, contribute the most to the system, and get less back. While the rural people, who lean conservative, can talk nasty about welfare and government intrusion, yet they happily take the government handouts when they come (getting more back than they put in.) Once again, contrary to their interests on both sides.

Obviously, not a bulletproof observation, but odd nonetheless. I'm living proof - I live in a city, pay heavy taxes, and still vote liberal. But shouldn't I be voting to give myself more money, and screw the poor old people in the sticks? Weird. I guess I care too much.
posted by fungible at 9:36 AM on August 18, 2004

Young people always* win. Eventually.

*except in those cases where the old people start wars to kill them off in large numbers
posted by rushmc at 9:40 AM on August 18, 2004

Please can we stop co-opting the word "conservative" to mean "Republican"? It's a singularly US assumption that it means that. There are conservatives everywhere - it simply means "happy with the status quo". I have now commented twice to clarify the point of the FPP which speaks volumes of either my inability to be specific or the corruption of the English language.
posted by longbaugh at 9:41 AM on August 18, 2004

Considering my experience trying to talk to you, longbaugh, I just think you get pissed off when people don't say what you want them to.
posted by techgnollogic at 9:56 AM on August 18, 2004

What can we do? Wait.

The current young generation who sees nothing wrong with gay marriage will be in power eventually and the tide will turn. Todays gay marriage opponents will look like the 50's segregationists
posted by Mick at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2004

I'm looking forward to a bunch of 50 year old South Park Republicans.
posted by techgnollogic at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2004

I think it speaks more to your inability to be specific.

Let's take the example of the secular Israeli parents whose child becomes an ultra-Orthodox "black hat" settler on the West Bank.

Now, on the one hand, you could call the parents "conservative" because they are "resistant to change". But aren't the parents actually more "liberal" than the child?

I was not confusing "conservative" with "US Republican". Rather, I was trying to point out that "conservative" means different things in different countries.

Sometimes, older people want to preserve the existing order because it is more "liberal" in any sense of the word. Sometimes, the younger generation joins "ultra-conservative" movements that want to roll back social mores to those of past generations.

I think that the fundamental fallacy here is one of historical progressivism.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:19 AM on August 18, 2004

I believe one of Isaac Asimov's books (was it "Robots and empire"?) deals with this - one society of long-lived people, one of short-lived.
The long-lived society eventually atrophies and dies because it cannot change rapidly enough to keep up with events.
posted by spazzm at 10:25 AM on August 18, 2004

Gee techgnollogic - I see you've brought a pointless comment to a thread. That's new. How your "experience" at talking to me (which is limited to three comments so far) has lead you to that idea is amazing. You've really pegged me! Where should I send the cheque for your awesome psychoanalysis? Shall I make it out to "grudge-holding troll" and hope it reaches you in the post?

Back on track - if humanity reaches a break-even point of medical advance and aging then younger people are not going to be able to influence social change. The wrinklies will always be in control...

Sidhedevil - I certainly wasn't accusing you of the misunderstanding, my apologies if my reply was snarky. I am not trying to present an opinion on whether Liberal or Conservative viewpoints are better - simply saying the battle is between the young and old with different opionions on the direction of society - if the power is always in the hands of the old then how can the young effect change?
posted by longbaugh at 10:29 AM on August 18, 2004

Ah, Longbaugh, I think that "if the power is always in the hands of the old then how can the young effect change" is a very interesting question.

Is the power "always in the hands of the old", though?

Robespierre was 35 when he was head of the Committee of Public Safety--just barely old enough to be elected to the US Senate today. Danton was in his early thirties, Marat was in his late twenties and early thirties, and Saint-Just was in his mid and late twenties when they wielded their greatest influence.

And Fidel Castro was 32 when he came to power in Cuba.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2004

Wil McCarthy's The Wellstone is another interesting science-fictional take on the problem, from the perspective of the children of the first generation of immortals.
posted by darukaru at 10:48 AM on August 18, 2004

Those examples are very interesting Sidhedevil - I note they all have something in common - revolution. The old guard being swept away by the forces of youth and the power of their new ideas?

(my apologies for being such a thread hog)
posted by longbaugh at 10:58 AM on August 18, 2004

At some point in the next decade or two, I believe that we're going to hit a sigificant life span inflection point -- new technologies will make actuarial tables obsolete (or potentially obsolete) by a matter of ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty years.

States which have committed themselves to until-death social security schemes (the western industrialized ones, and Japan) are going to be hit with unimaginably vast liabilities, first to pay for the application of the life extending technologies, and second to pay incomes to all those people who were supposed to die at 77 who are now going to be living until 92.

The crushing burden of the idle aged will be avoided only if the benefits can be eliminated or retirement ages indexed to lifespan (i.e., you don't get to retire at a specific age, you have to work until 10 years before your actuarially predicted death) ... I wonder if there would be political will for that?

States that have no such commitments (India, China, Africa) will be free of those burdens and the taxes that they carry. Morever, they'll have a tremendous motivation for study and economic success, in that one can get the life-extending treatments only if one obtains the money to pay for them.

(The investment strategy for this is to make long term investments in life insurers or life reinsurers -- the disastrous effect that life extension will have on pension and health payers will be an untold windfall for life insurers.)
posted by MattD at 11:53 AM on August 18, 2004

Ok, a little off topic derivation...

Sometimes, older people want to preserve the existing order because it is more "liberal" in any sense of the word. Sometimes, the younger generation joins "ultra-conservative" movements that want to roll back social mores to those of past generations.

True...but I think the desire to roll back to previous generations is flawed thinking. For instance, the conservative elements in the US (until the rise of the Neo Cons) want "Less Government" and allow church based organizations to take care of the needy, etc, because that's the way it was done in the past and that way worked.

Well, in the past, we didn't have near instantaneous long distance mass transit that allowed for population dispersal. You were geographically limited in what you could do from a career standpoint, you tended to live in networks of extended families, primarily agrarian based, and there wasn't a lot of governmental support. People took care of their own based on necessity...

Thanks to technology, that's no longer the case. In short, you can't go home again.
posted by prodigalsun at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2004

An interesting perspective on society and age can be found by looking at plagues, of all things. This is because of inheritance from the older generation being passed down to the younger generation faster. Economic inefficiencies are swept aside, wealth is concentrated, investment capital is available and employment is high, and well paid.
In other words, a quick, murderous plague can result in an economic boon to the survivors.
Plagues also are not particular. While the poor, of course, tend to be hardest hit, so are the sickly and the old. Cities tend to suffer worse than rural areas. But this is not always the case.
After World War I, the Spanish Flu and the lesser known Brain Fever (that struck Europe), tended most of all to strike down young males in their prime of life. In retrospect it raises the question 'could disease cull excess males?' If so, the world is in jeopardy because of Asian policies that have caused severe imbalance between males and females, with as many as 20 million "excess" males projected.
posted by kablam at 3:14 PM on August 18, 2004

Damn you, kablam! You're making my head hurt with the pithy density of your comment (ever read "Plagues and Peoples"?). I was going to post a dumb, cheap, snarky toss-off - now you've ruined it.
posted by troutfishing at 3:54 PM on August 18, 2004

old people are pretty crazy sometimes!
posted by mcsweetie at 4:19 PM on August 18, 2004

Err, kablam, this is happening in Africa. Right now.

I was having a discussion with my lovely hubcap the other day about how the tragedy of AIDS in contemporary Africa may also lead to some of the economic and political advances that followed the Black Plague in Europe.

I doubt that the world is "in jeopardy" from an overall population reduction, though. Even though the gender imbalances in China and India are going to do weird things to the population curve over the next century, that isn't necessarily a bad thing in the long view.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:31 PM on August 18, 2004

Even though the gender imbalances in China and India are going to do weird things to the population curve over the next century, that isn't necessarily a bad thing in the long view.

of course, that's just a guess. there are other logical opinions. talk about potential terrorists.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:16 PM on August 18, 2004

Four words for ya:

Children of the Corn.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:47 PM on August 18, 2004

kablam, great observation. The Renaissance was helped along by the extermination of %50 of Europe just before.
And those excess males are just turning 18 or so and headed for where all young men go to prove themselves: the military.

People generally turn conservative when they feel threatened or in time of crisis, and also as they get older. The constant worries of terrorism and the economy and the environment and asteroids and the everything else it's a wonder anyone can be called liberal today. We are nothing compared to the Liberals of the Enlightenment, they were much more liberal.
posted by stbalbach at 9:52 PM on August 18, 2004

Interesting point about The Renaissance. Imagine how much creativity would flourish if organizations such as RIAA and Disney were wiped out. Or if intellectual property atrocities such as software patents suddenly disappeared.
posted by Meridian at 3:49 AM on August 19, 2004

What can we do? Wait.

The current young generation who sees nothing wrong with gay marriage will be in power eventually and the tide will turn. Todays gay marriage opponents will look like the 50's segregationists

Hmmm, as a child of the sixties, I have to question that. I used to think how wonderful everything would be when my generation was in charge. Well, the baby boomers ARE in charge-- and everything is turning to crap. There is more rampant selfishness, more corruption, and much less tolerance in America. Our civil liberties are eroding. Our attitude to the poor as well as the environment is a big "Fuck You." And the drug laws just keep getting harsher.

What happened to those sweet, gentle people I knew? They got old and they got hard.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:54 PM on August 19, 2004

« Older Digital Penpals   |   Zagunis Gets the Gold! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments