Editor’s note: This is a very brief synthesis of some interesting research I have been conducting about our current aging state of affairs that harkens back to the work of Theodore Roszak, who argued that—as the New York Times noted in an article upon his death in 2011—“the idealistic values of the 1960s would inspire millions of baby boomers in their last years.”
I’ve been reading the works of Theodore Roszak—three of his books, in particular: “The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society & Its Youthful Opposition” published in 1970; “Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders,” published in 2001; and “The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of America’s Most Audacious Generation,” published in 2009. I am about half way through Elder Culture and have only just started the other two.
I am struck by the quote at the outset of the first chapter of Elder Culture, from Maggie Kuhn, a social activist who happens to have been born in my home town, Buffalo, NY, in 1905:
“We are not ‘senior citizens’ or ‘golden-agers.’ We are the elders, the experienced ones; we are maturing, growing adults responsible for the survival of our society. We are not wrinkled babies, succumbing to trivial, purposeless waste of our years and our time. We are a new breed of old people.” — Maggie Kuhn, A Dialogue on Age
That immediately got my attention.
Roszak, it turns out, was a prolific writer with a creative flair. In The Making of a Counter Culture, he sets the stage with his theories and notions on the “technocracy,” writing that
In the technocracy everything aspires to become purely technical, the subject of professional attention. The technocracy is therefore the regime of experts—or of those who can employ the experts. Among its key institutions we find the “think-tank,” in which is housed a multi-billion-dollar brainstorming industry that seeks to anticipate and integrate into social planning quite simply everything on the scene. . . Within such a society, the citizen, confronted by bewildering bigness and complexity, finds it necessary to defer on all matters to those who know better.
He takes this theme over to his books published in the 21st century. In Elder Culture, for instance, Roszak points out that:
Conservatives, especially the neoconservatives who came to power during the Reagan presidency, see the cost on an aging society as the prime obstacle to their project of building a corporate-dominated, market-based, highly militarized global economy. They have accurately seen the entitlements and the life expectancy now available to the many as the antithesis of a Social-Darwinist ethic that serves the few.
In Longevity Revolution, he explains how our ability and propensity to be healthier and live much longer lives than our predecessors brings forth a dilemma that conservatives can’t seem to reason out in a logical fashion. In a chapter titled “The Attack on Entitlements,” he writes about so-called “generational accountants” who have made “the future appear especially catastrophic,” calling the aging boomer generation, for instance,
an unfunded pension liability. . . Just as their early industrial ancestors, the classical economists, could see nothing in the future but misery for the millions but misery for the millions, the generational accountants are telling the younger generation that it is destined for grinding poverty—unless it finds some way to turn life expectancy back to what it was during the Great Depression when few people were expected to live long enough to collect their Social Security.
The question in my mind becomes what is that we aging boomers can do about this kind of overly negative thinking? My simple answer goes back to Kuhn’s quote. We must not succumb to “trivial, purposeless waste of our years and our time.” We must continue to contribute, which means, in short, that full retirement is no longer a smart option.