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Aging as an Assumed Normative Process

rb.richx's picture

This is in response to "Why I Hope to Die at 75".

I think the core issue of Emanuel's article is that it almost only takes into account the established norm/identities that are generally "invisible" due to their privilege (ex: I’m guessing he’s a straight cisgender white man). So, basically, everything that intersects with age is tossed aside in an oversimplified argument that I believe holds no validity.

Here's a short list of "isms" that can be found and/or underlie his arguments (and thus why we shouldn't take him very seriously):

  • Ageism: This is the entire basis of the article.
  • Ableism: Emanuel argues that aging past 75 means a decline in life quality, primarily by saying that you are more likely to be disabled; by extension, being disabled is inherently a decline in life quality. One of his arguments: “It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” How is this the fault of the elderly individual and not the pity/disgust/etc. that others harbor for aged and/or disabled people? (Also, interestingly, his argument is extremely similar to that argument some people have against fat people/gaining weight.)
  • Cissexism (primarily transmisogyny): Trans women of color are expected to live to maybe their 30s. Just think about that in relation to this whole article. No alternative ways of living are really suggested.
  • Classism: Several others have commented on this already. Honestly there’s so much going on that it’s exhausting to go over all of it. 
  • Eurocentrism: Nowhere does this article talk about other cultures. I know that many cultures value elders in some ways more than their youth, and by extension, to be of an older age would mean that a person has a new lot in life and have value in different ways. Also, this focus on productivity is vary capitalist-based.
  • Racism: “(The one exception is increasing the life expectancy of some subgroups, such as black males, who have a life expectancy of just 72.1 years. That is dreadful, and should be a major focus of attention.)” This is mentioned in a parenthetical aside. If it’s that important to you, why aren’t you putting that at the forefront? This is sort of the same reason cissexism is on here; both race and gender identity intersect a lot with class and ability.
  • Sexism: sure, as he mentioned, there is a trend within Americans that women live longer than men. But also, women often work way more than men (Marilyn Waring's Who's Counting?), and would have to continue to work longer than men to have the same benefits/pay/security in order to reach the same level of wealth fulfillment at the very least (same goes for people of color, especially black and latinx folks)
  • This list could go on probably, but I’d rather save my breath.                                                                     

As I mentioned, I believe instead of being only introspective and blaming each other for wanting to live forever, we should as a society re-evaluate things:

  • Interdependency: a really great thing that is especially valued in the disability community. If more of society valued this concept, then the focus on youth and its independence would be less considered necessary to being a fulfilled person.
  • Capitalism: being unproductive means no point in living, Emanuel specifically seems to value his creativity which is great but he sounds like he really needs to re-evaluate how he thinks we’re “robbed” of “creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world”, and also that the only thing “more to life than youthful passions focused on career and creating … is posterity: children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.” Honestly, if you think that you can't be passionate or have a career or find other things beyond having a job, maybe you're doing something wrong now even.

Aging differently is also a thing:

  • Generally, people change and have multiple stages to their lives as we’ve discussed, during which you’re going to have different values; if we accept that you can change values over your lifetime from youth to middle age to old age, why can’t they change… more…? Anyway, the point is, you may find different focuses to your life and there are lots of changes that can occur. Peter gave us an excellent example of this in his post – himself. /oneworld/identity-matters-being-belonging-becoming/peter-dying-75 . Also, smalina also gave us a lot of grounding questions about self. /oneworld/identity-matters-being-belonging-becoming/emanuel-response “Emanuel makes the assertion that it was painful to watch his father deteriorate because, after a health incident, he was no longer "the same person." This raises important questions about what makes up the self, and how the self progresses, regresses, and changes over a life course. Emanuel appears to make the claim that a "healthy" person is only one self at any given time, and that once they have changed, their life is no longer worth living. What, then, of developing children whose senses of self change drastically day to day? With Emanuel's reasoning, one could easily choose to shut babies in a box with a teacher and bring them out only when they have a defined, consistent sense of self--clearly, such a thought is ridiculous, torturous, and selfish. Why apply this same theory to older people, rather than allow their senses of self to shift as well (even if it's traumatizing for those around them)?” smalina’s point connects to mine; because a person changes and has many facets (such as ability, race, gender, etc.) that may or may not change but are still plural, it is impossible to create one single linear stretch for life. (Thus why Queer Time and Crip Time are such discussed topics).
  • Disabled aging also is often a separate process that follows different time lines, and people may experience feeling or "being" different ages in non-normative order. For example, if you have a period of your life that you feel/experience life with a flare-up of physical disabilities, you may have some experiences/feelings/etc. of being older during that time. Also, another example -- Riva Lehrer, who worked with us in class, recently came to Haverford to give a talk on her art and experiences of her disability. During that time, she mentioned that she "didn't know how to age" -- she didn't have a path that she could follow or look forward to, as she was projected to not live past childhood, and she also is one of the first people to live to her current age with spina bifida.