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Peter on DYing at 75

peter's picture

I am both outraged and in agreement with Emmanuel.  I agree that our societal preoccupation with extending life as a goal in itself is ridiculous.  The American immortal is a concoction of the economy in the same way that we put youth and newness on a pedestal.  Life is not a quantity, it is a quality.

His observation that living longer means that we are merely extending old age, rather than Silverstone’s observation of the same phenomena leading to the conclusion that we are extending middle age, is the crux of where he gets it wrong.  An 85 year old who finds meaning in life does have an extended middle age, while someone the same age who is ill and not enjoying life does merely have an extended old age.  Even that does not argue that the 86th year is not “worth” living. 

And it is absurd that someone who is 57—the same age I am now—could possibly know how they will value their own life in 18 short years when we are 75.  I am a young person, with a new career and a new family, enthusiastic about what lies ahead.  When I get there, whether at 65 or 95, I want to have the right to say I would rather not live any longer, but I cannot imagine making the decision about when that occurs years in advance, based on probabilities or intellectual exercises.  How can he know that will not say he is happy when he is in his late 80’s, just as his own father does today? 

Emmanuel is narrow-minded about what constitutes a quality life.  His focus is dominated by his internalized belief that only creative, innovative thought that contributes to the world can constitute a “real” quality life. How bad that must make his family and friends feel!  Do these relationships really give him no meaning, let alone any joy or comfort?  Did he scale Kilimanjaro to accomplish something or to enjoy time with his nephews? 

Does he really believe that once we pass the peak of our creativity, the value of our life declines until we might as long not bother thinking, doing, or even being?  That is terribly intellectuallist and classist.  What does that say to the person of lesser intellect to begin with who never had any particularly shining thoughts?  What does that say to the 90%--or whatever %--of our society that “only” goes to work, goes home with a paycheck, and enjoys their family friends, and activities?  Do we live to work or do we work to live?   This is not too far from the early industrial era view that only the young could be good workers, even if the industrial era focused on physical stamina and dexterity rather than intellectual.    

Fundamentally, Emmanuel appears to have disdain and contempt for what he imagines must be the life experience of an older person “repeating the same old stories” or with “constricting ambitions and expectations.”  My dad is 89 and has dementia.  I do wonder whether he is enjoying his life, but I know that he is still is contributing to mine.  Even if he must measure life by contributions, is it not a contribution to allow me the experience of taking care of him?  Is it worthless that an image of him in my memory will be the joy on his face when I come to visit? 

I “preach” to my folks at the senior center where I work that life is a continuing developmental challenge, and just as a toddler must conquer the developmental challenge of learning to walk safely, so must we. I am with Silverstone on this.  Yet, whether because of the signals our society sends us or more objective or subjective realities of changing mental and physical abilities, it remains true, for most people, that at some point, the positives are not enough.  That is for each of us to decide, when we are there.