In downtown Lansing (MI), a 58-year-old woman walks into her office one morning to find a sheet of paper on her chair. It has no note or no indication where it came from. The paperwork is a form for retirement.
If you havenâ€™t noticed, the generational war is on in America. Some people who consider themselves â€œyoungâ€ disdain older people, sometimes overtly in public, other times in the privacy of their homes, and still other times in whispers in the corners of their offices. Sometimes, in gutless fashion, they leave anonymous retirement papers on chairs.
It is clear, as more Baby Boomers retire, and greater fiscal pressures are put on the federal Social Security and Medicare system, these negative attitudes towards aging Americans will become more pronounced and obvious. In the worst case scenario, these ageist attitudes will have ugly and dangerous consequences for a vulnerable senior population that will be a very large target for people looking to place blame. Seniors will find Americaâ€™s well-greased Roulette Wheel of Hate â€“ having repeatedly rotated to women, gays, blacks, Latinos, Arabs, Muslims, blue collar workers, and others â€“ has spun in their direction. Many of them â€“ after having their Social Security benefits cut and/or their pension funds stolen â€“ will hardly have the money to buy a vowel when they realize they are scr*w*d.
An aging CEO steps to the podium and tells the gathered workforce before him that the older workers in the organization have dried-up, old ideas and that more young people need to be hired and relied on to move the organization forward. Some veteran employees â€“ skilled, smart, and experienced â€“ are disgusted and others wonder, â€œIsnâ€™t that illegal?â€
Ageism many times is cloaked in humor. The jokester makes fun of an older person and then when confronted takes umbrage while hiding behind the principles of plausible deniability. Some people, like the example above, arenâ€™t joking. They really believe it, unabashedly say it, and trample legal prohibitions against age discrimination. Workers, fearful of their jobs, just have to take it or they too many not be able to afford to buy a vowel.
A guest commentator on a national public radio program starts his editorial: â€œThe financial downturn has left all sorts of casualties in its wake: more unemployment, depressed wages, and greater economic uncertainty. But I’d like to direct my angst at a different target — the baby boomers. A hidden effect of this crisis is that, in the workplace, as in popular discourse, they simply refuse to get out of the way.â€
The statement above was the opening salvo last year of guest commentator Daniel W. Drezner, age 41, professor of international politics at Tufts University. If you did not catch Dreznerâ€™s essay broadcast, I recommend that you listen to itÂ here. Dreznerâ€™s evident self-centeredness â€“ a trait he ascribes to the baby boomers â€“ flows freely in his bigoted ranting on NPR. If there is a spokesperson for Ageist Americans in Radio Punditry (A.A.R.P.), this guy would be it.
Generational warfare is the central theme of the 1969 movie WILD IN THE STREETS, starring Donald Sutherland, Shelly Winters, Hal Holbrook, Richard Pryor and others. The movie illustrates a world in which the United States lowers the voting age to 15 and a youth movement takes over the county. In this fanciful tale, the youngsters establish the mandatory retirement age of 30 and mandatory detainment at age 35 (with administration of happy drugs). The movie ends â€“ without providing a direct spoiler â€“ with the main character experiencing the aging process himself and realizing that there is always someone younger looking over your shoulder.
Thatâ€™s the poetic justice for the ageist bigots like Drezner and others. Ageism is one of a few prejudices that ultimately turns on its advocate. If the ageist lives long enough, he or she too will begin to be accused of sucking up the precious air and consuming the valuable resources that should be for the exclusive use of the more productive youngâ€™unsâ€™. Obviously, no one told Drezner before publishing the radio commentary that he is no spring chicken any more. At the rate he is going, the knock at the door soon will be for him.
A son and his 80-year-old father stroll slowly through the shopping mall. Every so often the father stops to talk with other fragile old men, most in their sixties and seventies. The father explains to the son that the old men he talks to are former co-workers, some of whom had chided him many years earlier with the taunt, â€œHey, old man, when are you going to retire and get the hell out of here?â€ How did you respond back then? the son asks. â€œI told them,â€ he explained, â€œâ€™Youâ€™ll be lucky to make it to be an old man like me some day.â€
— Rico Thomas Rico