“Fear ageism, not aging.”

I didn’t make up that battle cry, but I’m appropriating it. It’s Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s line, and I read it in Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America, her superb screed against ageist practices that are being institutionalized by powerful cultural forces: free-market capitalism for starters, along with anti-unionism and eroding job seniority the weakening of ADEA and small-government dogma. An age scholar at Brandeis, Gullette has enlarged my viewpoint in the best possible way — and gotten me further riled up. I’m very much looking forward to meeting her in Boston this week.

I’m hard at work on the talk I’ll be giving there, which draws on a number of Gullette’s ideas and which has delayed the post that Agewise deserves. As a placeholder, here are some of the most provocative quotes from the book:

•    “The truth is that aging-into-the-middle-years, or aging-into-old age, or even aging-past youth, can be better or worse depending on social context. ‘Decline’ is the name I use for the entire system that that worsens the experience of aging-past-youth…. Historical forces produce waves of decline. We have been enduring a tidal wave.”
•    “Capitalism, federal support for free markets, weak enforcement of labor law, the commerce in aging, deficit hawks and small-government advocates, ‘anti-aging’ scientists, and duty-to-die proponents, overt and inadvertent, are among the current masters of decline. Fear them, not aging.”
•    “The entire decline system — innocent absorption of cultural signals, youthful age anxiety, middle-ageism, ageism — infiltrating our society from top to bottom, is increasingly a threat to psychological well-being, to healthy brain functioning, public health, midlife job growth, full employment and a growing economy, intergenerational harmony, the pursuit of happiness, the ability to write a progress narrative, and the fullest possible experience of life itself.”
•    The anticipated image of old age is becoming so one-sided as to be terrifying. . . . Aging is the new fate worse than death.”
•     “The more clearly we see ageism at work, the less we’ll blame aging. The more intelligently we critique the universal biological decline narrative of aging, the better control we might have over our own personal aging narratives. The more empathetic we teach ourselves to become to other victims of decline ideology, the more liberated we’ll feel in ourselves, and the more empowered to urge necessary reforms.”
•    “But describing aging-past-youth as a decline when so many people will in fact be aging longer, American culture is eerily distorting what it means to have a human life course.”
•    “I couldn’t have conceived when I started this book needing to argue that old people want to live.  But here we are in the new regime.”
•    “Decline can be fought legally and politically, on such grounds as economic rights for workers, antidiscrimination, the value of seniority, and parent rights. It can be combated ethically, on the grounds of respect for our parents, equal rights for elders, and civic responsibility for the whole life course. And it can be fought imaginatively, through the illuminations of our best and longest-lasting stories.”

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