The mariner saw the movie Nebraska recently. Bruce Dern provided an excellent performance portraying oldness, isolation and social conflict that often comes with old age. The mariner was pleased with Woody Grant’s (Dern’s character) ability to deal with these elderly issues. It was a good movie. The mariner recommends the movie particularly to those who have a lifetime behind them.
The simple plot and observation of Woody Grant opens the mind to refreshed empathy about senior citizens. The passing of time is a passage through many phases of life from infancy to the centenarian. There is a general assumption that there are four generations in a meaningful lifetime, the growing generation, the creative generation, the accomplishment generation and the retirement generation. Each of us is required by the order of our genetic code to move along through these generations as we age.
Living in the generations of creativity and accomplishment are self-rewarding and enable us to feel that we are important to society whether we are engineers and politicians, or factory workers or engaged in retail, whether we are engaged in social and health services. However, toward the end of the third generation, our bodies tell us that things are changing. Our attitudes begin to shift into a feeling that accomplishment becomes hollow and maybe our roles are a bit out of tune with the creative generation.
Finally, we are retired or at retirement age – it doesn’t matter, we are bound by our genetic instructions. Out of the creative and accomplishment phases of society, we begin to feel that we are not the first team anymore. A few of the elderly have either the money or the opportunity to continue to participate but the underlying genetic structure will not deny that we are passing beyond the dynamic moment in society when newness is created and enforced by productivity.
Because of medical advances, the fourth generation is living longer, on its way to creating a fifth generation: the very aged. What is the impact of old people living longer and longer? Medical research promises trouble free life until you literally wear out around 159-200 years of age.
Yet society’s idea of the work span is not respected beyond the age of 55. Older folk do not fit into the requirements of creativity or accomplishment. They are fit for lesser and lesser roles in the productive generation. Were it not for the few surviving pensions, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, the elderly would have no financial basis for continuing to survive – not considering the requirement to live to 150 years.
There are government roles in this situation. Some form of tax increase must be applied to the aging issue. The boomer retirement bulge does not make it easier. Let’s face the fact that we are an aging population. This is a disadvantage in international politics, where India, China, Argentina and Brazil have rapidly increasing populations in the creative and accomplishment range. Still, the United States has the creative edge and must find ways to integrate the wisdom of the fourth generation into the fabric of a productive role.