Monday, January 28, 2013

You are going to die...

The "Opinionator" online commentary feature of the New York Times has another engaging contribution in its "Anxiety" series, from Tim Kreider, author of collections of essays and cartoons. He starts with a visit to a posh retirement community his mother has decided to enter, which she describes as "like a college dorm, except the boys aren't as good-looking." In spite of her enthusiasm, he feels sadness, which he then realizes is mainly selfish, because the family home he grew up in is being sold, the familiar phone number lost. Some clips of sections that struck me:

Plenty of people before me have lamented the way that we in industrialized countries regard our elderly as unproductive workers or obsolete products, and lock them away in institutions instead of taking them into our own homes out of devotion and duty...what I wonder about is what it's doing to the rest of us...I think we also segregate the elderly from the rest of society because we're afraid of them, as if age might be contagious. Which, it turns out, it is.
Segregating the old and the sick enables a fantasy, as baseless as the fantasy of capitalism's endless expansion, of youth and health as eternal, in which old age can seem to be an inexplicably bad lifestyle choice...So that when through absolutely no fault of your own your eyesight begins to blur and you can no longer eat whatever you want without consequence and the hangovers start lasting for days, you feel somehow ripped off, lied to. Aging feels grotesquely unfair. As if there ought to be someone to sue.
Because of all the stories we've absorbed, we vaguely imagine that our lives will take the shape of a narrative - the classic Aristotelian ramp diagram of gradual rising action (struggle and setbacks), climax (happy marriage, professional success), and a brief, cozy denoument (kicking back with family and friends, remembering the good times on a porch someplace pretty). But life is not shaped like a story; it's an elongate and flattened bell curve, with an attenuated, anticlimactic decline as long as its beginning. Friends have described seeing their parents lose their faculties one by one, in more or less the reverse order that their young children are acquiring them.
On the desire for life extension therapies:
I am all for raging against the dying of the light, and if they ever develop DNA rejuvenation or some other longevity technique I will personally claw, throttle and gouge my way through Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch and any number of other decrepit billionaires in order to be first in line.
But we don't have a choice. You are older at this moment than you've ever been before, and it's the youngest you're ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial.

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