Full disclosure: I’m old.
I complained about the outdated voting procedure and the geriatric poll volunteers, and it probably seemed like I was saying I could do their job better than they were doing it. No, I would be worse. I’m older than any one of them and am no better equipped to do their job – not sharper or smarter, don’t hear or see any better, don’t have more energy or compassion, and certainly don’t have the needed patience for dealing with other people for more than a minute or two.
In Hombre, Fredric March explains to Paul Newman why he stole from the Indians he was supposed to help by saying, “It’s a shock to grow old.” For me, “It’s a shock to BE old” says it better. Growing old didn’t feel like anything at all. What nobody ever tells you is that you might find your 17 year old self living in a 70 year old body, with desires, tastes, opinions, and so on, pretty much unchanged.
At least, that’s the way it worked for me. Maybe it’s because I have no children and never had to really accept the role of “adult”. Maybe I’m just selfish or have some sort of arrested development syndrome or that I’m just a weird outlier of some sort. Not sure.
It’s the way others see you and what you see in the mirror one fine day that’s shocking.
It would be nice if there were some benefits to getting old, like maybe a little respect or deference from younger people. Historically and forever, any time someone said something like that, about how “kids today” have no respect for their elders, the response was always to quote Heraclitus or someone complaining about the same thing a million years ago, meaning nothing is different now and it will always be thus.
But in the internet age, something really is different. The casual mockery and disdain for old people is part of the DNA of the digital world, a world created and driven by young people, largely catering to their own needs and fashions. Ageism is really the only unchecked and even unremarked prejudice left in today’s hypersensitive world. There is no “safe place” for old people to avoid the “triggers” that everyone else agonizes over.
And any knowledge acquired through age is now irrelevant. Thanks to the internet, knowledge has become a completely de-valued commodity. There is no incentive to learn and retain information that is instantaneously available to everyone on their phone. You can’t impress your friends by reciting your memorized list of state capitals. It’s something no one cares if you know because anyone can know it at any time.
Once in a while I’d like to expose someone’s nonsense by saying something like, “Benghazi? What are you so upset about? I bet you can’t even tell me what country it’s in!” But all they’d have to do is glance at their phone to prove me wrong, even if I was right.
Stupid is the new smart.
And, it turns out, wisdom isn’t really something you get more of as you get older either. Experience is worth something, I suppose, but experience and wisdom are not the same thing.
For old white men, all this is exacerbated by the various political and social movements that aim to diminish and discredit the influence and achievements of old white men past and present. It’s a bummer for the Mozarts and Galileos, but it is what it is.
But I’m not complaining. It’s now obvious to me that old white men actually don’t know anything more useful or valuable than anyone else. There is absolutely nothing that qualifies me to make a decision about anything that affects anyone else.
And I take this to mean that the same was true for just about all the old white men that came before me, and for any that now insist their birthright has been taken from them and want it back.