Aug 22, 2023
“…There was once a time (ah, the ‘60s) when such a proposition was a serious topic of conversation…”
No, AT doesn’t advocate Geronticide, the culling of the herd. We don’t have to! As we’ll see shortly, nature has taken care of that for us. But what’s intriguing is that there was once a time (ah, the ‘60s) when such a proposition was a serious topic of conversation among a certain segment of Western society. I know, I was there, and I participated in that conversation.
The origin of this infamous idea is somewhat obscure. It has been variously attributed to factions within SDS, the Weather Underground, and the Youth International Party (Yippies!). Abbie Hoffman claimed, I think correctly, that the slogan came from an ultra-left group of German youth associated with Rudy Bahro (Red to Green).
Geronticide is ‘term limits’ on steroids. It is rooted in the belief that our culture and/or our genetic blueprint impose a ‘cognitive shift’ (not to say ‘decline’) on all of us around that ominous but momentous 30th birthday.
The ideology of geronticide is rooted in the idea that once a person has suffered a ‘cognitive shift’, that person can no longer understand ‘youth culture’ and therefore can no longer make any constructive contribution to the new world that is being born.
Lest you think that this is just plain nuts, let me remind you that at about this same time geronticide was being practiced, routinely and somewhat successfully, albeit brutally, by Pol Pot in Cambodia (Khmer Rouge) and by Chairman Mao in China (Cultural Revolution).
Much as we hate to admit it, 30 does mark an inflection point in many of our lives. It is when we begin to build our families, launch our careers, amass our fortunes. Ralph Pred (ironically, over 30 at the time) used to say that prior to age 30 we are free to focus on ‘the poetic and the philosophical’; after 30 it’s all about ‘the political and the pragmatic’. Of course, he was right!
At the time, few understood that drifting lazily across the event horizon of a black hole would change one’s quality of life forever. That a 30th birthday constitutes such an event horizon was understood by even fewer. However ham-handedly, the ‘60s counterculture focused a sorely needed spotlight on this existential phenomenon.
As society would have it, youth is one long rehearsal for adulthood. The classic question, “What will you be when you grow up”, is iconic. Being is reification! You will be when you have grown, and you will be a what, not a who.
“Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a machine.”
“Well that’s good, Jane, because you will grow up to be a machine, whether you want to or not. I’m very glad to see that you’re already comfortable with the idea.”
Prior to age 30, our protests notwithstanding, we ‘belong’ to our parents, teachers, mentors, and drill sergeants; after age 30 we willingly indenture ourselves to the world, society, the economy.
I apologize for this, but I can’t resist: “After age 30, it’s no longer about changing the world; it’s about changing diapers.” Sorry, I warned you…but oh, the stench! Can you tolerate another malapropism? “Prior to age 30, we become who we will be; after age 30, we make ourselves what we have become.”
Paul’s Letter to Ephesians reminds us: “For we are…created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” (2: 10) Of course, we’re all enthusiastic followers of St. Paul, but we’ve misinterpreted his message. Instead of living in the good works that God has prepared for us, we choose to live in ‘the mundane works that society has prepared’ – it called a job!
It’s not as though we weren’t warned. Those of us fortunate enough to receive a decent education encountered Wordsworth somewhere in our academic careers: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”
You maybe, not me! That won’t happen to me. And you’re right, it won’t “happen” to you because it already has happened. You got, you spent, you laid waste! You’ve already slipped across the event horizon, and we all know what that means, don’t we?
As usual, though, it’s Stephen Hawking to the rescue. “Wait, black holes have hair!” And so they do. A lucky few of us will one day reemerge from our self-imposed cosmic prison to roam the universe again as superannuated ‘virtual particles’. It’s a second chance at life! It’s called Retirement.
The word is misleading. Retirement is anything but ‘retiring’; it’s a violent process by which we are ripped away from our virtual anti-twin. We are like siblings ‘taken into care’, then separated by DCF…or boarder patrol agents. Retirement’s clearly not for everyone.
“Not me! I’ll never retire. I plan to die with my boots on.” But I was lucky. Nature intervened, and a reluctant retirement was more or less forced upon me. Thank God! Suddenly, I am no longer indentured to the world nor enslaved by others. Armed with 40 years of real-world experience, I am finally free to take back up the ‘poetic and the philosophical’ and you, dear reader, if you’ve read this far, are the victim.
Geronticide might be justified after all – except that it robs us of the possibility of resurrection (aka retirement), and that is a price we should never be willing to pay.
Image: ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ features a star-studded cast, including Jeremy Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen. Credit: NETFLIX