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This new thing we have instead of respect for the elderly

Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, says the Book of Leviticus, alongside other injunctions about such matters as how to sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar that even Leave voters might concede do not go so well on an inspirational poster.

For a while after the EU referendum result was announced there was a trend among some particularly enraged Remain voters to be about as willing to honour the face of one of those senile, bigoted, gammony, UKIP-voting coffin-dodgers as to bring a young bullock without blemish to the door of the tabernacle and kill it before the LORD. I lost count of the number of times I read young activists claiming that “their future had been stolen from them” and arguing that since the old had fewer years of life left their votes should not count.

This trend has now receded, either because it finally dawned on them that in the coming Brexitocalypse we will all be counted old at thirty or because the United Nations Independent Expert told them to can it.

That must have hurt. The United Nations telling them, who had thought themselves free from blemish, that though they wist it not, yet are they ist. Yeah verily, they are guilty of an ism, and shall bear their iniquity.

And now everyone’s at it. Out: “We should ban old people from voting”. In: “Age is a protected characteristic”.

The UK is “completely and institutionally ageist”, according to the chief executive of Care England, the largest representative body for independent social care services in the UK.

Prof Martin Green, also the chair of the International Longevity Centre, said ageism in the UK was “a national scandal” that should be challenged in the courts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should, he added, “hang their heads in shame” over its failure to pursue as many ageism cases through the courts as other protected characteristics, such as racism or homophobia.

The people of the past thought that the old should be treated with respect because they could be presumed to have gained wisdom through experience. The only lens strong enough to let modern Britain see the elderly as worth being treated with respect is that “old age” has joined the official list of “protected characteristics”. Better than nothing, I suppose, but the image of how to treat old people as seen through the “anti-discrimination” lens is one that most of the old people I know would say is distorted. For instance Professor Green indignantly writes,

If you just flip the categories, you see how unacceptable ageism is. You hear those in the NHS say: ‘That person is too old for an operation’ but they’d never say they are ‘too black’ or ‘too gay’ for treatment.”

I have known many people who have had lifesaving operations in old age. Though I do not share in the national worship of the NHS, I am grateful that the skill of its doctors and surgeons has allowed friends and family of mine to enjoy more good years of life. But if you are going to have a taxpayer-funded health service, then, yes, at some point the NHS must say, as it does say, “That person is too old for an operation”. Eventually the law of diminishing returns cuts in. The amount that could conceivably be spent on medical treatment to give a very old person a few more months of life is almost infinite. Fine if they are paying from their own purse – though even then a time comes when a honest doctor would advise against further treatment – but not if they are competing for NHS resources against a three year old child needing an urgent operation.

7 comments to This new thing we have instead of respect for the elderly

  • Julie near Chicago

    The Age Wars. I shot innumerable arrows liberally dosed with deadly curare deep into the hearts of such libertarians or Classical Liberals as Richard (Epstein) and other, less sensible* but equally laissez-faire econolibertarians when, some years ago now, they started banging the drum about how awfully dreadfully awful it is that the Old Folks keep voting to be supported on the backs of the younger generation. Unfortunately, these arrows failed at their job. It might have been because they were formulated, dosed, and sent only intracranially. Perhaps I should have treated the heads of actual pins and stuck them into actual voodoo dolls.

    At any rate, it seemed to me that all that that tactic against the “entitlement-granting” crowd would do would be to create yet another opportunity for Class War, causing the young to have yet another excuse to feel aggrieved at the behavior of their elders, an emotion which in Western society (at least) needed no further urging. (Whether ancestor-worshipping cultures’ young likewise feel aggrieved but daren’t show it, I cannot say. But per Natalie’s Leviticus quote, it seems to me it must have gone back at least that far, even in some quarters East of Suez.)

    I mean, we already had the Sixties’ mantra of “don’t trust anyone over thirty.” And the Rebellion of the Young was already the stuff of legend. (“You had a son? I had a Son!”) But I’m not sure that creating yet another classist schism was or is in anyone’s long-term interest.


    Anyway, Natalie, you’ve got another excellent posting about a thoroughly rotten condition. And yes, such bio-“ethicists” as Dr. Zeke (Emanuel) did state that there was no reason to prolong the lives (let alone the quality of life, one supposes) of older folks, since they were well past the peak of their productive value to society.

    Down with Government Health Intrusion and the horse it rode in on!


    *I do love and adore Richard (E.), but that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with his bottom lines, and I have a whole lot of trouble with the ways in which he often gets there.

    bobby b once called me an Epstein Phreak, which was and even still is fair enough *g* and even an honor if you think so — I do; but don’t call me an “Epsteinian,” please. I think maybe Richard has some sympathy for my particular glasses (else I wouldn’t care for him at all, I think), but his are, publically at least, quite different. And in the end, we were born within six weeks of each other, and are unlikely to change much at this late date.

    Anyhow, I don’t subscribe to “from God’s mouth to Richard’s ear.”

    There! It needed to be said!

  • bobby b

    ” . . . but not if they are competing for NHS resources against a three year old child needing an urgent operation.”

    Disabled people ought to get in line behind the whole. Less to live for, and all that.

    And, since women make 76% of the wages of men, their lower economic value ought to place them lower on the list for resources.

    And, if you smoke, ride motorcycles, or keep venomous snakes as pets, well, maybe if there are any medical dollars left over at the end of the year . . .

    And, libertarians and conservatives who fought against Single Payer are right out!

    (This is fun! I could really get into deciding who deserves to live! I just hope all of my own groups have a friend at court when TPTB make their lists.)

  • John B

    Apart from it being the elderly who have provided everything… the technology, innovation, capital, labour, peace and stability… that the ‘young’ have, and the young have contributed nothing at all having led a parasitical existence since conception, mother providing everything before birth, family and elderly people everything after birth, the elderly have acquire knowledge, skills, experience, wisdom from many years of trial and error.

    They are therefore far better placed to reach a well informed opinion, and make a valid judgement than the ‘young’ who have none of that.

    The future is not a place, nor the exclusive property of a particularly generation because of its age.

    And elderly people have a future too and some may even outlive some of the young.

  • Runcie Balspune

    … and arguing that since the old had fewer years of life left their votes should not count

    Not really about age, the argument was always with the premise was that leaving the EU will be a “bad thing”, which can’t really be argued, especially by people with no experience of being outside the EU versus people who once were.

    If, of course, leaving the EU was actually a good thing, and the older generation who voted leave propose this, because they remember before 1992 (or 1972 even), and the years leading up to the current fiasco that is the EU, the the argument is that the elderly have selflessly gifted a wonderful opportunity for the young to flourish without the creeping (now more like stampeding) authoritarianism of the european elite.

    I suppose it is somewhat in line that people who like to take away votes will support the EU who also like to take away votes (or make them unimportant).

  • Tedd

    One of the things I’ve found most frustrating about the health care debate is that so many people seem to think the laws of economics only apply to private enterprise. Somehow, magically, if you provide health care through the government you can have exactly what you want–no trade-offs, no consequences, no unintended effects. I wouldn’t mind if someone argued that, yes, such-and-such an unintended effect is inevitable but, on balance, the benefits outweigh the costs. (I might disagree, but I have no objection to the argument, per se.) But you rarely hear that sort of argument. You just get denial that the problem exists, or that there’s a trade-off to be made.

  • Julie near Chicago

    John B: Indeed.

    (Which is not to say that all of the “more mature” among us show wisdom. I give you Ms. Pelosi, Ms. Clinton, and many other, less (in)famous examples. But you acknowledge this:

    The future is not a place, nor the exclusive property of a particularly generation because of its age.)

    Your point remains. Well said, and important.

  • Roué le Jour

    We all know perfectly well that if the old voted remain and the young voted leave then the left would produce the opposite argument without the slightest hint of self consciousness.