Humaneness to the Elderly

Steve Watters says about the Japanese population implosion from low birth rates, which is some years ahead of America’s:

My concern is that [the] expectation [to pay a larger share of the taxes required to care for an expanding ageing population dependent on a shrinking workforce] might lead to resentment among young workers toward the people they are supporting and could lead to a coarsening attitude toward the elderly and even greater acceptance for euthanasia. That would be a tragic scenario, especially knowing it could have been averted if the population debates of the past three decades could have [sic] been less hysterical and more honest about what objective demographers actually knew about population trends.

I must confess, I’ve proposed some bad policies to myself, especially during my high school years and into early university.

One time I wondered aloud how we were going to pay for medical and Social Security expenses for the older generation, considering that retirement age was relatively static and life expectancy was on the continual rise. I said, “Maybe, given that resources are finite, after a certain age threshold people should be denied medical care, so that they will die their natural deaths.” Note that this was even in a general background of Asian veneration for the value of old age, which in my family went beyond the mere externals of ritual. We have always been skeptical of man’s ability to improve across the generations except by a slow and painful process.

My mother immediately rebuked me for harbouring such cruel thoughts. Yes, God is God, with sovereignty over life and death, and yes, earthly longevity is not really a worthy goal, but for us who are not the elderly, blocking off our love and compassion for the generations that preceded us is not an option. If not for them, then at least for us, it was necessary that we have love for our elders and act accordingly.

This tendency I have to slip into wrong-headed Malthusian thinking has been around for a while. There are two causes: externally, the degree to which such exaggerated notions have lain in the mainstream, and internally, what I can describe only as the perversity of my heart’s devices. Even without a real backdrop of intergenerational conflict, then, I still conceived of such things, with only an inkling of what must be expected to lie ahead of us. How much more when the tensions come to the fore, as they undoubtedly are destined by what we do now!

I agree with Steve Watters, then. I do expect that the increasing adoption of a materialistic individualism in Asia — materialistic both cosmologically and consumeristically — will lead to plenty of strife and resentment there in years to come. Even if not in Japan, though, almost surely here in America: we will need to learn to contend with these challenges, ready or not.

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