by Sarah A. Hoyt
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Suddenly the word “Gerontocracy” is in everyone’s lips, as though they’d woken up this morning and realized our leadership is old beyond reason.
They’re not wrong. But they’re also not right. I mean, there’s old people and old people. And certain tendencies of old people do make the situation very perilous. As does the speed at which society is moving coupled with an older leadership. But then, since I was about 35, our society as been setup to eat the seed corn.
It’s essential to understand this, as well as to understand that while this is a side effect of the baby boom, it is not the boomers fault. (I will reserve the right to stone most boomers in politics and the media, but they’ve done that to themselves already, which is what causes our problem.) The fault is not in the culture (though some of the culture is the result of it) but of the giant, undisgested lump of elephant moving through the snake.
In a way—pardon digression, still on prednisone, which makes my thoughts spaghetti-like—it would have been better if the SF writers of the mid century had been right, and the boom had become the new normal, with large generations forever more. No, we wouldn’t be that overpopulated, and we might have found our way to the stars out of the fear of being so. But more importantly, it wouldn’t have made the boom a singular event that distorted society and economics for… will be a century before it’s all done.
We’ve had sudden and drastic expansions in population before—the renaissance—and it normally leads to more productivity, new lands discovered, etc.
But this was an anomalous big lump of people moving through. Bigger than before, and bigger than after. It’s hilarious that they’ve claimed half the sixties for the boom, because it’s so clearly and plainly wrong. I was born in 62 and moved through life in the shadow of the baby boomers who set the rules. They set the rules not by virtue of being bossy (okay, I also want to stone most of my boomer teachers “you teach me more than I teach you.” “Good. Give me a share of your salary.”) but because “most people in the population are in this age range” means that advertising, production, and accommodations for the stage of life you’re in caters to that big lump.
So, when I was in my twenties and just getting married, the big TV series was “thirty something” and all about having small children (which was treated like no generation had ever done it, ever, but that’s TV and marketing.) And SF magazines said no one under 35 (later 40) could possibly be experienced enough to write science fiction.
Actually what my micro-generation, stuck somewhere between boomers and Xers got to experience was a bizarrely foreshortened adulthood (Probably part of the reason I feel very weird with turning 60 this year, let alone with being considered a “venerable figure” in my field.)
My experience will do, but I’ll mention others of similar bend for other industries. You see, I started trying to get published at 23. And yes, okay, I had extra challenges. But when I was 31 I read a huge magazine editor talking about how no one under 35 could have enough experience to write professionally. A couple of years later the other major magazine editor upped that to forty. I got published at 35. By the time I was 40, the echo boomers were starting to come of age and scribbling. Suddenly editors and agents were telling me that I was too OLD to write, and they needed to buy these highly-privileged, never-lived kiddies “to connect with the young people.” (No, that didn’t work. Most of the ones accepted and pushed to the hilt then have already left the field, or are scrounging at the margins, because these fetuses—not even the age, but age and extreme privilege—knew nothing of the world but mommy and daddy’s money and the wokeness they’d been taught.)
In other fields, I have friends who overshadowed by the big-group-of-boomers, were treated as “the young kid” well into their fifties, and now suddenly find themselves being called “the old man/woman” and finding they are too old to be affordable.
This is partly because the indigestible elephant was not only very large, but also had longer productive lives than previous generations. (Part science advance, part necessity. You can’t support that many not-working old people, and expecting it was semi-nuts.)
So that is one huge source of the distortion. Demographics are like the law of gravity. They influence everything. The influence might be stronger or weaker, but it is always there. And a huge demographic disruption will touch everything.
But unfortunately (or perhaps inevitably, because of the factors that brought it about) the baby boom happened at a time when the industrial society had reached the idea that centralized/mass/from the top down everything was better. Which not coincidentally also obsessed on the “rule by experts.”
This and the fact that a larger proportion of boomers went to college than any previous generation, created the idea that once they graduated and worked for a few years, they were “the experts.” (Even true in relation to younger people. Not older, but again college and Chesterton’s fence was gone for good and being trampled over.)
The fact that the colleges at the time were already a stomping ground of Marxism made it worse, because Marxism is “revealed truth” (A cult without a god, you could call it) which means that it can’t be penetrated with logic and observation. Which means it can’t adapt. And minds trained and possessed by it cannot adapt, and cannot change.
Years ago, I heard that it’s impossible to change your politics/religion/etc after forty five, no matter how big the event that discomfirms your beliefs.
I’m not sure that article was right. In the last few years, I’ve witnessed much older people become red pilled, blue pilled or black pilled well past 45.
I think what the article was observing—it was written shortly after the fall of communism—was that those who had bought whole heartedly into the communist “just so” story didn’t seem able to snap out of it.
I think that’s because Communism is such an appealing “logical” system, which works fine in a closed mental loop, but melts at a touch of reality. Those who committed to it because inured to reality and sacrificed everything to protect the beautiful system in their minds.
So, yeah, nothing could penetrate.
Right now the demographics are grim. And by that I mean “Will our heroes and heroines escape a civilizational crash?” grim.
Look, we don’t actually know how many people there are, but if I had to guess, and from just the discrepancies I’ve seen in my life (like when Portugal supposedly had 7 kids per woman, I knew two families with more than 2, and heck, most people only had one, already, in the early sixties. And granted we were near the city, but we were not affluent, nor were our neighbors. And the government at the time actually paid per child. Just an example.) I’d be shocked if we have half the world population the UN guesses at.
That a population crash is already under way and has been for the last 20 years or so is the only way to explain some truly bizarre things going on in the economy. (And unfortunately if it’s correct, real estate is not a good long term harbor for capital.)
But the point is that if a population crash is already underway in most of the world, of course you’d have a gerontocracy. The boomers are now elderly, and they are still the largest group in the population.
BTW, this is all relative. BGE says, and he’s right— though I think our ingenuity and our adaptability is what saves us—that there’s hope for the US, not so much for the rest of the world. However, my mom visiting 20 years ago was overwhelmed by how many children there were around everywhere. They weren’t that many. One of my alarm bells is that we’ve normally lived in neighborhoods with our contemporaries, but my kids never had the “dense pack” of neighborhood kids I had growing up. Even accounting for different child rearing, I could usually count one or two kids in an eight block radius. And most of their classrooms were half-empty. However, by comparison, yeah, the US was hopping with elementary school age kiddies.
Does the third world have more kids? I don’t know. I haven’t been out of the country in person in the last few years, except to Europe.
The picture that demographers paint is of younger countries, but with birth rate falling at a clip. But I have reasons to suspect this, beyond “These countries couldn’t count their population with two hands and a seeing eye dog.”
Look, local wars, terrorism, incidents of violence have fallen worldwide. There’s fewer “settle this with fists” even in the Middle East and/or Latin cultures.
Yeah, yeah, we’re so much more civilized. Oh, wait. No. The only thing that would do that is the fall in young males. It’s pretty much a demographic game.
Why hasn’t Europe erupted? No young people. That it’s got bad enough for people my age to lob Smart Cars at the Arc du Triumph tells you how bad it is, but that no one has been ala lanterned tells you there aren’t enough young people to commit violence.
But even in the middle East or in the East, these things start and fizzle. Things get bad enough that they start, but then they don’t…. continue. Because there aren’t enough young people, and revolution is a young (mostly, despite female contributions and the fact the person writing this was a hellion) man’s game.
There has been a distinct lack of rioting, looting, fighting in the streets all over the world, for at least twenty years, and falling fast. Oh, sure, it’s happened, but compared to historic norm, it’s much lower than it should be. And in the US it’s largely astro turfed, and the young people are paid to riot. It’s a ninetofive. It’s a job. And there aren’t enough of them for it to mean much.
However note that astroturf rioting is enough to scare Supreme Court Justices, who are very old and whose view of the world comes from a past filled with youngsters, who could ignite a civil war if they got upset enough.
Which is where we come back to gerontocracy.
The world has more or less always been ruled by the old. Young rulers taking over and being good was a shock.
But there are two elements to this: their old weren’t as old as our old. And they had more young people to keep the system in check.
So, yeah, commies and others dispute this—rolls eyes— but I want them to take a hike (off a short peer.) As much in shock as I am at turning 60 this year, and as much in bad shape as I feel (I really need to recover from the move, and exercise more, and live better) sixty isn’t what it used to be.
I still tell people this, and I don’t know if it makes any sense, but when people over sixty—even sixty two—died in the village, it was “Well, it’s sad, but he/she was old.” I met my first eighty year old when I was in my teens. And he looked worse than Joe Biden, and more like we expect a 100 year old to be today. 100 year olds were rare enough that my dad doubted they existed and thought they were just bad record keeping. But about every five years or so, they interviewed a 100 year old on TV.
If someone dies under oh, 75 these days, we hear “That’s terrible. What happened?” (I’m starting to hear it for 80 to 85. Unless the person was in bad shape or known to be ill.) My parents are late eighties/early 90s, and living by themselves, a pretty much normal life. And if my friends in healthcare are correct, there are a lot of 100 year olds in and out of the hospital, and up to about 120. (Used to be thought 114 was the hard limit, but that’s getting pushed.)
Now, of course, there’s great individual variety. We lost our first friend of natural causes five years ago. And some are wrecks in their sixties and seventies. (Hello, Brandon.) But it seems to be fewer and fewer people undergoing that.
In fact, due to the elephant in the snake, old-age health care and ways to stay productive and active and independent longer are likely to improve markedly in the next ten years, unless it all crashes.
Problems with this?
Well…. Look, one of the reasons I’m sympathetic to student loan forgiveness (one of my kids has significant ones, but we also paid a large amount for each of them, so it’s not that. Also, he has a plan to pay back, and if all else fails we will do it. We also have a plan. Belt and suspenders. But we’re rare.) is that it became clear to me thirty years ago as tuition started to climb that it was a way to farm the young to keep the aging elephant in the snake in comfort in its old age. It only got worse. (Yeah, yeah, massive debt, blah blah, blah. My feeling is we gave more than that to the Taliban. And don’t get me started on the stimulus. Forgive the damn debts, already, so maybe some kids can have kids while there’s time, okay? Yeah, it will cause some universities to crash. And this is bad, because?)
The problem is that society distorts to serve the most populous element. And that there aren’t enough young people to keep it in check.
The problem is that our old are very old indeed. Your view of what the world is like is set somewhere around your youth. This is why we continually hear women whine about lack of opportunity for women, or publishers rebel against the eternal (and largely imaginary) fifties.
The supreme court was easily scared by antifa rent-a-riot because the picture in their minds is of the sixties, with a vast number of (largely leftist-indoctrinated) youth who could set the country on fire.
The congressional dems and not a few gop are convinced that socialism is the future, because the picture in their heads is the fifties and sixties, full of USSR agit prop.
And so it goes. Remember that a proportionately large number of the voting public is that age too, and stuck with that mind-image.
Yeah, they’re trying to import millions of youngsters, willy-nilly, forgetting that people are not widgets, these people are net drains in a tech society, and will largely leave, as we already saw in the early tens, because it soon becomes obvious there’s nothing for them here.
(Also they haven’t realized yet a lot of the youngsters coming in are vaccinated against socialism. Don’t tell them. I’m hoping those stay.)
So, what does it all mean?
It means we’re eating our seed corn. My situation, being the youngster until I was suddenly “too old” is nothing to my kids’ generation. I suspect, given improvements in medicine, they will be “the kid” well into their seventies.
It means a slowing down in innovation and more importantly, problems adapting to change. (Our governing organs are already having issues with it.)
It means an ossifying of structures that frankly are already not working.
It means having fewer and fewer kids, because the time you can afford them recedes to the farther and farther future. And thus worsening the situation.
So, what can you do?
If you’re young enough? Have a kid. Have two. Have three. Dear lord, I beg you with tears in my eyes, have a dozen! And I’m desperate enough to say if you’re not married, have a kid anyway, even if artificial insemination is not really licit in most religions. Find a friend to help you raise the kid. Find a mutual support system, and do it.
The future is made of people, and we don’t have enough of them. We need—need—to turn this around, or civilization will crash hard.
Ignore the nattering of the idiots about how having kids is for the dumb, or kids are problematic. Stuff a sock in the lecturing fools’ mouths, and HAVE ANOTHER KID. Right now, there is no more important work. The only work as important is raising and educating those kids to be productive, decent and able to think. (I’m thinking of the line in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress: “Had kids, paid their own way.” That ladies, gentlemen and octopi, is success.)
Of course, I can’t contribute to that fight. To be fair, even when I theoretically could, I was very, very (supremely) bad at it. As in, fertility of a small rock. Otherwise there would be eleven of them running around now. (Minimum.)
So, what I plan to do is keep my mind as flexible as possible, with new books, new learning, new experiences.
And living long, getting meaner and crazier every year, like the boss in Puppet Masters.
On the serious side: staying independent and not a burden on anyone as long as I can, encouraging young people to have kids, and do my best to pass on my belief in individual liberty.
Gerontocracy is a problem, but the peculiar jaws of our dilemma are more fine-grained than that, and might not happen again for a long, long time.
And sooner or later Pelosi will run out of young Chinese blood for transfusions, and go the way of all flesh. As will all the other corruptocrats.
And the world will change.
How will it change? I’m not sure. So I’ll poke at it tomorrow and see if anything spits out.
Meanwhile, you go and build, and think and remain as flexible as you can.
(Exits to the tune of “staying alive.”)