18 June 2004
Before we all fade away
Years ago, I subscribed to Townshend's Theory of Generational Purity, which goes like this: I hope I die before I get old.
One of the more rational responses to this came from critic and Who historian Dave Marsh, who said, "Well, when you find out what that means, you'll hope something else."
Over the years, I've guesstimated the upper limit of my lifespan at twenty-two, twenty-five, forty, forty-six, and somewhere between fifty-nine and eighty-seven. I need hardly point out that the first four of those predictions proved to be false.
But how long do I really have, and perhaps more to the point, how long should I have? This is the kind of unanswerable question which Joe Gandelman tries to answer in this much-linked piece about human longevity and reasons to prolong it.
Part of the problem, says Gandelman, is that society has already defined "old" and is unwilling to bump up the numbers to match the stretching of the human lifespan:
[T]he people who insist that at age 80 or 90 "it's time to make room for others" forget that aging folks can mentor younger people, offer bits of life-changing wisdom, keep a family together, work longer years before retiring (age 65 retirement these days is an absolute JOKE), and as we have seen help fill some gaps in the labor pool.
My replacements are already in place, and so are their replacements. I don't see any evidence that hastening my departure will expedite things for the grandchildren; Dear Old Dad certainly doesn't see himself, at seventy-seven, as an obstacle to his progeny, and there's no reason he should.
On the other hand, assuming I make it to sixty-nine (which I think will be the "official" retirement age by the time I get there), I would very much like to quit work, but I doubt I'll have the resources to do so, even with the remains of Social Security and the proceeds from my 401(k). I might feel differently were I doing something that actually helps to advance the human condition, but in my position as Cog in Dubious Wheel, I am way short of the motivation it takes to keep on doing it.
And rolling over the big 5 on the chronometer has had one distinct advantage: it has enabled me to think, and occasionally to say, "I'm fifty, and I shouldn't have to put up with this crap." This is the kind of elderly cantankerousness I can embrace wholeheartedly; why, sixty might actually be fun.
Pete Townshend, I note, is fifty-nine.