Current Issue #488

Third Age: How will the Old Navigate this Strange New World?

Third Age: How will the Old Navigate this Strange New World?

It is the second month of the New Year and Colin Fox is still wishing me well on ABC FM weekend breakfast radio. I will know when the ABC is dead (and possibly the world ended) when his greeting, which has become central to my wellbeing, and possibly Mr Fox as well, are scrapped.

How can I be so careless as to bet my future on such a trivial thing? Because there is no betting on other things.

Who would dare say what world politics will be like at the end of this year? If you ask people they either shrug or look scared. Which probably means the same thing. They dare not hazard a guess. It would be like betting on the outcome of WWII in 1941, say. Maybe you think I am not asking the right people? Who, I ask, are the right people?

Political pundits have gone quiet. Our government? (Are you kidding? We have a PM who has the policy of the last right-winger who sat on him; he has become the least likely person to be heard as a strong, decisive voice). The Opposition? It struggles to get its policies heard over the noise of indignation about politicians generally. Academics? (As they say themselves, it’s not clever to make elections an IQ test.) Nobody trusts the old media, which still give voice to some impressive people but which are polluted by mistrust of their owners. The ABC, which people did trust, has been starved of funding. How can it possibly remain even-handed when it is at the mercy of politics.

Well, the internet then. Plenty of opinions there. But not of all people. There are still too few older voices. And even habitual users of the internet partially blame Twitter, Facebook and other say-what-you-think sites for the mess western democracies are in.

What shall we do to be saved, is probably a better question. Like the Sally Army people who used to hold Sunday services on my street corner when I was a child, we could look to the intervention of a higher power. The Sallies descended to rattling their tambourines at my father for painting his fence on Sunday. That’s a problem with higher powers. They get distracted by little things. Virgin birth, indignation over change…

All my life there has been an identiable enemy. Now we are being forced to look at ourselves. Democratic elections, not the butler, or any ideology, did it.

‘It’ being mainly, but not only, the rise and rise of President Trump, described by Garrison Keillor as the “cruellest candidate since George Wallace”.

Scary, isn’t it? It’s what happens when everyone is looking the other way.

Where are third agers in this mess? As guilty as any other voting age group. Tell me what age group is unlikely to vote carelessly and against its own interests.

As a young 20th century French writer said about love, “one is naïve at every age. And the naivety of old age is not the least of them”. It goes for politics too. Among Australian old people there are those who think it a good idea to give an outsider a chance, whether it is by betting on a nag in the Melbourne Cup or defending the choice of Donald Trump. What brings them to demur is what was perfectly captured in a cartoon recently. Discontented passengers vote mid-air with a show of hands to give another passenger a go at flying the plane when the pilot seems too entitled.

The young are inclined to dismiss older opinions anyway, saying the oldies won’t be here to face the music. Wrong. The immediate future of the ageing population is bleak, and demanding present attention. In a society that might be less than horrified if Trump called them cripples, there is no great demand for money for treating mental problems of people in aged care, for instance, but increasing support for those who would facilitate their quietus.

It’s getting harder to get attention for the needs of the old beyond the cold basics, despite our increasing numbers. There are not enough safeguards yet to stop younger people appropriating the funds of old people they have decided don’t need their own money, or their houses. Vulnerable old people are easily identified and targeted by anyone with access to records. I don’t impugn the integrity of those who advocate voluntary euthanasia, but I dislike the fact that vulnerable old people are not enough protected.

Not that you have to be frail aged to be in trouble. I am concerned by the stories of people over 60 being harassed in their neighbourhoods. A nasty piece of work can cause hell to an old person. The character of many neighbourhoods changes quickly these days, as old houses are demolished and bigger houses or clusters of houses built. Do council approvals take into account the wellbeing of old people who might be hassled or feel hassled by incomers who suddenly overlook them, physically and otherwise? I often look at the remnants of old, once loved gardens and wonder if the demolition happened with the willing consent of the old owners if they are still living. Next to my family, I count my good neighbours now as life’s special blessing. Not everyone is so lucky, nor have I always been. Not enough attention is paid by other authorities to housing really difficult people next to old people they are likely to take against for some reason.

I have a friend who is subject to homophobic abuse every time her neighbour sees her in her own yard. It is proving difficult to get help for her or, indeed, the abuser. The abuse is so outré that visitors sometimes think it’s to be laughed off, but if you have to live with this it becomes torture.

In this strange new world, where promises don’t have to be kept, where so-called leaders can jettison policies they were elected on, who don’t seem to have roots in the values that once were clear as belonging to both major parties, to whom and what will the vulnerable turn?

You can hardly blame them taking a punt on a ratbag. But we will blame them. Of that I am sure.


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