Current Issue #488

Third Age: The Age of Rage

Third Age: The Age of Rage

A few weeks ago I excoriated someone on Facebook who laughed at the aged. It is true that the cause of the aged is hampered when people find our frailties, of the mind or flesh, a subject for ridicule.

Jokes are powerful. They inflict hurt as they reveal our fears. Think how stupid blonde jokes retarded the acceptance of women’s intellectual achievements. But my response was white-hot anger and self-righteousness. I hardly stopped to think of its effect on a perfectly lovely friend who has probably, unlike me, never intentionally offended anyone in her life. I apologised.

But my dismay at myself didn’t go away.

I had been drawn into the age of rage.

Politicians encourage it, to push us towards ignoring what they don’t want us to think about. People on both sides of the same sex marriage debate, for example, have indulged it instead of sticking to their careful rational arguments. The media foster it, working us, for reasons of their own, into a frenzied lather, for example, because the Prime Minister held a child in loving embrace while holding a drink. Such a diversion. The former Prime Minister in Opposition used anger ruthlessly as his strategy to upset the government of Julia Gillard, instead of offering alternative policies based on equality. Gillard used it defensively to pour shame on the Opposition. Her savage response was pounced on by world media showing how easily perpetuated is the politics of rage.

This constant diversion of attention from consistent policies, actual political achievements or lack of them, is undermining our system of government. We fall for it and perpetuate it through social media and other online comments, some of which shame us all as decent, rational beings.

It is probably due to feelings of inadequacy: the world is too much with us, change is incredibly difficult. That is hard to face. We long for a just, calm society but efforts to achieve it are thwarted, the obvious benefits beyond our reach. And in my case, leading to a wretched attack on my friend on FB, from a feeling of despair that old people will never attract the respect they deserve, that jokes will stand between them and their very real needs: respect, housing, jobs if they want them, planning ahead for increased numbers of us, seeing us as contributors to the community. Instead, things are taken from them, so often the supports that make their lives bearable and their greater participation possible. I am thinking as I write this of a small example: the attack on users of motorised chairs. Some moves against the aged might sound reasonable, but please think of what the changes mean to lives.

Old age, I am standing in it.

It seems a continued process of having things taken away from us.

I, too, feel like one of the forgotten people. At the mercy of failure to understand that old people are just as diverse as young people; of aged care systems, our carers, as well as us, we find difficult to understand, and sometimes of families who try, but don’t have time to understand our need to be included, to have their attention and love. I find I can’t stop repeating the rather daunting mantra, truthful as it is: only the old know what it’s like to be old.

The blame that we have to endure is incredible. As the task of moving into the great new Adelaide hospital became difficult, as well it might, a front-page headline claimed “Government blames ageing population and the flu”. That’s us, categorised as stallers of progress equivalent to a nasty epidemic.

I wonder if Bill Shorten’s unpopularity is based on his refusal to rant as much as the Government. He and his ministers-in-waiting just don’t buy into the rage the media seem to love. Despite the PM’s handsome suit and charming voice, in  measured contrast to his attack dogs, I sense a panic to understand why the populace is so intractable, impervious to his persuasion. I feel sorry for both of them. The people refuse to look where they want them to. Rage, it seems, is easier; for who does not feel some measure of it, as social problems increase and wages fail to rise, and the climate around the world seems to be chastising us? And there is a big bomb… Where are the cool heads helping us to understand the complexities and take us with them without the panic of rage?

In a world that has embraced the hitting-out, or looking the other way, response Angela Merkel among world leaders, seems to keep a cool, level head; consulting, not rushing to policies that others insist are the solution. I found myself admiring her risk-taking, her rational expectation of failure as well as success, because that is the way of the world. A fairly recent biography of the German Chancellor by Matthew Qvortrup has some clues to her interesting character. Lessons to be learned here.

Meanwhile, for some light relief, with deeper insights about old age, you are likely to enjoy a geriatric version of Adrian Mole, called The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old (Penguin), a wicked experience of the rebellious but amusing inhabitant of a care home. He lives his frail final years in the belief that it is never too late to have fun. His idea of fun is not always that of those who run the care home; nor of all the inhabitants. It’s a good laugh with a dash of truth we don’t always want to face, but will do us no harm.

It might divert you from making caustic remarks on Facebook.


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