Youth Won't be Wasted on the Old

George Bernard Shaw proffered the brilliant insight that “Youth is wasted on the young.”  Thankfully, the old are becoming increasingly youthful, and this bodes well for civil society because wiser citizens will remain vigorous enough to quell the excesses of reckless youth.

Not only is human lifespan inexorably increasing, so too is health span.  Remaining vital later in life, seniors will have the ability to extend their careers and delay dependence on Social Security.   We will not only live longer but work longer; retirement will be a phase wherein works winds down gradually.

Similarly, an aging population concomitant with increased health-span will mean seniors experience fewer chronic, ageing-related diseases that disproportionately drain Medicare funds. 

These sustainable trends in gerontology will rebuff Natural Selection’s imperative which favors the young but often leaves the old forlorn.   Better geriatrics will foster development of more civil societies as judicious citizens remain vigorous, able to thwart rambunctious and capricious youth whose misguided endeavors often tear at the fabric of society. 

Natural Selection is well suited in, well, nature.  But we long ago discovered that the state of nature is not propitious to modern human subsistence.  For sure, those who are strong, smart and sexy can dominate and revel in the joys of reproduction.  But nature is not predisposed to traits that favor longevity; for example, hormones and calcium are beneficial in the young but produce complications in seniors.  The weak, including the elderly, suffer the vicissitudes of a “might makes right” ethos where youthful appetites and aggression run amok. 

Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes declared that in a state of nature life can be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.  Certainly no place for frail, old people.  While other political philosophers were more sanguine, they nevertheless promoted social contract theories of government to aid the transition from unforgiving nature to civil society.  Indeed, John Locke is a philosophical mentor of several of our founders, laying the intellectual groundwork for notions like “consent of the governed.”

Civil society based on social contract theories was the answer to a brutish state of nature.  Medical advances that slow aging while extending our healthy and active years will extend that civility.  Disavowed in the state of nature, seniors will increasingly curb the divisive passions and incivility of youth that fray the tethers of our social compacts. 

That’s why research being conducted at the Buck Institute to extend the healthy years of life are compelling.  Trends in next-generation genomics also look promising. And Google is also pouring vast sums into efforts to “cure death” through startups like Calico, whose mission is to understand the biology that controls lifespan.  That may be a bit hyperbolic, even by Google’s lofty standards, but if we can increase health span commensurate with life span, the social implications are salubrious:

  • Possibly less support for war
  • Less excess, impulsiveness and unfettered appetites
  • Fewer social tensions wrought from millennials’ insistence that they are “special” -- those precious dears who were raised in the self-esteem era and got awards for losing.
  • Less stupid voting by immature ignoramuses; less hubris, less wallowing in concocted slights; fewer “chips on the shoulder”
  • Less violent crime; fewer manufactured protests by young louts; fewer flash mobs disrupting commerce.

Some of that is intuitive -- and empirical -- but let’s investigate the “less war” aspect, which may be counterintuitive.  The misguided youths certainly have plenty of time to protest about this and that, providing the impression they are a monolithic bloc of well-meaning, conscientious objectors. Nevertheless, research indicates their support for war is greater than older Americans who have proper jobs and no time to protest.    This political scientists’ data present powerful proof that as people age, they become less enthusiastic about war.

Here’s further evidence that the jobless, prancing peaceniks are not entirely reflective of their cohort:  young Americans supported military action against Iraq by wider margins than any other age group.

Not dissimilar to this chart which shows breakdown by age and timeline for support of the Vietnam War

I’m convinced: an older but healthier population will generally be more peaceful and exercise more restraint.  But what about freshness and innovation, you might wonder?   Will society stagnate?   Not to worry, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that “Innovative thinkers are innovating later than they used to… over the past century the average age at which individuals produce notable inventions and ideas has increased steadily” It’s beyond our scope to ask why, but the point is that innovation is not the sole province of youth.

What about politics, doesn’t that need fresh-faced idealists?  While wiser and more experienced politicians may still pander and teeter on deception, consider the alternative:  unwise and inexperienced politicians suffused with youthful greed and need.   Hmmm, sounds a bit like the imprudent former first-term Senator from Illinois who wallows in hubris and contrived slights.  They say he’s smart, but President Obama doesn’t have the wisdom to appreciate the opportunities that America has afforded him.  His idealist concoctions compel him to run roughshod over our Constitution; he’s a prisoner of youthful naiveté that resents American exceptionalism.

President Reagan might have been geriatric --  at 69 he was the oldest president upon taking office -- but his ideas were fresh and he was one of the few presidents to dare tackle Social Security by slightly adjusting the retirement age.  Contrast that to Bill Clinton, who was the third youngest president when he took office; his immature indiscretions shamefully sullied the White House.

It might be more democratic to impose term limits on geriatric Supreme Court justices who could potentially serve for 50 years with improved health span.  Also, efforts to limit the power of political incumbency through campaign laws that help challengers might -- might -- be efficacious.  Nevertheless, there’s a reason why Town Elders run the show in so many societies.

Japan is an interesting case study since they are a greying nation with the highest life expectancy.  There, the youths are properly restrained from irrational exuberance and respectfully comport themselves to seniority.   They’re not perfect, and I’m sure America will do better, but they remain a vital and impressive society.  Indeed, while much of the World remains in economic doldrums, Japan is gradually combatting deflationary pressures.  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is even lobbying companies to raise worker wages.  Compared to most countries Japan’s economy is humming along reasonably well and the Nikkei stock index is soaring.

The cult of youth can be destructive as impressionable minds essentially embrace with impassioned fervor their first notions of social justice, invariably imparted under the veil of leftist orthodoxy by ivory-tower professors.   The path of least resistance is to entertain intellectually lazy notions of White Privilege, imagined or exaggerated persecution, and futile socialist remedies for inequality.  From there, it’s a small step towards disrespecting American patriots and desecrating America’s unifying symbols.  

When misguided passions prevail absent authoritative parenting, the consequences can be disastrous -- just look at the college campuses which have become enclaves of intolerance and hives of persecution towards anyone who expresses contrary thought. 

We might not be able to cure death, but the fountain of youth won’t be wasted on the old.   America, thanks to the inexorable conflation between lifespan and health span, is gradually greying gracefully.  Civil society will become more civil, conquering the rapacious indulgences that were once rewarded by nature’s whims.