GERONTOCRACY – ugly word for an ugly situation

by Terry Oliver on August 2, 2011

On the eve of a trip which will take me half way round the globe from Vancouver to Paris – and back again a few months later, I should be full of anticipation and excitement. In the past, I would have been. But now, things have changed. Too many difficult questions have been avoided or evaded in order for me to indulge myself with this journey.

Up until now, I’ve managed to suppress them but yesterday they were triggered afresh by an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The writer shoved my face into what is to me an increasingly unacceptable situation.

She began by denouncing my generation of ageing geriatrics for not only causing but continuing to exacerbate the problems we all are facing today. We are a gerontocracy who think only of ourselves to the detriment of everyone who comes after us. By hogging the lion’s share of the planet’s wealth to support our increasingly obscene way of life while around us both at home and abroad people struggle to survive and support their families, the writer says, we have lost our right to claim any level of respect.

Where is the sense of balance which previous generations have always exercised in providing for those who are the future of our societies – our children and grandchildren and theirs in turn?

Our current behaviour and those of our elected politicians is worthy of contempt, as we scramble to control more and more with total disregard for those who are punished for our senseless greed. Senseless because it will all end in tears.

By allowing those we have placed in power to become ever more brazen in their plundering of everything from food to oil and even to our access to water, we have created a situation over which we have lost control.

Meanwhile, I continue on with my life as usual. My seemingly innocuous trip to see my children and grandchildren in Europe – the very ones whom I should be most concerned about –  inadvertently puts them at risk.

To travel in the manner we have grown accustomed to since the end of the 2nd world war is to throw all of this into high relief. I see at once the huge amount of resources I consume getting myself from here to there. What used to be an occasion to look forward to now fills me with embarrassment and guilt.

A historian might point to the plundering of our planet’s resources and resultant impoverishment of the majority of its inhabitants by a reckless minority, as an uneven trade-off for our feelings of guilt as we carry on with our blind behaviour.

As Lenin said on the eve of revolution – what is to be done?

For myself, I will travel as far as I can by train to the water’s edge. After that, unable to find a ship (except for an obscenely luxurious cruise liner), I’ll fly across the pond, assuaging my guilt by buying indulgences (carbon offsets) like a medieval pilgrim, there to embrace my children and grandchildren in a bittersweet reunion, before eventually reversing the process and returning home, perhaps for the last time.

I don’t think I can put myself through these moral contortions again.

Previous generations of travellers who left their families behind to seek a new life in the new world, knew they would never see them again. We have forgotten that the same fate awaits us as we burn up the last of our precious fuel resources in the childish belief that we can have our cake and eat it too.

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