By Dan Hazen / Herald Forum
Old folks sure aren’t what they used to be. Jesse and Doris were the “old folks” when I grew up in Stanwood. Born toward the end of the 19th century, they farmed generational land on the outskirts of what was then a small, isolated town.
Jesse told stories about logging from springboards with crosscut saws and a team of oxen. He laughed a lot, which made his very large belly bounce inside the bib overalls he always wore. He was never anxious. Always available. He moved through his world with grace. He was curious about me and interested in my future. He and Doris lived very simply in a mobile home, playing various support roles to their kids and grandkids.
They raised their own children among the generation of parents of the likes of Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, but I don’t sense the same curiosity or grace in what is now this generation of elders.
But simply complaining that the 118th Congress is populated by “oldies” misses the mark. Yes, it’s the third oldest Congress we’ve ever had. Yes, the average age of senators has gone up from 52 in 1981 to 64 today. But politics has always been the purview of elders.
To an extent, that’s how it should be. Even the most progressive agists among us genuflect before the idea of indigenous and aboriginal people organizing their polity around “elders.” (We think it’s all cute and “organic” and “traditional” for them, but “traditional” won’t cut it for us when we want student debt forgiveness, legal heroin, and no police pursuits). But I digress. The point is, we need leaders with wisdom born of years.
Having old folks in charge is not the problem. It’s what kind of old folks.
Our current crop of elders (of which I am a junior member) stands out for its selfishness. American individualism hit its peak with the Baby Boom generation, and it matures along with them. But because we are living this selfishness in real time, it’s hard to see. It’s too close, like a smudge on your glasses that you simply look through but don’t perceive. It’s also hard to see because selfishness changes as we age. The hippies at Woodstock in ’69 are now the retired hedge fund managers and U.S. senators propping up corporate profits.
It started with a self-serving sexual revolution. It’s ending with a self-serving economic one.
But “youngers” do themselves a disservice when they rail against “big corporations.” Those corporations are just a construct; a game with an array of rules written by the players. The shareholders who benefit from these rules are us, and most of the players are over the age of 50 (many older than that and currently contributing zero labor or service yet disproportionately benefiting from the rules they wrote). It’s all 100 percent legal. Because we wrote the laws.
We watch our wide-eyed and panicked children floundering in the frigid water as we sit in an overcrowded lifeboat which itself is slowly sinking. Yet, we cling to it and deny them access because, we say, they would swamp the boat. All the while, we refuse to jettison our second homes, our triple-digit price-tagged RV’s and cosmetic surgeries. We have plenty of space for cheap Walmart products and pallet loads of the latest Costco trend, but no room for our grandchildren.
This isn’t about Democrats and Republicans. At the end of the day, it’s not about boomers and millennials either. It’s about those with power (from personal and local, to collective and global) who wield it for their own benefit at the expense of someone else. It’s about disguising childish greed as cultivated wisdom.
I have some hope, however. I see some young parents (the grandchildren of boomers) quietly, and with a surprising kind of dignity, opting out of the game all-together. No hashtags. No banners or bridge-burning. Just choosing to live more simply … so that others may simply live. I have a lot to learn from them.
Dan Hazen is the community pastor at Allen Creek Community Church in Marysville.
The Herald Forum invites community members to submit essays on topics of importance and interest to them. Essays typically are between 400 and 600 words in length, although exceptions for longer pieces can be made. To submit essays or for more information about the Herald Forum, write Herald Opinion editor Jon Bauer at email@example.com or call him at 425-339-3466.