We Don’t Care Much About Our Elders

I’m taking a break today and contemplating on a startling inference one can make regarding how little the horrendous COVID-19 pandemic has really influenced our federal election results. You might think it is an odd election comment, of all the possible ones to make.

Here’s why I’m pointing it out.

I’ve lived in and studied even more cultures) where elders are historically seen as the leading authorities in local society and local disputes. In pre-modern times (i.e.before 1900), this was absolutely the norm in the vast majority of human societies on Earth. In contrast, the only place of significance in America where the elderly are openly respected is the U.S. Senate (and mostly because of the power of incumbent fundraising machines in money-driven Senate politics)!

When we look at how most Americans treat elderly citizens (defined as 65+ in age), we generally shunt them to the side, ignore them. We do NOT as common behavior have them live with us as they age. When they are ill, we hospitalize them and place them in nursing care if needed. The latter is because only the wealthy can afford 24/7 at-home care for a loved one with severe illness.

In a society where elders are truly revered and honored (very few of these remain on Earth), this federal election would have been MOSTLY a referendum on the 90% of COVID-19 deaths that have been our elders. This would be a social catastrophe in traditional Native American societies like the Navajo, Cherokee, Sioux, Arapahoe, and many others. It would have completely up-ended tribal politics. If we valued our elders culturally as much, it would be the number one, bipartisan issue driving a landslide against the pandemic denying Trump white house.

But in most modern urban societies, even in modern Asia, we ignore the elderly and revere our children. This is because, in 2020, we generally anchor our minds in the future and delink from tradition. I pass no particular moral judgment about this myself, but, as a social scientist, I argue we should pause and reflect on our easily we dismiss our elders AND how easily we are dismissing the impact of their deaths from the current pandemic.

Dr. James Richardson