OK, so President D.T. was called an old lunatic by Kim Jong-un. He was deeply hurt, and who can blame him? Not by the label of lunatic: that’s not a new accusation, so it is easily overlooked. But by the awful implication that at 71 he falls into that untouchable class of—oh no! heaven forbid!—the old.
His response: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?”
Now don’t imagine this is a Trumpism. It’s not a sign of lunacy, either, whatever that may mean. This attitude is ageism pure and simple, and it’s the norm.
Old as applied to human beings no longer means having lived a certain number of years. In our English-speaking western world, it now means repulsive, feeble, pitiable, ludicrous, useless, a condition to be dreaded above all others.
Ageism trumps even racism as a widespread prejudice. Here’s one teensy bit of research to support this statement:
In 2008, an ongoing study by UCLA and Stanford University researchers of 20,000 registered voters has found that far more of them would vote against Sen. John McCain because of his age than would vote against Sen. Barack Obama because of his race.
Why is the dread of old age so powerful?
Why do we dread and fear the old so deeply, despite the fact that we will all grow old—that’s if we’re lucky?
Ageism is hatred of the self that we will become.
But perhaps that’s not a paradox. Perhaps this is the very reason for our hatred and contempt: deep down, we know we too are ageing, and ageing implies that one day we will die, and we cannot bear to face this. Perhaps the human condition offends us particularly in today’s market-driven era of competitive self-improvement.
Understanding is just a start. Let us forgive our bodies for their inevitable decline, admit that we too will be old one day, and regard old age as an achievement, not a failure.
(And by the way, mental illness is an illness, not a failure.)