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Our Disregard For The Elderly; Is That More Cultural Origin, Or Possibly Economic?

+3 votes
Jul 21 in Society & Culture by Virginia (4,094 points)
edited Jul 23 by Virginia

(Spoiler Alert: This is more ponderings on capitalism.)

In the tiny prairie town of Rochester in Western Washington, there is a little senior lunch program that was about to be closed down for lack of funds. But then the local Indians got wind of this, and said "Oh no you don't...WE will pay for it." 

Well that local tribe, in poverty itself, has a little podunk casino in the nearby village of Oakville (pop.663 and shrinking); so they took some much-needed casino funds away from their own poverty programs to keep that lunch program going. 

And the kicker? There is not even ONE Native American who attends the senior center lunches! Apparently the Indians cannot bear the idea of ANY old person getting shuffled out of the way, they see elders as the source of peace and wisdom, our hope for the future. So now the tribe subsidizes the lunch program for the old white people.

* * *

Recently, I have been reading that de-valuing of elders is a consequence of a capitalist economy, where people only have value in terms of money; and considered worthless if they are both old AND poor. 

So my question is, what do you think? Is it true that devaluing of elders might have more of an economic origin, rather than exclusively cultural as I have always assumed?

5 Answers

Rooster Jul 22

It is partly an economic problem but I think a lot of that stems from the cultural aspect. I've seen elder abuse and how the younger generation here treats the elderly and it's down right disgusting. The elderly should be treated as the jewels of our society just from their worldly knowledge alone. I'll never understand why they are constantly swept under the rug to be forgotten. Is it because we don't pay taxes anymore? Ii it because many draw social security that they rightly deserve? I get mad when I even think about this. I believe it;s today's culture that causes the economic problems. No one cares anymore and it's a rotten shame. Therefore, I do believe that the way society treats the elderly is leading to the economic problem. I'm glad that I'm not in that position to have to rely on the government as I would go nuts. Even as a Veteran of a long ago war, we are forgotten. We've always called ourselves the forgotten ones and the elderly now take that title as it seems to me that no one really cares anymore. I'm glad I'm the age I am now as I wouldn't want to be like the youth of today. Elderly care should be a priority like Veteran care with the government but sadly? It's on the bottom. I split the problem between economic and cultural.

Virginia Rooster Jul 22

Rooster, I read your comments twice and about to look it over again...trying to pull the threads together as to what might be going on. Clearly you have given this some I am wondering maybe the cultural and economic feed off each other in an ugly spiral...? Certainly our culture of greed helped create the economic situation...

Marianne Jul 22

Sadly enough, it is an economic, a time-related and a cultural problem. And the care sector is experiencing one of the worst crises, reminding of unfair, unsustainable work and health conditions, neglect and lacking recognition around and within families.

Virginia, I'll be back later; I must run.

Virginia Marianne Jul 22

Marianne, it sounds as if you are familiar with the same circumstance in Switzerland, also? The devaluation of the elderly, it also happens in Europe?

Marianne Marianne Jul 23

Yes, Virginia, it happens everywhere.

As soon as elderly people cannot work efficiently anymore, they become a burden in systems, in which every individual must be "useful", except for those who are rich enough to live without working. And low salary workers or unpaid care-takers in families or communities tend to get too small rents or depend on charity.

I remember too well about the many fund raising initiatives, in which we took part in our childhood, and which were, among others, destined to help small-scale mountain farmers, their elderly parents and grandparents, living a very hard, precarious life and earning too little to make a sustainable living.


"In many societies the socially constructed role of women includes "giving birth, caring for children, the elderly, and disabled, preparing food and clothing and collecting water, and firework, among others".[20] Furthermore, women's gender roles are socially constructed within the economy as well, because their economic contributions can be easily replaced for men through remarriage or by paying for care services; care work can be bought and sold, but the vast majority of care work is unpaid and is not formally accounted for."

Virginia Marianne Jul 23

Marianne, the link on widows in Africa is very telling... "In Senegal, and elsewhere, some protection for widows may be provided by the opportunity to remarry. The evidence indicates that among widows in Senegal it is the worst off who remarry, while those who can afford not to do so often don’t."

Widows tend to remarry ONLY if they are poor! In other words, generally they would prefer not to...that's tragic.

*** Now I have looked through your other links...Marianne these are well-done information.

Marianne Marianne Jul 24

You're very welcome, Virginia - and not so long ago, the situation was quite similar in Europe, as many laws and rules were not enforced. :)

TheOtherTink Jul 23

Well, one branch of capitalism, the medical-industrial complex, has every incentive to keep people alive with expensive drugs and treatments.

And GB Shaw was a Fabian socialist, not a capitalist.

And yes, I think it's mostly cultural.  I admire what those splendid Native Americans in your story did no end.

I first learned of Fabian socialism from you, O'Tink! Quite appalling...GBS talented nutso, milking his status as a Nobel laureate.

Here is an interesting perspective that I am learning; what we often call 'socialism' is considered by some economists to be misdefined. What happened in Germany and the USSR would not technically be called socialism/communism, but rather "state capitalism;" that is, the profits accrued by labor are appropriated, and then dispensed, by the state rather than by private employers (i.e., "state capitalism vs. private capitalism").

By these lights, in other words, what we commonly call socialism is just another form of capitalism.

Late edit: Coming back for Marianne's comments, I noticed your observation of the medical-industrial complex...what a horrific motivation for keeping people alive. You intended irony/sarcasm I think, but tragically may be more true than we realize.

Well, frankly, Virginia, I suspect these economists are trying to bend the accepted definition of socialism so as to exclude its extreme forms (thereby making socialism always good in their view), and to say that extreme socialism is really a form of capitalism, and of course capitalism is always bad, don'tcha know.  :)

I was only being partly ironic about the medical-industrial complex, because it does in fact come up with treatments from time to time that not only extend life, but extend QUALITY life, such as this t-cell treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma:

And of course Medicare/Medicaid/Obamacare/Insurance Companies have an incentive not to pay for such treatments, especially for older people "who are more trouble than they are worth," to put it in good Shavianese.

Hi O'Tink,

The t-cell treatment? That is getting closer to my own experience, although I retired from the medical field (cytology) many years ago now...and just to cut to the chase, I can tell you that inexpensive medical treatments are all too often disregarded, even disallowed, no matter how effective they may be...a long sad history of the AMA, and prolly my first HUGE disillusionment in life...Medicine-For-BIG-Profit ONLY.

* * *

As for the socialism/capitalism stuff, ima make a suggestion for you...raising a young daughter...future generations with no choice but to deal with what we leave them...the suggestion is just to stay open to the possibility of changes in the wind, willy-nilly, and that we may ALL be needed, in our diversity, to ensure those changes go in a wholesome direction...

Because, I am becoming concerned this last implosion 2007-8 may have weakened the system so much we cannot find a way to resume business-as-usual. When FDR was dealing with 25% unemployment, and people in the street shaking their fists, he got through his reforms by convincing the offenders they needed to make it too extreme to say FDR 'saved' capitalism? idk, but I am not ruling out that possibility.

And as you may already have discerned, ;)  Obama administration was something of a dud in guiding the current recovery.

Hi Virginia,

Yes, indeed changes are coming and I certainly hope they will be wholesome.

Government (federal + state+ local) spending in the US now amounts to about 34% of GDP (down from a recent high of over 40%), so governments already have a large say in the economy, and it has historically been trending upward.

It is considerably higher than that in the social democracies of Europe, about 56% in France

and about 44% in Germany.

So we might watch them to see how far we may wish to go in emulating their government spending.One thing is certain: we don't want to end up like Greece.

O'Tink, you are so gracious to do all this research...but it may be too big a jump for me to fully 'see' the point(s) YOU are seeing...i.e., I am not totally sure I am tracking, here...

I am not sure the high government spending, as % of GDP, is a very good idea? I do remember in the Bush II presidency, I think it was Dick Cheney who said that Reagan proved the US electorate does not penalize the administration for high spending and deficits...well, it matters to me!

I have on my reading list a book by David Stockman; with our $14 trillion national debt, there is some concern we could be headed for a collapse just from that!

* * *

Here is something I gathered from my reading; at the time I followed and understood it, but again the topic is so new to me I would need to review...but some say there is no doubt that the plight of Greece is directly related to the 2007-8 collapse in the USA...

What I am considering now, and may post a Q for the others to consider; do we humankind evolve? If not, then your quote from Churchill would hold - something about "the worst of all systems until you look at everything else." But if we DO evolve, if we are capable of learning from history, then I truly wonder if we don't need to look at ways to move forward now.

Virginia, our national debt is much worse than $14 trillion, it is almost up to $20T, or about 106% of our annual GDP.

Compare the US figures to those of Switzerland. The Swiss government spends about 34% of the GDP (about the same as the US), but the Swiss national debt is only about 33% of its annual GDP, less than 1/3 of ours!

The point I am making is that we are already at least 1/3 the way toward socialism (most European countries more so), and it is not clear that this will solve our difficulties.

$TWENTY trillion?!!???! 

I don't think it was THAT long ago I read $14T...they must have been going wild...I can recall around 1980, it was a big deal when the national debt reached $ONE trillion...okay, your link shows US gov spending reaching high of 43% of GDP in 2009...bailouts...

O'Tink, the people I gravitate to, they don't use the word "socialism" as such...maybe because of the negative connotations...what they seem to be saying is that everyone needs to be included in decisions for which you take the consequences, including economic decisions...the word used most is 'democratic.' 

The implication is that the economy would not have been driven over the cliff 2007-8 had the economic decision-making been more democratic. So private capitalism is similar to state capitalism (i.e, "socialism?"); not much difference...the common folk producing the profits are excluded from decisions on how to disperse those profits...thereby companies (and jobs) are run into the ground while a few executives corner massive salaries/bonuses.

O'Tink, in my enforced vacation from SOLVED, I was thinking about the last part of your response, that our disregard for the elderly is mostly cultural...and what I thought of, in support of that, is our fear of death!

I do think our culture is perhaps unusually fearful of death...and it is not hard to see a progression out of that leading to disregard for the elderly...would you agree?

Virginia, you may be right about fear of death in our society, or more precisely, the process of dying.

Most probably do not fear being dead after it has happened, as much as, say, Hamlet,

"To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause."

As an aside, the command that the Elizabethan English had for the well-turned poetic phrase is just astonishing. If you look at Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, I think you find that about half of it comes from Shakespeare or the King James Bible!

Well O'Tink, THAT verse from Hamlet is certainly loaded with phrases enduring into the present day...and, it seems I recall THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM was also a large contributor of well-known phrases...I may actually Google that, to see if there is a more extensive list of sources...

Marianne Jul 24

@Virginia and T(h)ink

An excellent analysis - reading your dialogue is inspiring.


Virginia Marianne Jul 24

Marianne, the discussions with you and O'Tink always seem informative and inspiring!

Marianne Marianne Jul 24

Virginia, aren't you the driving force? I can only send you a big thank you ...


Virginia Marianne Jul 24

Marianne, I just thought of something else...this very interesting line of reading I got on...that all started when I Googled your mention of the Mondragon Corporation! Formed 1956 or so, now VERY successful with something like 200,000 employees I think it was.

And then, especially after the Big Crash, the Great Recession of 2007-8 in the USA...people started taking seriously the idea that American capitalism might not be not working right. There were some corporations that have sailed through all that economic upset, and they tend to be the ones organized more democratically.

In addition, there is some concern that the USA is not an ailing society/economy, but rather it is moribund; it is dying. It could collapse, which is where O'Tink's idea of the nasty dictators who emerge out of a collapsing society became very significant for me. We ALL need to start thinking about the possibilities as early as we can, to prevent a possible descent into violence and keep the transition into the future peaceful, wholesome.

Marianne Marianne Jul 24

Yes, Virginia; thanks to you and T(h)ink, I am getting many more specific and more accurate elements and links, than what we can get from generalised info or from exaggerated (or understated) figures. :)<3

Regarding the Mondragon Corporation, i.e.

there are also a similar programmes going on on the French side of the Basque region, and there have been quite a few other cooperative initiatives and projects going on or being "restarted" since a certain time.

or, also

Further, that reminds also of the economic value of housewives:

And still in many "places" of this world:

:O tragic :blush: ashamed - :angel: mischievous - :silly: feeling ridiculous :'( err :D (with a very black humour)




Virginia Marianne Jul 24

Marianne, that last link? Well did you notice, it is from 1988! Prolly when all that about the "worth of a wife" was just getting going...I HOPE the concept is more established now!

...and in the link on International Cooperative Alliance, "Around one hundred million people work for co-operatives globally." How cool is that! I feel sometimes like I am the LAST one in the world to start to get all this kind of thing figured out...

Marianne Marianne Jul 24

Yes, Virginia, much was known and tried long ago, but many of these efforts toward more sustainable conditions were considered unrealistic and insufficiently profitable. Many were not spread.

Women were (are) still considered unfit, too weak or unskilled for many professions, and education systems were urging them to find a honest, hard-working husband - not to stand on their own feet (nobody thinks of widows, divorced or single parents). Furthermore, beauty standards were and still are more important than skills. All the scandals around many of the great stars and celebrities in the movie, music and other arts industries, in business and many other sectors, reflect too well, how success depends on the "right" links, supports, partners, affairs, sponsors and "amateurs" - including advertisement with "juicy details" - all that in spite of all the awareness campaigns.

(They also forgot to say that economic considerations of young women were also a means to give future children better opportunities and to provide care and support for elderly parents and relatives.)

And sexism is still wide-spread, if remembering a certain, utterly arrogant letter to a "Miss Pretty" aiming, seemingly, at becoming a kind of trophy woman (as educated), instead of trying to value her skills:

- and here are two answers:

As to Cooperative Alliances for sustainable systems and productions, certain "ennemies" from big profit, criminal and other sectors did not appreciate. Many volunteers and helpers trying to repair, clean up, etc., went "forgotten", while victims were mere figures ... And investments are slow to come and might not arrive to their destination. But after all the scandals and disasters, improvements and progresses were and still are very slow.

Virginia Marianne Jul 24

Oh Marianne, I read about the Coca Cola company taking the groundwater in India, and people have to bring in drinking water. And then, Coca Cola tries to brazen it out!

The Miss Pretty dialogues, also...(sigh)

Marianne Marianne Jul 27

Yes, Virginia, many big and fast profit companies, bosses, trusts and corporations were and still are abusing of their power and their wealth.

Yes, for many wise quotes, there are also questions to ask, as there are also several sides, aspects and situations.


katherine24 Jul 24

This is one of the most interesting answers and conversations I have ever read on a Q&A site. 

Virginia katherine24 Jul 24

Glad you came to share it with us, Katherine!

Marianne katherine24 Jul 27

Thank you for your encouraging, kind words, Katherine - and welcome to our little group!


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