The Demographic Time Bomb
Much has been made of the problem posed by our rising age profile. How are we to make adequate provisions for our senior citizens? This thorny issue was referred to that distinguished thinker, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of the UK’s leading universities. Long regarded as perhaps our most eminent observer in this field, Sir Bertram, senses honed by a short break spent in a public park opposite his home, accepted the commission and has delivered his views, couched in characteristically trenchant terms. They are given below:
I am happy to offer a solution to the supposed problem caused by our increasing longevity. This is a fairly simple matter and should have been dealt with below my level. Most of the furore surrounding the issue emanates from disproportionately vocal types, mostly business executives in early middle age, who wish to ensure post-retirement continuance of their extravagant lifestyles. These people should realise that they are already being rewarded far beyond their contributions to our common wellbeing. They have yet to learn the difference between need and greed. I believe Gandhi was credited with making the first reference to this distinction, though I had the same thought, possibly earlier than he did – our two lives overlapped by twenty-odd years.
I will not dwell upon the lower strata of society, as they comprise people whose working lives are mostly drab, and whose retirements will be similar. Still, those concerned are undoubtedly worthy and essential – they also serve who only stand and wait. That is just as well, since if everyone were to erupt simultaneously in a collective burst of creativity, the result would be intolerable.
What matters here is that the angst-ridden upper-echelon characters have no knowledge of how they will feel when they become OAPs. Let me remind them of the words of T. S. Eliot, viz: “In the last few years, everything I had done up to the age of sixty or so has seemed childish.” Not having his text to hand, I do not know whether he mentioned that by the time people reached what he clearly considered the age of wisdom, they no longer care much about anything. They are also aware that their thrusting juniors wish to see the last of them.
When the relative youngsters reach seniority in years, the wiser ones among them will grasp that their task is to contribute what they can, rather than seize what is available. They will understand that the coveted mansion or yacht they acquired will soon be owned by someone else, who will say: “Yes, this once belonged to an industrial or commercial bigwig. Can’t remember the name.” Is that to be your epitaph? The hot-shots I refer to should take a leaf from my book by slackening off, as they are too screwed up. Indeed, only last week a man I had hitherto considered an adversary was kind enough to compliment me on the looseness of my screws. I was mildly flattered and will send him a bottle of my dandelion wine.
Now, I am being paid to offer a solution, and am pleased to say that this is the easiest money I have ever earned. My proposal is that a Ministry of Demography be created, the person in charge to be of less than cabinet rank, reflecting the fact that the brief concerned will be of relatively minor importance.
It is interesting that when ageing people are asked what ambitions they have, many of them place travel before anything else. This is inexcusable, as it is bad enough that these respondents are no longer in the economic mainstream. If, in addition to this, they wish to ruin the environment with their globetrotting, there would seem to be little reason for their continued presence.
The job of the proposed ministry would be to arrange selective culling of the aged. Not being an uncaring man, I suggest that there should be a voluntary element. Those who wish to depart – a cohort the size of which will, I suspect, be much larger than most of our sociologists imagine – should get first go. Only after that clearance would compulsory arrangements be invoked. Naturally, those involved in creative work would be spared the axe, rather in the way that those in reserved occupations are exempted from the blood and guts part of warfare. I recall the unpleasantness of 1939-45, by the end of which event I filled a vital role in the corridors of Whitehall. Imagine the waste if I had been disembowelled while trying to gain a few feet of some Continental battlefield. Horses for courses is the phrase that comes to mind.
Should forced winnowing be necessary, it would be conducted in descending age groups, in which respect I urge older citizens to think of the benefits of calling it a day. No need to continue dealing with tiresomely bland meals, trying to don socks while standing on one foot, fiddling with plastic cards, or generally wondering how to make increasingly unwilling bodies do their minds’ bidding.
I advise those worried about a hereafter to consider that they will go to either (a) complete oblivion, which has its attractions, i.e., it offers neither good nor bad experiences, or (b) a plane higher than ours and detached from physical matters. There is no need to worry about going to Hell. We’re there now, as anyone with a modicum of sensitivity knows.
What I am proposing is a win-win situation, in which those oldsters who want to go will be accommodated, while those who are removed compulsorily need have no qualms. I submit this answer as the most reasonable one to what is, after all, a prosaic question.
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