Archive for April, 2019

The pervasiveness of ageism – posted 4/28/19

April 28, 2019 3 comments

Not too long ago, I was hanging out with a group of guy friends and we were talking about the presidential race. When the subject of Bernie Sanders came up, my friend Tom responded that old white men like Bernie should get out of the way.

The Washington Post recently ran an op-ed entitled “Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are too old to be President”. In her piece on Bernie in the Concord Monitor, Katy Burns also accused Bernie of being old. She mentioned how exhaustingly stressful the modern presidency is.

Not long after, Burns attacked Joe Biden, for among other reasons, being old. When accused of ageism, she still stood by her argument that Biden was too old to be president. She cited declining physical stamina and the statistical possibility of dementia.

Bernie is now 77 and Biden is 76. There is no evidence that either is, in any respect, impaired.

President Trump is now 72. No one can accuse him of being a spring chicken. While there is a cottage industry written about the state of his mental health, there is no smoking gun evidence that Trump is impaired either.

I think candidates should be judged on the merits of their positions and ideas – not their age. Speculation about what might happen, that hasn’t happened, is worthless.

Generalizations about the declining capacities of older people are no more defensible than racial or gender stereotypes. Here I am not arguing for any particular candidate. I think that the age problem is ageism. By ageism, I mean stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age.

Ageism is rampant in America. It is no exaggeration to say we are youth-obsessed and caught up in age-denial.There is a massive fear of aging. Just consider the wide range of anti-aging products and treatments. Off the top, I could think of skin care, hair care, cosmetic surgery, supplements, anti-stretch mark products, and anti-wrinkle products. Sixty is the new forty or eighty is the new sixty.

To grasp the roots of ageism, it first needs to be seen as an institutionalized form of discrimination. Capitalism scrap-piles older workers at younger and younger ages. Try getting a job if you are in your 50’s, let alone your 60’s. It happens, but I have seen a pattern of well-qualified people in their 50’s consistently get turned down for jobs. They are seen as more expensive because often in their recent histories they had commanded higher pay and benefits.

Older workers have to fight stereotypes that they cannot master new skills and technology, that they will slow things down, that they cannot perform physically demanding work and that they burn out. In hiring, younger managers typically prefer younger workers who they will say are more exciting than the older worker. That may not be discrimination but it is a bias.

There are so many other negative stereotypes around being older. Among the stereotypes, old people are sad, incompetent, ugly, sexless, mindless, forgetful, conservative and irrelevant. It would take a book-length response to combat all the stereotypes.

You have to ask: why the veneration of youth? Whatever happened to older people as the repositories of wisdom and life experience? Once elders of the tribe were held in high regard. That is certainly not the case now where older people have to fight off stereotypes that they are doddering geezers.

Sometimes older people themselves can be the worst at reinforcing the aging stereotypes. Look at President Trump’s ridiculous assertion that he is young, not old, like his contemporaries. All the tanning, scalp surgery, and hair coloring in the world do not change the reality that he is 72. Maybe he would be better off accepting, rather than denying, his age. It is okay to be 72, no need to be embarrassed.

Maggie Kuhn, who organized the Gray Panthers back in 1970 was the first person to put her finger on the issue of ageism. She felt older people were an untapped energy source and she also felt old age could be a time of great fulfillment. I always liked this quote of hers:

“Old age is not a disease, it’s not a social disaster, it’s a gift of the Almighty. It is a result of struggle and victory over many vicissitudes, it could indeed be the flowering of life, a time of enormous freedom – freedom to transcend our own narrow self-interests that we had to preserve when we were middle-aged. But old age is freedom to look beyond our skin and clothes to those who come after us, and to a new way of life that is truly human and shared. To achieve this, old age must be lived, poured out for others. And so lived, it could be one of God’s great surprises – that those nearest death should be chosen by Her to point to where new life may be found.”

Whether we like it or not, if we are lucky enough, we will become old. Whether it is choosing a President or competition for a job, candidates deserve consideration on the basis of their merits – not on outdated stereotypes.

Along with the fight against racism, sexism, class prejudice and homophobia, ageism also must be combatted. A good society would not be putting old people out to pasture prematurely when they have so much potential to contribute. We need to stop the de-valuation of older people, recognize their reservoir of life experience and find new ways to tap their creativity.

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The Racist Roots of the Second Amendment – posted 4/13/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 4/21/2019

April 13, 2019 3 comments

Mass shootings have become institutionalized as an almost normal part of American life, as have the responses to such shootings. After each massacre, victims, their families and gun control advocates bemoan the latest atrocity and call for background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Gun rights advocates oppose such reforms and stand behind the Second Amendment.

The same scenario plays out, over and over, with the Second Amendment a powerful impediment, blocking any gun control measures.

The Second Amendment states: “ A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Adopted in 1791, the author, James Madison, wanted to empower state militias, which today are considered the National Guard.

Much of public discussion about the Second Amendment has focused on the militia clause and whether that was intended to limit the scope of the amendment. Whatever one thinks about it, the U.S. Supreme Court settled that question in its 2008 Heller decision, holding that the Second Amendment guarantees the right for every individual, with some limited exceptions, to bear arms.

However, what is not discussed is why the Second Amendment was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. For all that has been written about it, there has been relatively little discussion about the reasons for the inclusion of that amendment. The conventional view has been that the Second Amendment was there so that people have a right to defend themselves against tyranny. Many colonists had come to America to escape oppressive regimes and absolute monarchies in mainland Europe.

The Native American historian and writer, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has articulated a provocative and different perspective on why there was a Second Amendment placed so prominently in the Bill of Rights. In her book, Loaded, she argues that the Second Amendment enshrined an individual gun right to allow settlers to form volunteer militias to attack Indians and take their land.

The settlers needed guns for the western expansion of the United States, a massively popular enterprise. The land west of the original thirteen colonies was not an empty wilderness, devoid of population. Many tribes had developed their own nations where they had lived for generations.

The colonial settlers formed militias for the purpose of raiding and razing indigenous communities and seizing their land and resources. The colonists needed the Second Amendment to carry out and legitimate their mission.

This was a project against which Native Americans fought back. Dunbar-Ortiz cites the resistance of such leaders as Buckongehelas of the Delaware, Little Turtle and Blue Jacket of the Miami Shawnee alliance, Joseph Brant of the Mohawk, Complanter of the Seneca as well as the great Tecumseh and the Shawnee-led Confederation of the Ohio Valley.

The Eastern half of the continent was ethnically cleansed of Native Americans by 1850, which forced their relocation to “Indian Country” west of the Mississippi River. Looking at the genocide committed against Native Americans, the Second Amendment can be placed in historical perspective. It needs to be seen in the context of westward expansion and the Indian wars.

Those who like to put a halo on the Constitution and the Second Amendment are not looking at it historically. Whatever its merits and wisdom, there is a very dark side.

Both our revolutionary army and the squatter-settlers used extreme violence against Native Americans, both combatants and non-combatants, with the goal of total domination. Ironically, the settlers justified their violence on the racist basis that they were fighting “savages”.

We have a blind spot in looking at American history. People feel badly about the outcome of what happened to Native Americans but we expunge the vigilante violence that was a big part of the genocide. It is a form of historical amnesia where dark truths are disappeared. Gun rights were inextricably entwined with stealing Indian land and forcibly removing and relocating tribes.

Dunbar-Ortiz also argues that the Second Amendment provided slavers with the means to enforce slavery. She cites slave patrols which were part of the policing of African Americans. In the slave colonies, if slaves attempted to escape, until the end of the Civil War, individuals could claim a reward for capture of the escapee. After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan replaced the slave patrols. Gun rights were central to the Klan mission.

Many gun rights supporters will strongly reassert that we need the Second Amendment to protect against tyrannical government now. They will also justify their personal arsenals on the basis of that right. However, that argument makes no sense when you consider the Second Amendment’s origins.

In America’s early years, once independence was assured, the colonists faced no domestic threat of an out-of-control central government. The colonists were far more focused on westward expansion and confronting the Indians. The British Monarch, King George III, had earlier unsuccessfully tried to stop the American expansion.

Manifest Destiny was the agenda of the colonists. The armed American militias of the 19th century were about conquest of Native land and about the subjugation of African Americans. Our gun culture is steeped in this history of racism.

I think reverence for the Second Amendment is part of our problem around guns. When reasonable gun control reforms are suggested, there is an unjustified reaction, asserting the Second Amendment as some type of almost religious icon. History shows it is anything but that. Laws, even constitutional amendments, need to be seen and understood within the context of when they were created.

A historical appreciation of the Second Amendment should lead to an end to its deification and more support for gun control reforms. If we saw the racist and militarist reasons for the Second Amendment, there would be much less sanctimony around its discussion. That alone would move the debate forward and would make gun control reform a more viable option.

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My remarks about my friend, Alan West – posted 4/6/2019

April 6, 2019 1 comment

Alan was my gym friend. We met years ago, working out at the Hogan Center of Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH. While Alan often went off on long periods on the stairmaster. we typically each did the elliptical next to each other and we talked.

In our conversations, we learned some incredibly surprising things. It turned out that our lives had overlapped in the past. We both broke the sex line. I am not saying we became transexual. In our junior year in college, Alan at Dartmouth and me at Trinity, we both transferred to Wellesley College.

We were both among the first 18 men who ever went to Wellesley College. There were 1800 women.

Alan and I compared notes and even though we could not remember each other, we lived in the same dorm and knew quite a few of the same people.

I think the odds for that happening were infinitesimally small. But that connection led to years of joking and goofing around about it. Wellesley has not been in touch with us though.

Alan was a great friend – funny, caring and thoughtful. We had great fun joking with our other gym friend, Ron Clark. Al and I were on the progressive side and Ron is a Trump supporter and we had hilarious conversations as Ron is the most entertaining Trump supporter I know. In fact, he may be the only Trump supporter I know.

Al liked to tease and he had the best laugh. We discussed important topics like the invisibility of men over age 55 to women.

He was a puzzle guy. There were always puzzles at Hogan and Alan spent much time putting them together.

I have to say that when Priscilla sent me Alan’s obituary, I was pretty shocked. I really had no idea about many of Alan’s accomplishments. He was genuinely one of the most modest people ever. Totally down to earth and friendly to all.

As we were both federal employees, I also have to say that I am grateful to Alan for his good judgment and his helpful suggestions. I write, and Alan, knowing the federal landscape, had good sense about how to avoid getting into trouble with our employers. He knew the federal government scene well.

I work with disabled people and Alan was a clinical psychologist and had much experience dealing with mental illness. It was always insightful to talk to him if there was a sticky case because he had seen a lot and had wisdom to share.

I respected the way Alan dealt with his illness which could not have been easy for him. He was a self-disciplined man. He always showed up at the gym. I never saw any self-pity. He could be depressed but his family and especially Priscilla helped him enormously. He was very proud of his kids too. That helped him cope.

It is very hard to not have him there. There is a void.

I wanted to end with this quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“My friend is not of some other race or family of men, but flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. He is my real brother. I see his nature groping yonder so like mine. We do not live far apart. Have not the fates associated us in many ways? Is it of no significance that we have so long partaken of the same loaf, drank at the same fountain, breathed the same air, summer and winter, felt the same heat and cold; that the same fruits have been pleased to refresh us both, and we have never had a thought of different fibre the one from the other?…
As surely as the sunset in my latest November shall translate me to the ethereal world, and remind me of the ruddy morning of youth; as surely as the last strain of music which falls on my decaying ear shall make age to be forgotten, or, in short, the manifold influences of nature survive during the term of our natural life, so surely my Friend shall forever be my Friend, and reflect a ray of God to me, and time shall foster and adore and consecrate our Friendship, no less than the rules of temples. As I love nature, as I love singing birds and gleaming stubble, and flowing rivers and morning and evening, and winter and summer, I love thee, my Friend.”

Alan, I will miss you.

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