Frank Bruni in the NYT offers some [rare wisdom] about the plethora of contradictory findings from the lab on how to live to be old. Really old. He makes perfectly intelligent comments that hinge on the how of “how to live” — namely, that quality of life is more important that quantity — but his cogent comments will count for naught with his Baby Boomer readership because he overlooks the why of all these studies: people today are panicked about getting old and infirm.
Science, like any other human endeavor, is subject to market forces, and what people are in the market for thesedays is a guarantee that they won’t decline and whither into a miserable existence. It’s not hard to understand what’s going on — this is what happens when the idea of extended family becomes a quaint artifact of a culture based on mobility and consumption. Back in the day there were time-honored roles for people at every stage of life from cradle to grave and they centered around the mini-society of relatives. Not so much anymore.
Call it a failure of imagination. The rapidly aging Boomers have no models for successful aging. Facing a future warehoused in retirement communities or, worse, assisted-care facilities who wouldn’t be battering down the doors of the lab looking for a preventive. But they won’t find it there. All the white coats can do is provide more time. They can’t fill that time with meaning or happiness. Rats are social animals. And the society is sick.