Friday, December 04, 2009

Book Review: "The Making of an Elder Culture" (Theodore Roszak)

Title: "The Making of an Elder Culture"
Author: Theodore Roszak
Published: New Society Publishers, 2009.

This is a sequel to the earlier book, "The Making of a Counter Culture." Aimed at the boomer generation, it gives further guidance on what this generation that is aging can do with their remaining years and the energies they still have. In a nutshell, Roznak says that the ‘elder culture’ people of today can still be counter-culturing. They have not lost their luster.

Targeted at the same audience as his previous bestseller, the Boomer generation is currently the 'Elder' generation. Essentially, Roszak argues that while the physical appearance of the Boomer changes on the outside, the energies and passions within them have not changed.

The baby boomers’ ‘ideas about love, freedom, responsibility, democracy, success and personal worth’ are still ‘relevant’ for today, argues the author. (287)

There are several good points Roszak points out. The chief value of this book is that it gives us an insider perspective of the struggles and unfair treatments meted out on the elder population. It is a book for us to cherish and remember that we too, will get old one day. Why not begin treating all persons, both young and old with courtesy and respect? Let me summarize my reading with the followings section headings under, The Good, the Controversial and the Ugly.

  • the elderly need not take economic bullying lying down. As younger families have lesser children, statistically, the elderly population wields a formidable political vote;
  • The elderly need not fade into oblivion but play a key role in bringing in 'wisdom and nobility' into the society they are in;
  • What is "Industrial Revolution" externally, is actually a quest for for 'Longetivity Revolution."
  • Elders can lead the way to create a 'compassionate sector.'
  • It reminds us to be sensitive to elders who felt treated like children by society at large.
  • He highlights the importance of interdependent, declaring at the onset that 'self-reliance is a lie,' in his passionately written "Declaration of Interdependence."

Some views are controversial. One of the most controversial is his almost fatalistic pronouncement of the merits of aging. He believes that 'aging' is nature's way of solving the overpopulation and overconsumption problem. This goes against a society that practically worships longetivity in the name of safety, and rescueing lives. Think of our health care systems and the money poured in. We will soon realize that our culture is one that seeks to prolong our living.

Another one lies in his preference for 'loyalty' above 'love.' He feels that there are too many negative connotations surrounding love, in a sex-filled world, that blurs out the merits. Loyalty is more important for family.

The author tends to have a negative attitude toward religion, specifically evangelical types. He writes about it in a derogatory manner. Look at how he starts blaming the evangelicals for the problems of a sex-crazed culture.
“Back to Jesus, back to shame and terror, back to hell and damnation. And millions have opted for their way. The hypocrisy that has always surrounded religious authority especially in sexual matters is still there; the evangelicals have had their scandals over the years, but there are parents of the boomer generation who are willing to run that risk to keep their kids under control and alive. Myself, I believe the Puritanism of the evangelicals is more the distant historical cause of our sexual hang-ups than a cure. These are the people who once pilloried sinners for fornication and forced women to wear the scarlet letter. They surrounded sex with guilt and fear, and that made it more tempting and less gratifying for millions.” (210-211)
My Comments
As I read this, I cannot help thinking: “Wake up! This is not the 60s anymore. Don’t fight yesterday’s problems and imagine them to be the same today.” Yet, I cannot but empathize with Roszak's struggle  with the emotions of this elder generation. In many ways, the author is writing on behalf of his own community, how they are looked down by the faster and more agile, economically rich younger ones.

While some of Roszak’s accusations about the evangelicals are valid, I feel that his words over-generalize evangelicals. At the same time, he may have unwittingly alienated himself from evangelicals of his Boomer generation who shares the same aging ethos and environmental concerns.

Overall, the book is a spirited defense of an aging Boomer population who are the primary occupants of the aging category. I find his approach of calling for an elder insurgency a little too combative. It can work against his call for interdependence. Why should the young be expected to yield, when the old does not lead by example? It may unwittingly provoke an eye-for-an-eye retaliation which will put at risk the very call for interdependence.The writer ends the book vaguely with a spiritualist outlook. Underlying this conclusion was that there is something bigger than the present, but he could not exactly pinpoint it. Thus he uses 3 quotes from others to clue us in.

Ruskin's "No wealth but life"; Tolstoy's "Death is finished," and Wilder's "There’s something eternal in every human being." Roszak ends the book with an ethereal question "Where will we find it?" (286)

This last question continues to puzzle many, especially the Elder generation. It is never too early for the rest to start pondering this. May the Elder generation show leadership on how to approach this question.

My Ratings: 3 stars out of 5


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