Models for the future
(Page 2 of 4)
"It's so grossly unfair, because they kick out after 30 years the people who have organized labor and who have battled the early struggles for it.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"I'm serving on a newly organized social policy board -- the National Policy Center on Employment and Retirement at the University of Southern California. We're looking at the performance capabilities of older workers, government employment and training programs, alternative work options, opportunities for older women workers.
"Utopia. In this imperfect world we can aim for perfection but probably never attain it. Still, we can do much better."
The Kuhn scenario makes a fascinating comparison, and contrast, on major points with the prognostications of David H. Fischer, who spoke about the future in his office at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.:
"I don't see any end to mandatory retirement. Retirement is a normal part of the life process. It's something that inevitably most of us will experience. It may be a more activem retirement than we've known before, with a much more complex set of associations -- perhaps with other sorts of employment that can follow in the retirement period.
"Flextime, part-time, electronic cottage industries -- the alternatives are gathering momentum.
"I think that most of what's been happening in the last 20 to 30 years has really been an effort to pry open the possibilities for choice. Deep-seated attitudes about the work ethic are being repealed by cultural tendencies that no presidential administration has control over. Increasingly there's an ethic of being rather than doing.
"The republican experiment, this open society, is in some sense moving to a kind of test -- that is to say, can we sustain a plurality of ethics? I think the momentum is clearly heading in that direction.
"It's very difficult to measure attitudes about age, but several opinion polls have suggested that there is at least the beginning of a glacial change. These tides move very slowly. It's not a question of sudden reversals in attitudes, but rather the attitudes begin to change in a new way, in a new direction. I would expect that the attitudes would continued to change for a very long time."
"My hunch is that something like a youth cult began to take form in the late 18 century. It continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and peaked in the 1960s or perhaps early 1970s. I think the youth cult isn't quite as powerful as it used to be. I think as the median age advances so rapidly, that's making a difference.
"A great deal of the work of social gerontologists has been to combat what they call the myths of aging, to sensitize people today to the kinds of tacit discrimination that the feminist movement has been opposing, that the civil rights movement opposed -- that sort of tacit ageism that was so pervasive in our society. It still exists; I don't mean to doubt that it's still very powerful."
What does Dr. Fischer envision for the future?
"I think we're at a fork in the road," he says. "I see one fork leading the quite a happy world in which we don't even have a consciousness of age groups as we did in the past, and people can choose freely among many possibilities.
"The other fork leads to a much darker sort of world in which age groups become bureaucratically hardened and reinforced -- by the social-security system , by pension plans, by pressure groups, by social legislation designed to help older people but in fact drawing lines across the life cycle and making things happend automatically -- you get a free bus trip at a certain age. Part of that bleak world is for me also a return to, a reinforcement of generational tensions , as social security taxes rise.I think there is a real potential for trouble with older people having increasingly a sense of exploitation and depression.