capitalism

Ageism: Institutionalized Irrelevancy

elders seated

Are your job skills ossifying? Would you like to learn some updated new technologies?

Unfortunately, our educational system is horribly confining in terms of age. It is an outdated system which discriminates based on age. Older folks are institutionally rejected from formal education by statutes and policies which explicitly state that academic admission is for those under 30; or that scholarships are available for folks only up to the age of 25, etc… If an older person wishes to refresh their knowledge by returning to school, they are discouraged by countless cultural and economic forces. On a system-wide level this policy of ageism results in an ossification of most people’s skill-sets such that they seem to become more and more irrelevant as they age. What a dreadful cultural result. We soon learn to view our elders as relatively worthless and unproductive as members of the workforce.

How many people would gladly switch jobs at some point during their lives if they knew there was no economic penalty for doing so?

How many more would choose to enhance their education and re-enter the workforce with better, more updated skills if they knew there was an economic reward?

How much quicker could civilization progress if all age groups were encouraged to continue their education, increase their responsibilities, and actively participate in the management and governance of our society?

Why is management and governance largely left to the elite, the wealthy, the inheritance class and their friends and associates?

Does your job make you feel good?

It is natural for most workers who do repetitive tasks to become bored and unmotivated at their jobs. Whether the job task is manual or cerebral in nature does not matter much. What destroys our motivation and drive is the repetitiveness and lack of meaningful stimulation. Moreover, it is natural for us to want to understand the way in which we can productively fit into our civilization. As we mature and grow in life experience and wisdom, it becomes more and more obvious to many of us that our job function is not fundamentally contributing to civilization in a way which we feel positive about.

When we are young, this seems to be less consequential because we do not yet have a comprehensive understanding of the cultural and political context in which we live out our lives. However, as we mature and our understanding grows, we often hear an uncomfortable voice inside us rebelling against our jobs, reminding us that our work does not contribute to civilization in a way that makes us feel good. This quashes our self image leaving many of us in a state of arrested development, or quasi-depression where motivation to participate in the process of civilization is dramatically diminished.

But… Democracy

To a large extent this languishing of interest occurs because the current economic and political system cannot provide us with appropriate opportunities to participate in the management and governance of our society. What amplifies this even more is the cognitive dissonance we experience when told that our democratic system is working wonderfully and that we all have equal opportunity to participate. Hogwash. What is needed is a system-wide, broadly ranging feeder system which encourages participation and enhances our skill-sets as we get older and wiser.

One possible solution would be to equip our economic system with across-the-board incentives for re-educating, retraining and empowering our maturing workers, deliberately placing them in influential positions within both the private and public sectors. To avoid any potential problem with anyone becoming too powerful in any one position, perhaps it would be best to have the positions filled on a rotating basis, but fleshing out the details of this new system is well beyond the scope of this short article.

elderly-people-work

The Power of Wiser Workers

The untapped power of older folks lies in the simple fact that they have witnessed history and seen how civilization unfolds. They have been able to privately and individually form and test theories about power structures and governance, and are able to contextualize what they are doing and what is being done by others around them. Therefore, they are naturally in a position to take an authoritative role, and are in position to put powerful skills to use in our economic and political communities.

There are, however, many forces which conspire to hold many of them back; among them are lack of encouragement, lack of training and lack of economic opportunity. Although some may rise to satisfying positions of influence, the consolidating tendency of our current hierarchical system dramatically reduces the number of such positions made available. Instead, our political economy creates incentives which focus power and influence in the hands of as few folks as possible. This is highly unfortunate and exasperatingly inefficient.

We all suffer the consequences of bad policy

Our civilization sacrifices a great deal as it continues to march along this archaic, hierarchical ageist road. For example, consider one of our most highly prized human accomplishments – innovation. It is common knowledge that innovators are folks who can see across the boundaries of various disciplines, people who can combine concepts from various fields in order to accomplish something unique, something innovative. It is unusual for anyone, young or old, to get the opportunity to develop this skill as we are generally pigeon-holed and forced into narrow paths where our skill-sets remain confined to one specific discipline; and this selection process deposits us, more-or-less, for the duration of our working lives. So, very few can break out of this handicapped field and achieve innovative results.

Oh, certainly there are a handful of young people who are passionate enough about learning to acquire some of the necessary skills to become innovators early on. Some may possess talent and genius which cannot be explained, and to its merit, our present educational system is reasonably adept at detecting these exceptional folks at a young age and does, indeed, have mechanisms to help them reach their potential. But, the current system does nothing at all to try and encourage innovation in older folks or even in regular, non-superhuman folks.

Wisdom: A Resource Wasted

On a general basis, the system of political economy provides no navigable path which can broaden and update our knowledge, no path giving us the opportunity to apply formidable sets of accumulated wisdom, and this is largely because the bulk of our education must be completed before we are 25 years of age. Instead of being incentivized to learn new skill-sets, we are forced into positions which ossify our skills to the point of irrelevancy. As technology moves along at its swift pace, best-in-field knowledge changes almost daily and folks fresh out of college are most likely to have the necessary training to make a go of it.

So long as college graduates remain primarily young and inexperienced, we will never realize the full benefit of any of these new technologies. If given the opportunity to apply the newest technologies in the real world, experienced elders would undoubtedly produce more progressive results, being able to see the broader horizons of our community in ways impossible for most youths.  A broader-based management and governance system, not wholly reliant upon elitist hierarchies, could stimulate the political economy in ways hard to fathom by today’s standards. There is simply no such provision being made for older folks other than the odd executive training courses here and there or the highly specialized continuing education courses mandated by some professional or licensed fields of endeavor.

Commonly, folks are encouraged to continue working at whatever they had been taught, or whatever they had been trained in back in their twenties, and are expected to continue working until they retire even though their skill-sets are becoming irrelevant at an ever-quickening tempo. What a waste. What a shame. These folks should be encouraged to return to schools for more training, more education; and then return to the workplace motivated, armed not only with their accumulated wisdom, but also with their newly acquired cutting edge skills. Innovation and progress would increase markedly. There is really no excuse not to create such a program. We all suffer daily without it.

1 reply »

  1. This is great, Jordan! And you are absolutely right, we have the wisdom of an entire generation being wasted because a handful of narcissists with cash (the 1%) think that they know best.

    Like

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