Certain writers have helped shape how I see the world. Some of them—James Kunstler, Barbara Ehrenreich, Neil Postman, Lewis Mumford—have allowed me to break free of many of the myths and even lies that frame the thinking of many in America. I’d add Susan Jacoby to that list.
The first time I read one of her books, it was The Age of American Unreason, a hard-hitting, nonfiction work that framed the dumbing down of America in a way that was systematic and understandable, but also well-researched, and not one that tilted at the usual suspects. As Jacoby describes it in the book, our problems are a result of “a virulent mixture of anti-rationalism and low expectations.” She was clear in the book that our state “of unreason” was also permanent, not temporary.
I apparently missed that she wrote a book about aging in America. Much like Ehrenreich (see her take down of “positive thinking”), Jacoby doesn’t pull any punches, or mince her words. Neither does she subscribe to the “happy, happy, joy, joy” school of self-help gibberish and positive affirmations as a blanket “cure all” for our national ills.
America is an aging nation. My home state, Maine, is the oldest of the 50 states. Our older population—persons who are 65 years or older—numbered nearly 40 million in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available). That’s 12.9 percent of the U.S. population, or about one in every eight Americans. By 2030, that number nearly doubles to 72.1 million, or more than twice what the number was in 2000. People who are 65+ will number one in five in 2030.
While aging gets acknowledged, it’s mainly communicated in a manner that’s false, couched in a host of magical ideas, like “60 is the new 40,” and the belief that the intersection of medicine and technology will solve all the attendant problems of people getting old in large numbers.
Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of The New Old Age is just the kind of book that everyone that believes the answer to aging is just around the corner should read—but I know they won’t. Jacoby’s book came out in 2011. I spent the past year managing a grant specific to aging in place, and Maine’s rapidly aging population. I received countless emails, had books recommended to me, and heard a great deal of poppycock, really, about the issue. Not once did I run across Jacoby’s book. I found it by “accident” at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, two weeks ago. Continue reading