The aging of the world

Image: Elyser Szturm

By Boaventura de Sousa Santos*

The industrialized world we live in began to age rapidly in the 1980s. Suddenly, the future closed in, the new common sense that there was no alternative to the unfair, racist and sexist capitalist society we lived in quickly entered our homes.

In personal life, aging depends less on physiological age than on social age. Social age is inversely proportional to the ability to think, feel and experience the new as a future, as a task, as a present to be experienced. One is younger the greater one's ability to live life as if it were an experience of constant new beginnings that point, not to repetitions of the past, but rather to futures – maps to explore and paths to tread with availability to face risks , assume ignorance and respond to new challenges.

It is the future as anticipation, as “not yet”, as latency, as potency. As we know that we never live except in the present, the future is always the incomplete present, the present as a task, as an event, for which we are personally responsible. To have a future is to own the present. On the contrary, one grows older the longer one lives convinced that the world has already decided for us what we can and cannot expect and that, consequently, the future is closed to us. Aging is, therefore, living on repetition or in repetition as if each repetition were unique and unrepeatable. It's passing the days as if they were the days to pass with the indifference of the daily walk.

There are three ways of living through repetition: as if the past were an eternal present and both routines and institutions and news confirmed it day by day (aging due to living death); as if the past had passed and left in its wake an unfathomable void that only playing cards, watching television or talking about illnesses can evade (aging due to dead life); or, finally, as if both the past and the future were equally distant and inaccessible, thus creating an insurmountable panic that only excessive expenditure of the body on alcohol, drugs, the gym, church or therapy could evade (aging for life) no death).

In the societies of industrialized and computerized bodies in which we live, public and private services have been created to assist people who have more difficulties with the repetition of repetition. Basically, it is about normalizing decadence. In these societies, aging is always the result of a chronic exhaustion of spent or unspent energy. It consists of convincingly placing the sold-out sign on the door of the theater of life, even if a play has not been performed there for a long time, or even if a first rehearsal has never been held there. In the case of the first two forms of aging, the aim is to invest in the past as if it had never happened.

It increasingly consists of the commercialization of co-aging services. They are, in general, effective because the invention of repetition cunningly conceals the repetition of invention. The basic idea is that aging experiences, however unbearable, are always more bearable when shared.

In the case of the third form of aging, instead of the omnipresence of the past, what is sought is the omniabsence of the past, an eternal present that exempts the future from having to haunt the living with the bad news that is not yet there. These are the techniques of aging by rejuvenation. It's a modified version of the movie's metaphor. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on the tale of F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which the protagonist is born old and rejuvenates as time goes by until he dies as a baby. In the techniques of aging by rejuvenation, the clock at the railroad station in a small town in the south of the USA, instead of running backwards, stops, and with it time stops too.

As I mentioned, social age does not coincide with physiological age, but the discrepancy is greater or lesser depending on the historical periods, social contexts and collective factors that characterize them. The same goes for societies. The industrialized world in which we live began to age rapidly in the 1980s. Suddenly, the future closed, the new common sense that there was no alternative to the unfair, racist and sexist capitalist society in which we lived entered our homes more quickly. than any pizza delivery ou ubereats, it spread through the news, through emerging social networks, through the ready-to-wear wisdom of the commentocracy.

New experiences and expectations of collective life were forever discredited, the world was naturally unfair, the rich were rich because they deserved it and the poor were poor in everything, but above all in judgment, we had to live with imperfection, even if we could lessen it by replacing the rationality of markets by the irrationality of the state at the expense of which those least able to survive in a competitive society lived.

The Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, has decreed the death of the future better than anyone else: “There is no Alternative”, the famous TINA. And Francis Fukuyama turned that death into the final triumph of Western society – “the end of history” – taking advantage of the fact that Friedrich Hegel, having been dead since 1831, could not rise up against such an idiotic interpretation of his philosophy of history. The cement disassembled with the fall of the Berlin Wall was rearmed in a thousand cemeteries of the future that were being built all over the world. And many were needed to bury so much future.

This great procedure for aging the world is predominantly reflected today in the first form of aging that I mentioned above, aging by living death. But the two other forms of aging are equally present. Dead life aging is the form of aging preferred by religious fundamentalisms. They act on the emptiness caused by the past and promise to make it reborn in the form of a glorious future in another world. For the promoters of this ageing, the life we ​​live is dead and can only be resurrected when the clocks of history begin to run backwards or when all, in unison, begin to strike the final hour of eternity. There is no social responsibility for injustice. There is, yes, guilt for suffering it, and the only solution is to atone for it.

The third form of aging (life without death) is the one that prevails in the generation of millennials, the one that was born at the beginning of the period in which the world's theater was closing the curtain on a different and better future. It was a generation condemned to be born old. They were born without the past of the future because the idea of ​​an alternative had meanwhile disappeared from the horizon. For this reason, it never occurred to them to overthrow the unjust system that robbed them of hope for a different and better future. His goal was personal success within the system. They sacrificed time, rights, leisure and pleasure in the hope of a victory that, for the vast majority, never came. They wanted to beat the system, winning in the system. This was what the system wanted to most effectively defeat them. This generation is today the one that dominates in the third form of aging (life without death).

The geopolitics of aging strategies deserves a more detailed analysis, which is not the place to do here. It is enough for now to keep in mind that neither the world has aged uniformly, nor the forms of aging have been equally distributed on the planet. It was mainly in the so-called global north that, paradoxically, people started to want to live longer without, however, being considered old.

What I want to point out at this point is that conclusive signs are emerging that the world's aging process is not irreversible. It's not about rejuvenating, which, as I mentioned above, is a way of fooling aging. Rather, it is a matter of growing old, that is, of believing again in a different future and in the ability to fight for it. It is about rejecting the infinite repetition of the present because such repetition is inexorably leading us towards the abyss. A will emerges for the new that is not barbarism because barbarism is where we are already.

Uprisings of people of all physiological ages are emerging all over the world because, as I said, physiological difference does not count in the perspective of aging or aging in the world. Collective presences of young and old filling the streets and public squares of the world against the politics of repetition and repeated politicians, from Chile to Italy, from Lebanon to India. They are the new insurgents dissatisfied with the imminent ecological catastrophe, the scandalous concentration of wealth, the capture of democratic institutions by anti-democrats, the irrationality of so-called rational markets, the theft of gigantic proportions of our privacy and our intimacy by the new robbers. barons Google, Facebook, Amazon or Alibaba, the grotesque indifference to the suffering of immigrants and refugees killed at sea, in the jungle, in the desert or deposited in concentration camps, as if Auschwitz were just a cruel memory, now overcome by the victory of good over the evil.

The right-wing political forces, which have always fed on the aging of the world, cry out in fright against what they call contempt, as if it were not contempt for everything that led the new young people and the new old people to decide to come to the streets to grow old. The same forces argue that there are no proposals, that is, repetitions, the only novelties they recognize. But the truth is that there are proposals. From India to Chile, repressive forces and political parties are confronted with the indignation of the elderly against the dead letter of so many constitutions. They are confronted with proposals from plurinational popular constituent assemblies. They are faced with proposals for efficient and free public transport as an exercise in the economy of care for nature. But they are confronted, above all, with the celebration of national, cultural, religious, sexual diversity, with the search for zones freed from capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy, with the search for forms of peasant, indigenous, family, feminist, cooperative community economy .

As the world ages, the powers that produced the world's aging and made it the industry of its eternalization will be increasingly confronted with the insolence caused by their insolence. Will they age?

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank