the sense of time


By Maria Lúcia Cacciola*

A widespread reasoning confirms the existence of prejudice towards the elderly; under the mask of “care” the old man becomes a villain instead of a victim.

In a bar in Paris, rue Felix Faure, middle-class neighborhood, 9 am, drinking black coffee and croissant. In my somewhat shaky French, I respond to a comment about something from an elderly lady who, at that time, perhaps having skipped coffee, was sipping a draft beer. Her cheeks rosy, she continued the dialogue, then going into details of her private life, she lived alone, a sailor's widow, maybe a soldier, great love, early death and other stories. She listened attentively, trying to understand everything… a farewell and see you soon…

Comment with the waiter: – very nice lady. The traditional bad-tempered waiter retorts: she only spoke to you, a foreigner, because she is old and alone. A little inattentive, I thought, the French, how unfriendly, don't like old people, but maybe because the lady was already a little drunk. After pushing for another nationality, this contempt, I was calm. Until then, little impressed me with what could be a prejudice against the elderly. She was young, a researcher and, master's or doctoral student, everything ahead of her. Before, I had noticed little about prejudice against old people, joking aside about the thousand times repeated stories of my sclerotic “Nonna”, or some deaf old man, or another flirt, boast, I thought it was normal. Could be affectionate...

Today after seventy years, I realize not without time, that old is a problem. Being old, something kind of despicable. Mistreatment by uneducated and educated people is shown in several ways, from traffic: –“You old lady”; to the hospital, clinic, or consulting room, where condescending treatment borders on tatibitate with children; give your little foot, little hand, etc... are you sick? It's over now... Count to ten... Or queues for the elderly, where they look at us with a mixture of condescension and anger.

Until recently, I wore dyed hair, I decided to make it gray. I'm not yet a "cotton head", but a white part was enough to make the situation worse... At seventy, when I grudgingly celebrated compulsory retirement, it's as if the bell had rung; “the last kurd”. An Argentine tango, which announced the farewell “Adios Nonino"( That magic number acquired power and materialized... soon after I got a senior degree, when I found out that with it I could overcome some obstacles, such as picking up fewer books at the Library, losing my food card; and the best, even without voice and vote, he was still able to work. In college, where everyone knew me, in the secretariat, anyway, where I had friends, I continued with my sociability, abroad, I was respected, but it seems that the most Brazilian question, from a young country, remained in the air, that of “what was I still doing? doing here”.

Denouncing such prejudice against my age can even be taken with some reason as non-acceptance, but it is not easy to see and feel the effects, if you do not have the experience. Certainly, no one wants to be old, forgetting with this refusal that one is also – and that “also” dedicated to those endowed with spirit or soul – an organism. Destiny is how we learn in school, to be born, grow, multiply, grow old and die. But with so many things to do, we forget this peculiarity and even the true course of time.

But does it not occur to anyone or just a few to rejoice that they are still alive and at this age? We are not going to discuss what would be better, getting old or saying goodbye to this valley of tears, because without measure, it is difficult to compare two things, one of which is unknown to us. The imagination of the youngest is either made up of compassion mixed with respect for a being that would represent nothing else, neither for himself nor for society, or of contempt and irritation for a being that has nothing more to project for his life, or for society. . Does someone who lives just to survive or vice versa deserve more than pity?

Those who seek meaning and actually find it in any realization project are young people; the old man has either already “fulfilled” himself through a work or work or he will never do so. Either it has reproduced itself in the offspring, or it never will, or it will. There he is as a memory of the past and to whom gratitude is owed for what has already been, asking for the care of the family and the State, in the form of a retirement, while at the same time cluttering up the social security system.

For whom all this is obvious, there is no need to ask them to change their way of valuing and try to think differently about someone who, despite limitations, is a center of life and whose thinking and way of being can be seen in a different way. If it is not production that guides existence, but existence itself as such, it might be possible to propose a different design for thinking older people. Even in terms of autonomy, in the midst of the care required by organic failures, diseases that are not exclusive to this category, but which are more frequent in it.

In addition, the aspect of decay that provokes the withdrawal of the younger ones, perhaps because they glimpse in the elderly how they will be in the future and even, that of other older ones for seeing themselves in the mirror, would have to be replaced by a broader vision of these representatives of the human species. , whose ideal is until now fixed by youthful measurements. If we are capable of maintaining the sense of time, of making room for a being that is not ready and finished, just because it no longer participates, or participates little in activities timed by production and consumption patterns, typical of the capitalist system.

There would still be much to “live and learn throughout life”, even short valuable lessons about himself and the society that surrounds him. But, lessons should only serve for the future and that includes the linear conception of time making meaningless that life already in its farewell. Everything is an investment for tomorrow. You don't invest in a being that won't have many tomorrows.

This social and individual norm of investment as a giver of meaning, in addition to being very limited, erodes the very notion of a present, which is no more than a passing point between one moment and another, without dimension, without any meaning or duration. It is necessary, in addition to conforming to the truth of contingency, to double the value of the present moment, to fill it with content, with matter, not to make it flow into the subsequent without leaving a trace. Wisdom of old philosophers?

There is also this jargon, the old man with a young spirit! As if the spirit could have chronological age... The spirit is not seen as vivacity, awareness of the world and of itself, but as a double or a shadow that remains, in this case, always young and makes the old man behave or say “young things”. . Things from today's time, as if someone, being old, had already stopped living in this time. The old man has already “shrunk” and returned to childhood without a future, with nothing left of his experiences, of his vital thickness, of his long-acquired behavior, of his vices and virtues.

The evidence, the drifts of his memory that would have had to denote the layers of superimposed change, but failed to do so. Becoming forgetful instantly takes away your most recent experiences, perhaps because they no longer find support in a meaning. Hypotheses to think about. Seeing oneself like this, so devoid of autonomy and appreciation or recognition, forgetfulness comes as a remedy. Without denying, of course, the physiological basis of this phenomenon.

The word in current or apparent morality is “care”. They preceded us, cared for us and deserve care. Certainly, one of the limitations of old age is no longer being able to take care of yourself, developing certain activities, such as normal day-to-day activities. Some countries give the State the task of providing caregivers. This, however, does not prevent prejudice, perhaps even increases it, because the youngest, the most productive, pay the bill. This has not ceased to exist, despite the greater number of elderly people in European countries who, because of this and civilization, allow themselves to occupy a greater space in cultural life, including entertainment. What also counts is the degree of development, which allows for greater fairness in the treatment, but which cannot erase the derogatory character of old age.

In general, a mischaracterization of old age as evil is sought, naming advanced age as the “best age”, which is completed by “politically incorrect” jokers: “the best and last age”.

There are many factors that converge to this depreciation, some listed, others left in the shade. To talk about the more immediate today, it is enough to focus on old age and the pandemic. The current Minister of Health uses the highly connoted word “invest” to exemplify a need to choose between two people, a young person and an elderly person, in case there is only one device for artificial respiration. His clear statement is that it is better to “invest” in young people.

A scientific thesis states that it is easier for the elderly to be infected by the Covid-19 virus, as they have a lower rate of immunity combined with more preexisting diseases. Even due to its greater fragility, it is the category most prone to lethality. However, in some cases, a false reasoning that can even serve to confirm the existence of prejudice; under the mask of “care”: the old man becomes a villain instead of a victim. In this version, he is the one who most transmits the coronavirus to others and therefore has to be isolated.

I had already noticed this misunderstanding in some lines, but I thought that this interpretation was isolated, but reading the newspapers, I read the confirmation of such a mistake, that of the “scapegoat”. When mentioning this vision, it is necessary to clarify that one is in favor of isolation, but for the correct reason for it, namely, the greater fragility of the elderly or their lesser resistance, which has nothing to do with greater virulence!

It is to be expected, and certainly desirable, that old people isolate themselves because they see the need to do so. The old Kantian question about Enlightenment comes to the fore here, the “sapere aude”, daring to know, which calls for the use of our understanding, to which we add, even in old age. This is valid for the elderly, reaffirming their possible and desirable autonomy, but it is not valid for removing the reasons for prejudice that are perhaps deeper “not knowing for sure how far their roots go” (Schopenhauer), as another philosopher would say after Kant, on another subject, although close, the question of “individuality”.

*Maria Lucia Cacciola is a retired and senior professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP.

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