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AMERICA THE WISE by Theodore Roszak


The Longevity Revolution and the True Wealth of Nations

by Theodore Roszak

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-85699-X
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Assuming a high moral ground for his generation—and, by implication, himself—historian Roszak follows the rebellious youth whose ideals he analyzed 30 years ago (The Making of a Counter Culture, 1969) into their dawning old age, claiming for them a wisdom that could enrich American society with a vibrant new altruism. The spur to these loose-knit reflections was Roszak’s encounter with an unspecified life-threatening illness, from which medical science saved him. The experience enhanced his appreciation of life, of medicine’s capacity to extend life, and of the socially transformative powers of what he calls the “New People”: the aging baby boomers who will soon turn the over-85 segment of society into its fastest growing age group. What makes these folk new is the prospect that their long, relatively comfortable final years will offer an unprecedentedly secure vantage point from which to project a more humane life philosophy than has hitherto dominated America’s social and ecomonic being. As though to model the new, slower-paced wisdom, the book moves leisurely and repetitively from arguments in defense of senior entitlements, to critiques of youth-oriented computer culture, to reflections on the life-enhancing limits imposed by our inevitable, if postponable, death. The central theme is that America has more than enough wealth—now misdirected toward cars, shopping malls, and software—to support its seniors, who will richly repay the investment in them with volunteer service, mentoring, and the social diffusion of kindness. The book’s utopianism would comfort if it didn—t seem so rooted in social privilege, expressed in the scant recognition given the elderly poor, the naive restriction of the wisdom born of “hard knocks, the ordeal of disease, the approach of mortality” to over-60s, and the inescapable commonality of interest between the author and his projected New People. This attempt to define a social program for the elderly reads too much like an idealized personal and generational self-portrait effectively to persuade. (Author tour)