The young people now organizing protest marches on nursing homes have a legitimate gripe. Old people are living much too long nowadays and the costs of their prolonged care are likely to bankrupt Generation X. And maybe even Generations Y and Z.
Astutely, the Occupy Nursing Homes (ONH) organizers have selected a ripe target: the 76 million baby boomers now beginning to retire. "The boomers have already robbed us blind," one ONH organizer explained. "It looks like most of these selfish, spoiled bastards will live well into their 90s. Hell, we won't be able to afford their adult diapers!"
I disagree, however, with the movement's strategy. Forcibly ejecting old people from nursing homes is not politically palatable -- not even when it serves the laudable goal of providing housing for all the unemployed young people whose parents won't let them move back home. A far better remedy would be to convince old people to vacate nursing homes voluntarily.
For some years now, my colleagues and I at the Breakdown Institute have been devising "outside the box" solutions that will halt or slow society's total collapse. As Vice President of Boomer Studies, my job has been to find a fair, cheap and easy solution to the longevity crisis that relies on voluntary action. Happily, I now have one in hand.
Here's the gist of it: I call on boomers to imitate the example of the Inuit, a tribe who occupy Greenland and Northern Alaska. In olden days, when food ran short, elderly Inuits who felt they were a burden on their community would wander off by themselves into the wilderness where they would perish of their own accord.
Obviously, getting boomers to emulate this noble tradition will take some doing. But the job becomes manageable if we appeal to the boomers' vanity and inflated sense of self-importance.
Our research shows that boomers are sick and tired of being compared unfavorably with their parents, the much admired Depression/World War II "greatest generation." Our extensive psychological testing reveals that, in fact, most boomers would like to "get even" with their parents. That's easier said than done.
The era the "greatest generation" lived in gave them opportunities to act on a grand historic scale, to live out a hero's journey. Jeez, even the Depression they lived through was Great. And everything was simpler back then. In 1939 all one had to do was go to England and volunteer for the Royal Air Force. What boomers need is a historic challenge that overshadows the ones their parents faced.
Ladies and gentlemen of the postwar generation, I have two words for you: global warming.
Imagine a bunch of World Wars and Depressions all rolled into one. That's global warming! Severe shortages of food, water, and energy will be the norm. Boomers, I see this as your chance to take stage center and play the hero's part. The crowd-pleasing key to success -- just as it was for the "greatest generation" -- is self-sacrifice.
Now, don't jump to conclusions and reject this proposal out of hand simply because it's "outside the box" thinking and will lead to your death. Instead, consider the results of our focus group testing. We detected extremely strong boomer support for these concepts:
• A hero's journey, in the mythical sense, is the highest goal to which humans aspire.
• There's something about being alone in the wilderness that evokes humanity's most intense, sublime experiences.
• Preservation of wilderness is of paramount importance to the future well-being of the planet.
My proposal builds on all this. It provides a strong new rationale for preservation of wilderness areas. After all, if aging boomers are to wander into the wilderness to die, there must be wilderness to wander into. But, of course, nobody wants suicidal seniors flooding into existing parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite that are already crowded with vacationers looking for a good time. So my proposal calls for expanded wilderness protection in order to accommodate large numbers of nearly-dearly departed boomers. Think of this as the ecological dividend of your sacrifice.
Now, despite my emphasis on volunteerism, I'm realistic enough to know that economic incentives are what really count. Accordingly, my proposal includes a prod to encourage any boomers who are reluctant to "step up to the plate." Cutting off their income ought to do the trick.
Under my proposal, Social Security payments would end automatically when beneficiaries turn 90. This sounds harsh, I know, but frankly, isn't it reasonable to assume that by age 90 your overriding concern will be death with dignity? Well, anyway, that's what it ought to be if you guys have any taste or gumption or healthy sense of self.
At present, most really old people lie terminally bored in rest homes watching Law and Order re-runs for the hundredth time -- a fate worse than death. Most actually expire hooked up to expensive machines in overcrowded, unsanitary hospitals.
Hey, boomers, wouldn't you rather bid life farewell on your own terms, in the great American outdoors, surrounded by scenic wonders, communing with nature? Sure you would!
Here's the icing on the cake. As things stand now, you guys are going to exit life's stage amid catcalls of derision from the younger generations you've screwed. But as followers of the Inuit's honorable tradition, you'll stride offstage to thunderous applause from a grateful posterity. And think how proud Mom and Dad would be.
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