The Chronological Ghetto. Approaching old age from an intergenerational perspective

El Gueto Cronológico. Aproximación a la vejez desde una mirada intergeneracional  - CENIE, Tribuna Abierta

"I believe that we philosophers learn to pronounce these words before we write, especially about old age: remember, philosopher, that your experience is your own. Learn. Be curious about people of all kinds. Ask them how they live life before lecturing them on how to live it. Be prepared to perceive meaning in lives very different from your own. Respect diversity.  Martha Nussbaum1

The life expectancy of the Spanish population, both for men and women, is among the highest in the European Union and the world. In many communities, as is the case in Galicia, the problem appears to be alarmingly accentuated. In the future, we will have a growing population where, in a few decades, due to this increase in longevity, together with a negative replacement rate due to an unusual decline in the birth rate, we will see parents over one hundred years old forced to live simultaneously with children who are over seventy. The situation is aggravated if we consider the changes in the model of family structure which have been taking place since the eighties; going from the traditional household model, in which several generations live together, to that of a simple nuclear family, formed by a couple, each time with a smaller number of children, which although they tended to become emancipated when they came of age, today in many cases, this has been delayed due to problems of precarious employment.

The model of socio-labour organisation2, sometimes linked to geographical dislocation for work reasons, generally leaves elderly parents alone so that, when faced with the first serious symptom of functional or cognitive deterioration, the only alternative for the children (very much in spite of them) is the admission of their elderly to a home from which they will never leave. Dying at home, in the neighbourhood, has today become almost an exceptional luxury. 

Anticipating and correcting this scenario seems urgent and it is therefore necessary to develop, from now on, strategies for coexistence related to housing, social cohesion, redistribution, etc, as well as the articulation of public policies which contemplate the future scenario, both from a guarantee point of view, with a view to maintaining - today in question - the social, care and economic coverage of this large elderly population, and others aimed at the strengthening and articulation of personal relationships of an intergenerational nature between individuals which go beyond any age component, so that the capacity of the elderly to continue developing their own life plan and their right to decide is not called into question, as is the case with3 any other human being. 

The expression active ageing has been on the international agenda for some years, although the development of policies on the subject is carried out unevenly according to the sensibilities of each administration. In most cases, the options for the elderly are based on policies developed and tested in previous generations, without taking into account that, in many cases, the attitude, demands and needs of people entering retirement today have little or nothing to do with those of their parents. We think that the term "active ageing" needs a revitalising impulse since conceptually it carries with it a load of action that is more physical than mental, which translates more than into the realisation of a personal or collective life project for old age, into specific activities aimed at entertaining the elderly and delaying their ailments. That is to say, a vision of the occupation of the elderly that we could define as protective and gerontocentric, with a view to the activities of the elderly together and developed in a kind of chronological ghetto where: active people design the activities and the elderly obey4. 

We advocate that the new models of living together are produced on the basis of intergenerational relations (IR) with the view that older people can continue to develop a relational and social life of the intergenerational type, as they have been doing throughout their professional life, before entering retirement. There are many occasions in which the perception of the elderly is associated with an age burden that needs to be eradicated. Thus, while from one part of the Administration proposals are made under the concept of "active aging", from another part of the Administration, retired people are called "passive classes". A semantic incongruence in the use of active vs. passive opposition, which refers to the existence of a bivalent conceptualisation applied to the elderly. In view of the above, it seems urgent to develop an intergenerational pact which, in addition to disseminating among society the need to become aware of and positively recognise ageing, empowering old age as a social asset in the face of age-old conceptions which delegate this group to a ghetto outside the social mainstream, also address the need to start teaching about ageing from childhood so that this stage of life is conceived as an essential part of the life to which every human being aspires and, once in it, to be able to develop as a social individual, beyond any kind of discrimination and with full "right to decide". 

Adela Cortina, in an interview for La Vanguardia at the height of the COVID crisis19 , pointed out that this pandemic event will give rise to a "before and after5", because we are facing a scenario in which to move forward it will be necessary to have moral capacity and all one's "ethical capital". In the hope of rethinking the model of society on the basis of an inclusive, supportive and intergenerational pedagogy, we close this introduction with another reflection by Cortina in the same interview. "Let's see if we learn that, just as the field has to be cultivated day by day for the plants to grow, we too have to cultivate good habits, good aspirations and habits and great ideals at every moment, not just when a terrifying catastrophe appears". 

With reference to the title of this article, which is part of an academic work, we would like to stress that the term chronological ghetto was born as an expression of personal authorship which I found both timely and provocative since it refers to people who are separated and grouped involuntarily in a particular age status. In our case, the elderly. 

A situation that involves a kind of social isolation, which has a negative connotation in reference to old age and when not, loaded with ageism. In the subtitle we specify the intention to make an approach that allows the approach to the experiential aspects of the elderly, proposing an intergenerational scenario as an alternative for the consolidation of a vital project exciting and participatory for these citizens. 

In short, the "right to decide" of the elderly, "intergenerationality" as a way of life, the "fight against ageism" as a way of age discrimination and "social awareness", at all chronological levels, from early childhood to adulthood in a common place in which we learn to grow old together, are the cardinal points that will lead each individual to reach his "life project" beyond his chronology. 

* This text is part of the introductory chapter of my final master's work (TFM) presented in July 2020 at the Faculty of Philosophy of the USC entitled EL GUETO CRONOLÓGICO. 

1 Nussbaum, Martha. (2018). Envejecer con sentido: conversaciones sobre el amor, las arrugas y otros pesares. Paidós. p.20

2 [...] cuestiones como la precariedad laboral, el endeudamiento, la inestabilidad de las parejas, los soportes familiares o las políticas de vivienda, junto con la propia agencia y reflexividad de los y las jóvenes, emergen como elementos ineludibles en el análisis de los procesos de emancipación”. Carbajo Padilla, Diego (2017) http://www.injuve.es/sites/default/files/2018/06/publicaciones/revista1… Consultado, 10 marzo 2020, p.12 

3“En la medida en que la infantilización forma parte del estereotipo asociado a la edad avanzada, es frecuente que a las personas mayores se las incapacite de hecho, pero también a veces formalmente sin que, por el contrario, encuentren apoyos en la toma de decisiones y se prevean las adecuadas salvaguardas. Las restricciones que se imponen a las personas mayores en relación con su capacidad para tomar las decisiones que las afectan suponen un inconveniente para la efectividad de todos los derechos reconocidos”. HelpAge International (2020) https://www.helpage.org/spain/noticias/documento-de-helpage-espaa-sobre… n-espaa/ Consultado 14 marzo 2020, p.29 

4[...] la interdependencia y la solidaridad intergeneracionalidad (formas recíprocas de dar y recibir entre individuos así como entre generaciones de jóvenes y mayores) son importantes principios del envejecimiento activo”. IMSERSO, 2011 https://www.imserso.es/InterPresent1/groups/imserso/documents/binario/8… Consultado 3 de enero de 2020, p.501 

5Entrevista en La Vanguardia. (25/03/2020) Adela Cortina .“La sociedad va a cambiar radicalmente después de esta crisis”. https://www.lavanguardia.com/local/valencia/20200325/4891567297/adela-c… ente-despues-crisis-coronavirus.html Consultado, 13 abril 2020