Gerontocracy

J. Alfred Prufrock may have measured out his life in coffee spoons, but here in Edinburgh we use a different unit.

“Sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown” (Image by Lucky-Cricket-33)

Incredibly, we’re already over a week into the 2015 Festival. This year Beth and I are centring our participation mostly around the book festival.

[For more of Ricky’s thoughts on this year’s Festival,
you can subscribe to the Apoplexy Tiny Letter here.]

Tonight, it’s Iain Macwhirter‘s post-referendum take on Scotland and the UK: What Future. Other blog favourites James Rhodes, Edwyn Collins, and Julian Barnes are on the slate, too. Plenty of blog fodder, I should think. Assuming I can stay alive long enough – I’m sure that it’s all going to be pretty hectic.

Edwyn gives a case study in preserving an unruffled cool

Regular readers may recall that I recently took the Ubble online test that predicts whether the questionee will die within the next five years. It’s 13 or 11 questions, depending on whether you’re a woman or a man. The questions are very much at a lay person’s level, but apparently questions like, “How quickly do you walk?” fold in a whole bunch of other variables, allowing the experts who designed the test to use the smallest number of questions for the highest level of accuracy.

It seems that I should be able to struggle through until Macwhirter’s discussion tonight, which is good, because tickets are £8. However, one of the questions was not “Are you able to clearly say that your answers are correct, or do you kind of fall between cracks such that these questions confuse you?”

“I’m unique like a snowflake!”

This is probably all just as well, since more ageing research has recently emerged to the effect that people age at wildly different rates. Researchers in New Zealand measured 18 biological markers among their subjects at the ages of 26, 32, and 38. They were particularly interested in examining ageing among young people, and found that rates of ageing varied markedly among the group.

Across the group, the biological ages of the 38-year-olds varied from 28 to 61.

Of particular interest to this stroke survivor was the news that when they were given tests of balance and coordination, and mental tasks, as well as activities like walking up stairs – that is, test that are typically given to people over 60 – people with older biological ages fared measurably worse. And three years ago, I was flunking those sorts of tests something awful.

Time lapse video of Stroke Bloke being tested between 26 and 38

[In order to get in the papers, the] scientists also examined how their volunteers’ biological ages matched up with their appearances, by having students look at photos of the participants and guess their ages. Biologically older people were consistently rated as looking older than their 38 years. This was particularly interesting to me, because I’ve been carrying out independent research in  this area over the past year by enrolling in a post-graduate programme at the University of Edinburgh as part of a class mostly comprised of young people in their early-to-mid-twenties. And also less self-reverentially, because my renewed driving license uses a picture from, I dunno, five years before my stroke and it’s clearly a picture of a guy who’s about to have a massive health crisis.

I think that I can say that I was generally assumed to be younger than my temporal age. Follow-up research is being conducted to establish whether this is down to my roguish good looks, or my classmates disbelief that anyone could possibly be as ancient as I claimed to be.

Aggressive Scottish man in younger-than-temporal-age shock!

The ultimate goal [of the research] is to target ageing instead of the multiple separate diseases that people are increasingly likely to develop as they age.

This sounds particularly interesting, though it does necessarily open up a host of related questions, some of which have been addressed in the blog before, like if the heart is basically a mechanical pump, how much can we – or should we – do to extend its life? Is the dystopian/utopian prospect of eternal life something we should be aiming for? And as the potential that young people born today will have life-spans longer than we could possibly have foreseen just a few years ago, what are the odds that we can alter our behaviours so that this isn’t an awful prospect?

Now mother, we already don’t have enough children to sweep the chimneys.”

Pretty poor, I’d wager, as I’ve watched the British Isles continue their march into gerontocracy  with – ironically – increasing speed. The ageing of the British population, allied with the increase in the likelihood of a person casting a ballot as she or he ages, is skewing our politics. The tag for the current generation attempting to make their ways through life is “Generation Rent” because of the difficulties they will have finding their way onto the housing ladder.

It seems that the only way to address this is by a combination of lowering the voting age – witness the engagement of the Scottish yoot during the referendum which will hopefully be repeated when 16 and 17 year olds are given the opportunity to vote in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections – and an introduction of compulsory voting. Because young people don’t know they’re born. As Tim Montgomerie has written, in The London Times, of all places, compulsory voting would mean that political parties would have to appeal to the whole electorate, thus breaking the power of older, richer voters.

The host of The Sunday Politics gets out the youth vote

But I suspect this kind of authoritarian approach won’t appeal to the audience of the blog. What do you think?

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