HAVANA TIMES — Who are more important, the young or the old? Every culture and age responds to this question differently. The answer depends on how dynamic life is, the role that different age groups play and people’s general expectations about the future.
When Jose Marti wrote that children where the world’s hope, the scientific revolution was still at its infancy. Thanks to it, Spanish colonialism was on the retreat and the life of a growing part of humanity was improving every day.
Later, the panorama became less idyllic. Industrial civilization succumbed to a kind of fatal attraction that obliged it to change skins at a vertiginous pace. Such breakneck metabolism requires a constant supply of fresh brains and arms, young people who produce and generate consumption, pretty faces that provide an attractive image to those who came into this world dripping mud and blood.
Today, we are constantly exposed to the risk of being labeled sluggish, functionally illiterate or out-of-date.
During civilization’s uphill climb, the future was always surprising and unpredictable. So much so that dealing with new problems with old methods became a guarantee of failure. In an epistemological environment as nihilistic as this one, the social role that the elderly had played for millennia (that of conveying knowledge and culture) all but disappeared.
If modernity ever displayed an interest in old people’s tales, it was simply out of historical curiosity, a love of the retro or the picturesque, or to pride itself on how much progress had been achieved since. It almost never looked on these as a source of useful knowledge or living wisdom.
The old, however, say that everything that goes up must come down, and it seems to be true. Progress is already becoming regression and evolution turning into de-evolution. If we want to have an idea of what the future will be like, we should let middle-aged people tell us about their childhood.
Mending clothes by hand, building houses without industrial concrete, hunting, sowing and fishing using rustic instruments, curing diseases with natural remedies, tanning animal skins, pulling out teeth at home and many other practices we will have to re-learn with the help of our grandparents.
Beyond such practices, a renovating cultural movement is sure to take place under the guidance of the old, one that will dethrone the spoiled, bratty, squandering, irresponsible and lascivious listener of reggaeton music that prevails today and, if the crisis does not end in collapse, elevate hard-working, sensible people.
Since the 1970s, Cuba’s population experienced a degrowth and aging process. Government experts and all those who embrace progress as an ideology are extremely worried about this “dangerous” trend.
“If it’s becoming more and more difficult to find young people willing to work hard these days, how hard will it be when ‘human capital’ decreases even more? Who will take care of so many old people?” These are the types of questions they ask.
This is truly a cause for concern, but, when looked from a different angle, it could well be a reason to be reassured and content.
Reassured because, if the population continues to dwindle gradually, there are more chances the system will be able to adapt and the crash is less probable. The energy crisis will hit all countries, but the most heavily populated and rapidly growing nations have the worst prospects. Something similar holds for stars: when they exhaust their fuel, they “explode” with a force that is proportional to their magnitude.
It is a cause for contentment because, if we have less muscle and vitality but more wisdom per square kilometer, Cuba could well become a land of wise people and philosophers. Can you imagine people speaking about Good and Evil, where before they only spoke of baseball?
I would like to conclude this post with a quote from Jeremy Grantham, a prestigious researcher who heads one of the largest financial assets organizations in the world:
“This century will likely see the end of the Industrial Revolution and the age of “limitless resources.” Higher prices and (hopefully) voluntary improved behavior will together usher in the post-Industrial Revolution phase of limited resources and frugality. (…) We will all re-adopt Yankee virtues (or Yorkshire virtues, I might add) of “waste not, want not,” and get accustomed to using our brains instead of our hydrocarbon brawn.”