Is it ethical to get old?

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

Later this month, I will turn 70. Yikes! My friends and family are planning a big party with nibbles and booze, and there is even a rumour that they will give me 70 bumps. But… is it ETHICAL to be old, Ethan? I don’t want to be a burden on Mother Earth, and I certainly don’t want to be part of that horrible-sounding ‘ageing time bomb’. And yet I remain sprightly and healthy and it looks like I’ll be around for a long time to come… What’s an old girl to do?

Joy Sezer
South London

Dear Joy,

Okay, first things first. I was well brought up by prim and proper middle-class parents, who taught me to hate TV (it zombifies the mind), love organic carrots (good for the eyes and the soul), and beware supermarkets (cheap chickens, fat violent mums in ill-fitting leggings, diseased children eating donuts, etc). They also taught me to respect my elders. And from the ages of three to 15 I did, dutifully doffing my metaphorical cap to anyone over the age of 50, and giving up my seat on the bus to dithering old ladies laden with Tesco shopping bags (senile old fools) and smiling inanely as they said dumb things like: ‘Oh thanks doll, I ain’t met a young man as nice as you since I ’appened upon me husband in Mile End tube station when the Germans were bombing seven shades of merry ’ell out of London town.’

What changed when I turned 15? Simple, I became green… green as in environmentalist, and green as in FURIOUS with what mankind has made of this mortal coil we have the arrogance to call ‘Earth’. What started life as a beautiful rock flying through space and inhabited by amoebas and weeds has been transformed into an overpopulated, people-plagued, smog-ridden shithole hurtling towards its certain and probably very fiery doom. There are too many of us, Joy. And by ‘us’, I mean you – old people.

Who the hell do you think you are? No one needs to live for SEVENTY YEARS. What have you been doing all that bloody time? Let me guess: you grew up in some soil-harming prefab house on the outskirts of London where you and your family lived off tinned food (disgusting) and powdered milk (perverse); you had some horrible childhood experience during the war (boo-bloody-hoo – the Second World War will look like ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ compared with the circuses of calamity and carnival of ecocide that will be unleashed by the wrinkly eco-footprint of a billion pensioners); you got married (in a dress made from polyester, which is packed with petrochemicals and is non-biodegradeable); you had three, maybe four, children, who have given you 10, maybe 12, grandchildren – or to put it another way, your womb has been responsible for emitting between 1,728 and 2,234 tonnes of CO2; and you have spent your ‘twilight years’ (it’s a twilight for Gaia, that’s for sure) pottering around in your garden and planting B&Q-bought seeds of Busy Lizzies and Michaelmas Daisies and other mongrel flowers that were created only to prevent ageing timebombers like you from going insane.

Well… what do you think? Was it worth it? Was it really worth harming Mother Earth so much for so little? I don’t mean to have a go at you personally, Joy (oh, the irony of your name! You didn’t bring very much ‘joy’ to the planet, did you?) – after all, you’re only one small cell in the ginormous human disease. But you, like the rest of us – especially those of ‘us’ who have recklessly and selfishly passed the age of 60 – must ask yourself whether you could have lived more ethically, and whether you now ought to DIE ethically.

Like you, Joy, I hate the phrase ‘ageing timebomb’. Why? Because it doesn’t capture the monstrous enormity of the monstrous carbuncle that is an ever longer-living human population. Never mind the Ageing Timebomb… what about the Dementia Detonation, when there will be an explosion of loopiness amongst Britain’s time-rich, motivation-light OAPs? How will society cope – oh screw society, how will Gaia cope – with 1.3million British men and women with free bus passes but no idea where they’re going or where they left their shopping? Then there’s the Incontinence Insanity, when scientists and experts estimate that an extra 230 litres of urine PER DAY will flow from pavements into drains into sewers into the sea as a result of TOO MANY old people having TOO MANY underwear-related accidents.

You know, before I turned 15 and became an enlightened one, I would look at an old person and see wisdom, spirit, kindness, and occasionally bits of spinach on their dentures. But do you know what I see when I look at old people now? The ‘miracle’ of science; the unnaturalness of human longevity; the lab-discovered, animal-experimented, techno-developed ‘wonders’ of longer life for humans (and shorter life for Gaia). Old people’s sprightliness is a smack in the face to the natural order of things: with the aid of drugs they continue having sex long after it is normal to do so, and with the assistance of Zimmer frames and those HIGHLY dangerous motorised vehicles they visit parks that should be left to dogs, hedgehogs and the wild, tangling, zany adventures of speedily growing poison ivy.

Sorry, Joy, but you oldies are a permanent reminder of the terrors of science and medicine; one might even say that your continued existence is a hate crime against the planet.

Look, you know and I know that the planet is massively overcrowded, and – as John Gray of the London School of Economics says – the human population must be reduced to no more than 0.5billion quicksmart. The trendy novelist Lionel Shriver argued in The Sunday Times recently that even though the issue of overpopulation is ‘racially, religiously and ethnically sticky’, we must recognise that ‘the threat of overpopulation is back and here to stay’. Or was it Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the Finnish schoolboy who shot to death seven of his fellow pupils, who said that? Or did Auvinen say that it was ‘reckless to have billions of people over 60kg on this planet’? Oh, I can’t remember now! ANYWAY, either the award-winning novelist Lionel Shriver or the mass murderer Pekka-Eric Auvinen said the world is overpopulated by fat people, and whichever one of them said it, they were dead right!

The main problem with having too many old people – as opposed to, say, having too many people like me or Mark Lynas or Zac Goldsmith: young, intelligent, brave, messy-haired people of impressive parentage and with impressive eco-cojones – is that old people are just so eco-unfriendly. Listen to this, Joy: I recently saw an old man travel just TWO STOPS on a bus. When I confronted him, and said that he could have easily walked that distance with the aid of his wooden walking stick, and if more people did that then we could scrap buses all together, do you know what he said to me? ‘Bugger off, you filthy hippy.’ They have foul mouths to go with their foul behaviour…

So what’s the solution to overpopulation and the ticking, clicking, smoking Ageing Timebomb? No, not more Finnish school shootings! Don’t be silly! I mean, young people aren’t the main problem, so why on Gaia’s good earth would we shoot them? No, the solution is a government-sponsored voluntary euthanasia programme (well, maybe semi-voluntary) where golden oldies could ‘choose’ to bow out gracefully at the age of 60 and win their surviving family members lots of health and housing benefits as a result. We’d slash population numbers AND give the government even greater leeway to provide people with the right kind of organic, eco-friendly, non-animal tested healthcare. What could be better than that, Joy? DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? CAN YOU HEAR ME? Is there a Home Help nearby who can explain to you what I have written? Joy? Silly woman.

Ethan Greenhart’s book Can I Recycle my Granny? and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas is published by Hodder & Stoughton in October (for more details, visit Amazon(UK)). Ethan is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him {encode=”” title=”here”}. Read his earlier columns here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today