Monday, February 13, 2006

Elders, Drugs, and Ice floes

I was privileged to sit on a discussion panel yesterday at Langara College with two incredible elders, Elsie Dean and Ben Swankey. Elsie is in her eighties, Ben in his nineties and both have fought unstintingly for economic justice, equality, and peace. At seventy-seven I am somewhat younger but certainly the contemporary in age of these two remarkable people and we shared many common memories. They just started sooner than I did, that's all. I was in my early thirties before I had a serious thought in my head, burdened down as I was with Louisiana style evangelical religion, virulent patriotism, racism, and sexism. It took the integration of the public schools in the sixties to stir the cultural stupor I had inherited. The total accumulation of blatant cowardliness, hatred, bigotry and ignorance surrounding the refusal of white society to accept integration in my part of the world served to short circuit my brain synapses and I was jerked wide awake. And I didn't like what I saw in southern Louisiana. I still don't. I weep for New Orleans. But at least some of the people there are willing to name what they saw, what they endured, what they still see and endure. New Orleans is racism writ large.

And then there is the golding of the the Baby Bommers. We elders are the parents of the Baby Boomers. And there's a lot fewer of us than them. In fact, there are so many of them they may at some point crash the health care system altogether. They are being scolded by health care professionals already for not taking better care of themselves, for smoking too long, for drinking too much, for eating too much fat, for getting fat. But the one subject doctors and other health professionals won't bring up is drugs. They will never concede that maybe people should stop taking so many drugs.The fact that Baby Boomers as a group were totally sold years ago on the wonders of drugs means they probably wouldn't listen anyway, even should doctors start coming clean and saying in effect, these pills are drugs and nobody has any real idea what the long term effects will be or what mixing these up with your other drugs will do to your gut, your heart, your liver, your spleen and especially, your brain. And let's not forget a significant number of doctors hold shares of one kind or another in drug stores, drug manufacturing, drug research, and drug companies of all kinds. Doctors and pharmaceuticals are the biggest drug dealers in town.

Because they operate legally and are wrapped in the warm fuzzy blanket of respectable professionalism (unlike the Hell's Angels who must take a certain amount of legal risk even though I understand there are Hell's Angels members working on the port docks of British Columbia, you can't get much safer than that ) our good doctors and pharmaceutical companies are only too willing to help out the aging Baby Boomers with an steady supply of happy pills. Or hormone replacements. Or uppers. Or downers. Or blood pressure pills. Or whatever pills for whatever condition you have or think you have. Or the doctor thinks you have.

At least in the old days when the Innuit elders who walked out on ice floes in times of severe food shortages knew what they were doing. They weren't drugged to the nines. And even in those cases where elders may have been encouraged to go to the ice by the younger members of the community who had hunger gnawing at their bellies, the choice to relieve the starving community of another mouth to feed was usually the elders decision made in the cold, clear light of the options. And his or her decision would be respected because the elders were necessary parts of the community. In them resided the wisdom of their culture. Besides, I believe the funny sign I saw in a thrift store once that read: "Old age and treachery will win out over youth and skill every time." I don't think the Innuit elders went until they were ready.

However, I do think that as our general population gets older, more and greater varieties of drugs will be offered by doctors whose major part of their practice seems to consist of shilling for drug companies. Of course with serious illnesses people need and deserve medical help. That's not the point. There's a difference between medical help and a drug culture that offers a drug for every disturbance of any kind in the human body and mind. When I pass along East Hastings on the bus and gaze out upon Pigeon Park or Carnegie Library and see the walking dead shuffling around making dope deals I don't feel superior. I don't feel superior at all. They are the other part of us, a part so drugged now the people can't function, they have been discarded by society, scarcely fed and not housed at all, they are already on the ice floes and their numbers will increase. And some of us will be among them.

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