2120 Hindsight: The Life Expectancy Gap

21Jun08

The exploration of paradox was an important development in philosophical logic during the 21st century. People gradually quit thinking that contradiction proves or disproves anything. This momentous change meant that, for the first time in some 2,000 years in some cultures, people began to realize that things are commonly true and false at the same time, in various regards. It was no longer that there might be black or white or shades of grey; it was, rather, that there were black and white and shades of grey.

This philosophical development had an important ramification in the realm of slavery studies. With the practical abolition of contradiction, it came to be recognized that people are always simultaneously free and enslaved. The question was no longer whether someone would be a slave; it was, rather, how s/he would be a slave. The strong – most of the strong, that is, in most times and most places – would generally be willing and able to force most of the weak to serve them; but in what ways?

The modern manorial movement grew out of the very belated realization that people specialize. Some are very practical; some are not. Some of the world’s brightest people cannot figure out how to dress themselves in the morning. Those who were given power over others, as a result of the manorial movement, came to have it because of their practical skills in arranging affairs of this world. They were, for the most part, highly competent in what they did, but one would not generally confuse them with the truly brilliant or insightful type of person.

Practicality, combined with the mandatory concern for people’s welfare and balance of competing priorities, explains why so many of the first liege lords were drawn from the ranks of the old judiciary, as it existed up through the early decades of the 21st century. As a prominent jurist of that era pointed out, “The judge’s essential activity . . . is the making of a large number of decisions in rapid succession, with little feedback concerning their soundness or consequences. People who are uncomfortable in such a role – and perhaps they are the most introspective, sensitive, and scrupulous people – do not become judges, do not stay judges, or are unhappy judges” (Posner, 1990, p. 192). Certainly practicality had a place in this business, along with an ordinary – that is, not to say a passionate – concern for the general welfare.

One thing these liege lords recognized, from the outset, was that people were just not very good at taking care of themselves. They were, in particular, not very good at deciding how many children they could raise properly. Those least suited for the responsibilities involved in heading a nuclear family of the 20th and early 21st centuries were, too often, those who got themselves most deeply mired in it – starting their families young and keeping at it for entire decades, often with insufficient food, clothing, attention, love, and even interest in the bare existence of all those kids they were begetting.

The liege lords, meanwhile, were the sort who were comfortable with making sweeping decisions in such regards. They did tend to bring a certain cultural perspective into that sphere. Research has demonstrated (too late, as often happens) that they frequently imposed their own values in ways that were destructive of entire cultures and lifestyles among certain socioeconomic groups. Regardless, by the middle of the 21st century – by, that is, their early years in operation – the liege lords had already perceived clearly that, according to their standards, this state of affairs among child-bearers could not continue.

One of the driving factors behind that conclusion was the life expectancy gap that had emerged and widened during the previous half-century. A widening wage gap was, of course, old news by the dawn of the Asian Century. Everyone knew – indeed, Americans had long expected and accepted – that the most highly skilled and sought-after leaders would command incomes vastly greater than those paid to the entirely replaceable individuals of the rank and file. This much had been part and parcel of American capitalism since at least the 19th century. But by 2010 the backlash against overpayment of top executives brought stockholder groups into cooperation with anticorporate and antiglobalist groups in the call for change. Such groups’ motives differed, of course – the stockholder groups believed that overcompensation sometimes had a counterproductive effect on executive competence – but from that time forward there were fewer extremes of executive overcompensation.

The wage gap that concerned most people thus tended to involve, not the infrequent extremely overpaid chief executive officer, but rather the gap between what came to be known as the Living Wage and the Dying Wage. While economic well-being could be (and was) measured in theory as a continuum, in terms of the numbers of dollars available per person within a household, in practice people tended to be drawn toward standards of living that either were, or were not, conducive to their continued survival and well-being. At a certain point, the combination of economic numbers and psychosocial conditions tended to demonstrate a statistical differentiation between a surviving middle class and a struggling and dying underclass – even though, in the affectation of the time, people who called themselves “middle class” out of pride had long been, in fact, far below a middle-class standard of living.

In any case, though, it was not the wage gap that forced a change. The change element was, again, the life expectancy gap that became more evident, and grew wider, following the collapse of the so-called middle class lifestyle. After an extended period during which the life expectancies of ordinary Americans grew steadily longer, the trend began to reverse itself for the increasingly visible underclass. People without sufficient resources to afford increasingly expensive health care, freshwater sanitation, and natural foods – forced, that is, to rely upon the relatively primitive artificial foods of the time, and to accept a certain amount of daily exposure to drug- and antiseptic-resistant viruses – found themselves increasingly vulnerable to lethal maladies that their overburdened health care sector could no longer address effectively.

As stated by an epidemiologist of the time (Srinivar, 2024, p. 117), “Detroit is the new Calcutta.” A population driven especially to coastal and Great Lakes cities by drought in the interior, concentrated in city centers by contractionist theories of burban development, and no longer able to live off the land – to subsist, that is, on the surviving disease- and drought-resistant but inedible supergrains without sophisticated processing – found itself experiencing, on those city streets, a form of existence that had been assumed to be a thing of the past. For the underclass, life expectancies began to decline precipitously, and continued to do so for some time.

Power rides upon principle. It is not certain that the liege lords would ever have been able to secure the sweeping authority they did acquire, even under such conditions of hardship, if they had not been supported by a rather virulent responsibilism. The land, said many, should not be expected to carry people whom it, itself, cannot support, and parents should not be burdened, by self-destructive sociocultural habits and expectations, with children whom they, themselves, could not reliably raise, feed, educate, and otherwise perpetuate in survival. Thus, in a new development in the ancient argument between Plato and Aristotle, it gradually came to be accepted that a child was, in fact, both the responsibility and the property of the entire community, rather than of those who created it.

On that basis, parenthood came to be seen, not as some unwritten birthright, but rather as a natural condition, like the ability to become intoxicated, that may appropriately be indulged by some people, sometimes, but that should not become a general habit and should perhaps never be practiced by those who cannot do so responsibly. Later, under the care and guidance of the liege lords, people became more or less naturally associated with a private rather than public overseer in all capacities of life; hence the ascendance of the liege lords and their tendency toward population restriction.

These were not, after all, times in which people would support themselves through manual labor on the land. A larger population did not mean greater prosperity. To the contrary, what could be produced was being produced, nearly as efficiently as possible, by a relatively small population. The rest were surplusage. They would literally eat into the resources of the city and, later, of the liege lord. The quest for ever more habitable lands argued strongly against the previous century’s rapid despoilation of the countryside; now there were the sons and daughters of liege lords who expected their own manors upon attaining majority. In short, the entire productive system of the 19th and 20th centuries was turned on its head, with views of excessive population being an important aspect of the process.

It would be incorrect to represent this process as entirely peaceful and gradual. There was one additional, important development. Declining life expectancies brought increasingly casual attitudes toward survival. Where life was cheap, it was easily spent. People who might not have dedicated themselves to violent attacks upon the middle class and its supportive authorities, if they had expected themselves to live into their sixties or beyond, were increasingly willing to undertake such attacks as their life expectancies dropped well below that. Such statistics meant that, in practice, angry young men and women all knew someone who had died or been killed in some way that, they believed, was not supposed to happen to “middle-class” persons. They realized that the same sort of thing might happen to them next. Thus the tradeoff between conformity and resistance began to be recalculated by underclass Americans en masse. A “protecting” mentality took root, not only among those who needed protection, but also among the better-off individuals who saw “protection” of the poor as a way to neutralize the more radical voices among them.

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One Response to “2120 Hindsight: The Life Expectancy Gap”

  1. 1 Roman

    You can almost feel it approaching so let’s play with some variables now!
    Very interesting, if ominous look forward.


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