I heard a new word this week: senilicide. A lot of words that are based on the Latin senex, “old” are familiar to me. I have taught about this root for many years, pointing out in the process that Senate and senile come from the same root; let them make of it what they will. So it wasn’t the meaning of the word that caught my ear.
I was listening to a lecture about resources and nomadism. When you move from place to place, the members of your group who can keep up, do so; the members who cannot, do not. That could lead, and the lecturer thought it had led, to the practice of killing the weaker of a set of twins. Less to carry. Leaving the frail elderly behind would have the same effect, of course.
So for nomads, senilicide and infanticide are just two necessary ways of making sure everyone is “carrying his own weight” so to speak. It was hardly a decision at all. When agriculture became the dominant economic mode, those societies could afford to “carry” everyone—both twins, for instance, and the frail elderly. At that point, they needed to actually decide what to do, a luxury the nomads never had.
These words put me in mind of some recent American policy debates. The early end of the right to life scale is dominated by Republicans, who, compared to Democrats, are against contraception education, against contraception services, and against abortion. Presumably, these policies would produce more young people., more of whom would be fragile at birth. The Republicans also dominate the late end of the right to life scale. The section of Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that would have required Medicare to pay for end of life counseling for anyone who wanted it, was stripped out at the insistence of Republicans. You might have heard of the “death squads.” The insistence that we keep alive bodies which are in a persistently vegetative state is on the Republican end, too.
These two positions—both the (anti) infanticide and the (anti) senilicide ends of the spectrum—are Republican territory. Naturally, since these positions cost a lot more resources—this was the dilemma faced by the nomads—you would expect the Republicans to favor higher taxes in order to guarantee care for these “extra” infants and elders. Those costs would include extra pre- and post-natal care for the young ones. It would require a good deal of funding as well as rigorous oversight to be sure that seniors are adequately cared for by people who know how to do it and especially, how to help their families do it. That would make the Republicans the high tax party in so far as those funds would be necessary to care for the very old and the very young.
But, of course, the Republicans are not the high tax party.
So who’s going to be left behind if it is not the old or the young? Whose –cide are the Republicans really on? Poor people, it turns out: the uninsured and the underinsured. These are people who, given the way our healthcare system distributes preventive care and therapeutic treatment, are going to have to be “left behind.”
Everything is clearer when you move from age—the infanticide/senilicide axis—to class. The wealthy are going to do very well in the private insurance, private treatment environment. The wealthy will always “carry their own weight” unless you are talking about the current state of the tax system. For the various middle classes, some will and some won’t. No one will, I assure you, who develops a condition for which the medicine alone costs $8000 a month. Among the poor, prevention is nearly absent and insurance is a pipe dream. These people will absolutely not carry their weight and will, in the nomadic economy the Republicans seem to be proposing, be left behind when they can no longer keep up.