Speaking with my mother recently made me sympathize with young smartasses and activists who are just waiting for the elder generation — the out of touch Baby Boomers and the Baby Boomers’ parents and kids by this point — to give up the ghost and die. A “dinosaur” or political dinosaur is someone whose philosophy and worldview are obsolete and rooted in problematic values and circumstances of the distant past. For example, as a young activist in my teens and 20s I remember thinking and saying that the world would be a better place once those who grew up with unregulated environmental pollution and legal institutionalized racism, sexism etc. died off because their environmental unconcern, racism and sexism were so entrenched that they either didn’t realize, agree or care that what they were doing and being was wrong.
Welp. After being sick my entire fucking life with an undiagnosed autoimmune disease, and going on 8 years with a diagnosed one, I am having these same thoughts now about the older generation of Western medical practitioners and others who were born, grew up and/or progenated in a low-population, relatively unpolluted pre-nuclear world where lifelong serious, untreatable, incurable and progressive disease existed only in very small numbers and therefore where older people seem to believe and act as if chronic illness did not and does not exist at all.
To be clear, chronic illness obviously did exist in our recent and distant past, for example, natural uranium deposits are known to cause acute and chronic radiation sickness to those who spend time around it. And humans have likely always been struck down with genetic and congenital maladies that might not have outright killed them. But old/er people seem to have lived their entire lives without chronic illness, including autoimmune and immune-mediated disease, front and center in their consciousness or as a part of their lived experience and this does make sense: before, say, the 1940s and 50s the worst industrial (man-made ionizing nuclear) pollutants had yet to be widely dispersed and contemporary Western medicine did not, because it could not, routinely pluck seriously ill and/or nonviable neonates, infants and others from the brink of merciful, natural deaths. Today, seriously ill children and others are rather forced to live for years, decades and lifetimes with serious illnesses that do not outright kill them, because Western medicine will not allow it, but which Western medicine has yet to figure out how to treat, relieve, or cure.
Having researched chronic illness, primarily autoimmune and immune-mediated disease for going on 8 years now, it seems to me that, in stark contrast to the life experience and worldview of older people, young people today generally are very aware that incurable and progressive chronic illness exists. Over and over I see that young people today, at least young Western people, well understand and accept the reality of chronic illness much more freely than older people, and the implications of that are extremely dark. From what I can discern, this difference in worldview likely exists because young people are increasingly becoming seriously chronically ill themselves. Young people understand and accept the material reality of chronic illness because experiencing it personally as individuals and in their peer group they have no choice but to accept it.
And over and over I see that older people are generally ignorant about issues of chronic illness and that they have not experienced it either individually or in their peer group. Frighteningly, instead of recognizing their blessed ignorance and trying to remedy it, older people think that their personal opinion based on outdated and second- and third-hand pseudo-knowledge about chronic illness matters or affects the outcome. It doesn’t, but unfortunately many medical professionals, healthcare policymakers, paid and unpaid caretakers and the like embrace an outdated worldview that no longer applies in our post-nuclear, Western world, and thus do not or cannot fully believe the self-reports of, or even contemporary peer-reviewed medical research addressing, the experiences and needs of seriously chronically ill.