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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology

The discard subculture

"The coronavirus pandemic is reflourishing the best and the worst of the human condition."

Sun, 17 May 2020 09:22:00 +0000 Published in El Norte de Castilla and El Diario Vasco

In today's utilitarian society, a phenomenon that is increasingly being called "throwaway culture" is growing, when it is simply a subculture. Discarding refers to the social exclusion of those who are unproductive. Such as, for example, the elderly, the chronically ill, the unborn and the disabled.

I know a story that exemplifies this very well: "A tourist guide explained to his companions that in order to build the Tower of Babel, a great effort had to be made. Making bricks requires kneading mud and bringing straw, and then mixing the mud with the straw, cutting it into square blocks, putting them to dry and firing them. And when the bricks are baked and cool, they have to be lifted up to build the tower. If a brick falls, it is a tragedy. Whoever has dropped one is punished and expelled. But if a worker falls to the ground, nothing happens.

Some protocols for accessing the limited care resources needed by those infected with coronavirus are based solely on life expectancy. For this reason, the association Latin American Gerontology Association has just expressed its support civil service examination to a position that would allow the very elderly to be left out because it is not economically profitable to take care of them.

Dignity is inherent to all human life. It entails everyone's inalienable right to life, and it is the State's inexcusable duty to protect and care for it, even when the person, its owner, does not seem to value it. Therefore, to mechanically apply the aforementioned protocol, without seeking alternatives (such as, for example, referral to other hospitals or solidarity between regions or countries) is inhumane and unworthy of a civilized society.

A person is accepted if he or she performs; and when, for reasons of age, performance decreases, he or she is considered a burden and a hindrance. The most painful thing is that the incomprehension comes, in some cases, from the children themselves.

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out the best and the worst of the human condition. An example of the best is the heroic sacrifice of the health workers who remain at their posts, despite the fact that they are not always provided with self-protection equipment, which makes them the greatest candidates for contagion. And an example of the worst is the irresponsibility of some young people who, during their confinement, do not give up drinking and of some adults who organize macro-parties at home. I understand the indignation and the pain that this lack of solidarity causes to health care workers.

Very different are the Spaniards who were born and grew up in the years of the last post-war period. They did not have it easy in the Spain of hunger and ration cards. Many could not go to school, but they made the effort and sacrifices to help their country and their family, to train their children in values transmitted by example and to give them the opportunity to study: "May they be more than I am".

Is the life of those parents who reach old age after working and paying taxes for 50 years, who contract the coronavirus in a supermarket, worth less than the life of their children who contracted it at a drinking binge? These parents deserve respect and gratitude. They cannot be relegated for "living too long" (an argument that is being used).

Associating old age with uselessness is a mistake because of one fact: 700 million of the world's inhabitants are currently over 60 years of age. On the other hand, "growing old is not simply a dismantling and withering away. Like any other state of life it has its own values, its own charm, its own wisdom". (Hermann Heese: In Praise of Old Age).

In old age, tradition comes to life, which makes intergenerational dialogue within the family possible. It is true that some elderly people become cantankerous and are always complaining about something. But possibly this is because they are not always treated with the understanding and affection they need at their age and we count on them too little, making them feel useless.

One of the unexpected fruits of the coronavirus pandemic is the resurgence of an ancient virtue, family piety. Thousands of families are giving priority care to their elders, while giving them more opportunities to continue to show the potential they still have, for example as active grandparents.