Chapter 6: The Treatment of Old People: Cherish, Abandon, or Kill?

Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar

After our first doubts about the quality of Diamond’s research in this book, we arrive at this chapter about the treatment of old people in primitive societies which I have found highly disappointing (I mean the chapter not the treatment).

On one side, there is more than half the length of the chapter talking about issues that do not belong here. The problems with old people in USA today, the problems of neolocation, the discrimination of the elderly, the idolatry of the young, the problems brought about by compulsory retirement age, etc, are all of them interesting and important issues but none of them is related to the subject of this book: how primitive societies behaved on this respect. Most of this chapter seems to belong to a new goal of this book. Together with the “know human nature”, “learn something” and “thank God that we are not there” categories, now appears a new unannounced one: “this is my book and I write here whatever I want”. The chapter even ends with a final section “What to do with older people?”:

Most of you readers of this book will face or already have faced these problems, either when you have to figure out what to do with your own aged parents, or when you become old yourself. What can we do? I shall offer a few suggestions from my personal observations, without pretending that they will solve this huge problem. (p. 236)

No, Mr Diamond, this is not a help-book about what to do with our old parents and if I want a suggestion about it I will email you when I will need it.

The other part of the article, the one explaining the things the reader is expecting, offers us a description of cruel and barbaric methods of getting rid of old people, an overview of the utility of old people for primitive societies and some examples of methods to protect old people (food taboo, young women taboo, property rights). The author has tried to make a kind of logic of it all based on the idea of utility which turns out to be confusing. There are two different kind of things: what happens to people which are useful and what happens to people which are not useful any more. The examples of killing of old people correspond to not useful people. The logic of helping old people articulated next (including a desperate attempt to bring evolutionary biology to the game) is based on the assumption of utility. But the point is that there are civilizations (how frequent they are is something that I hoped the author would explain here) that take care of their useless old people much beyond the food taboo issue and property mechanisms.

“Respect your parents” is one of the Commandments. Romans, the most lucky people in the history of the world, considered the they were favoured by Gods because the origin of Rome went back to the escape of Aeneas from Troy carrying on his arms his old father Anquises who could not walk any more: Rome was borne with an act of fundamental Piety. There is in our civilization a fundamental moral principle about respecting and taking care of the elderly. And Diamond doesn’t take it even into account. Is this unique to our civilization? Where this comes from? Nothing in this chapter.

And again. Where are the references for the assertions of the book? I don’t feel at all satisfied with the idea that a civilization has the habit of burning alive their old people. Its absolutely counter-intuitive. I want to know where you got that information and to check it myself.

To summarize, I find the chapter confusing, the author confused and most of its content out of subject.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 6: The Treatment of Old People: Cherish, Abandon, or Kill?

  1. Pingback: We Stop Here Reading Diamond | El Pla Subtil

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