From silver jumpsuits to feather-haired space-babes, seventies sci-fi got the future wrong in any number of ways. But perhaps the most laughable prediction is that western society would suffer from gross overpopulation, which would force us to either euthanise anyone except the young (e.g. Logan's Run), or turn the extra people into food (e.g. Soylent Green). What has come to pass is something far more sinister, viz., a nearly child-free gerontocracy where the entire productive capacity of society is directed towards the needs of the aged, while children are hounded from the streets and playgrounds by Baby Boomers in search of late-model forms of self-actualization.
You don't have to live in Japan to see where things are headed; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada will do just fine. Last week was back-to-school – which once was celebrated as the time when the fruit of our collective loins would go off to play and learn and generally become socialized into our cultural norms, so that they could grow up and get jobs and have kids and keep us in our own, inevitable dotage. But in Ottawa, a group of sour-faced old-timers decided that the mere sight of children on their way to school was an affront to their preferred lifestyle.
The residents of Farincourt Crescent, an “adult lifestyle” housing development in the city's east end, were outraged at the parade of school buses (NINE of them!) that used the crescent each day. No kids were being picked up mind you, they were just turning around. One of the residents, Pat Carriere, had this to say:
“We feel that as an adult lifestyle community we should be allowed that peace of mind,” Carriere said. “Our children are grown up, we’ve lived through this.”
But Carriere insists that her group does not want to be seen as anti-child. Not at all:
“We don’t want to be seen as crotchety old grey-haired people,” she said. “We bought into this lifestyle. We paid extra money for it and we feel we deserve our peace and quiet now.”
Except that's the precise definition of being anti-child, namely, that you will pay money to keep them out of sight, and are willing to even picket the buses to keep them off your street. Even if that street is actually a public roadway, as Farincourt Crescent is.
My colleague at the Ottawa Citizen, David Reevely, thinks that while the anti-kid sentiment is unpleasant, perhaps the city should try to find some way of meeting the demands of the adult-lifestyle crowd. I'm not so sure. The demographic crisis that we are heading into is probably the single most serious problem that we face. The view that kids are just another lifestyle choice, and one favoured by an unpleasant minority at that, is one that needs to be cut off at the knees.
As our population ages, we are becoming extraordinarily risk averse. To see this in action, go to any playground and watch the helicopter parents hovering around Schuyler and Banjo as they bump their kiddie bike helmets against the soft sand of the playground. Increasingly, this deep-seated aversion to risk is permeating the culture, with entrepreneurialism and adventurousness giving way to a fixation on comfort and security. People approaching retirement are less keen on long-term or volatile investments, and to the extent that the economy of the future will be built on creativity, flexibility and innovation, the absence of high-risk venture capital will make us more rigid and brittle. Eventually, our entire social infrastructure will tilt toward the needs of the elderly; spend an hour watching the ads on the CBC and you can see that soon enough the only growth industries will be life insurance, reverse mortagages, and cures for erectile dysfunction and incontinence.
By mid-century, this continent will be a de facto gerontocracy. For the few children who do manage to make an appearance, living here will be like one long visit to grandma and grandpa's house. Remember what that was like? All the attention was nice, and it was fun to get a handful of sweets or a ride in the old clunker.
But the place smelled a bit strange, and the environment was really not all that welcoming to kids. Fun as it was, it was always a relief to leave. Where the kids of 2050 will escape to, when the whole country is one big retirement village, is anyone's guess.