"Hate speech" is not a phrase I use often. I want to go on record that I'm not suggesting that such speech be proscribed by law. But there is a particular feeling of revulsion that that over-used phrase is meant to evoke, and in this case, I consider that feeling of revulsion amply justified.
Here is the rather shocking quotation, from novelist Martin Amis:
“Medical science has again over-vaulted itself,” he says now, “so most of us have to live through the death of our talent. Novelists tend to go off at about 70. And I’m in a funk about it. I’ve got myself into a real paranoid funk about it, how talent dies before the body.”
...He is disgusted at the problem of the ageing [sic] population: “How is society going to support this silver tsunami? There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops. I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years’ time.”
Amis’s solution is typically extreme: mass euthanasia. “There should be a booth on every corner where you could get a Martini and a medal,” he says. In fact, he was thinking about it only last year, when his stepfather died “very horribly”, he says. “He thought he was going to get better. But he didn’t. I think the denial of death is a great curse. We all wanted to assist him… It was clearly a lost battle.”
That's the whole of the relevant quotation, so I advise readers not to bother going to the article. I, for one, saw far more information there about Martin Amis than I ever wanted to know.
And to be fair, if that is the right word, Amis doesn't always restrict his insults to people like the elderly who can't fight back. He has also kept up his bad boy, tough guy reputation by insulting Muslims, which I suppose one could say is "brave" in the contemporary UK. I'm surprised he hasn't been visited by the police for that, or by a group of people more dangerous than the police, though I have no expectation that he will be visited by anyone or even chided by anyone for the above undeniable hate speech about the elderly. Then again, he doesn't appear to have advocated that all Muslims be killed systematically in booths on street corners. But evidently advocating killing an entire group of innocent people isn't going too far if it's the elderly we're talking about, especially those with (shudder) dementia.
Amis's irrationality is pretty evident here. We could start with the fact that there is no need for medical science to "overvault itself" for people to live past the height of their talent. In many professions (think sports), people would have to die somewhere between the ages of 30 and 50 in order not to suffer the supposedly dreadful fate of--at least in some significant sense--outliving their talent. And even if we take Amis's mention of seventy, is it really true that most or all people over the age of seventy are being kept alive by a plethora of beeping machines? No, there are plenty of elderly people who get along just fine with decent living conditions, decent nutrition, and some help around the house and with the shopping. Amis's gesture in the direction of the supposed overvaulting of medical science is a smokescreen, a red herring, a deliberate introduction of the specter of wild and extraordinary medical means before he hits us with what he really thinks--his truly hateful desire to see elderly people killed off en masse. It isn't merely complex interventions of medical science Amis wants to deny the elderly--especially the demented elderly. It's anything at all. It's love, care, and even the right to life.
Wesley J. Smith comments perceptively on Amis's evident self-hatred here, something I have noticed myself before in the right-to-die crowd. They look ahead and imagine themselves in a particular state, they feel disgusted at that hypothetical future self, and they want him killed. Love is nowhere in the picture. Or, to put it differently, love and death have become so intertwined that the only way they can imagine expressing love to such a person is by killing him. Says Smith,
In this sense, we need to demonstrate true compassion—the root meaning of which is to “suffer with”—by fully engaging our neighbors’ most trying trials and tribulations. We see that tonic administered all the time—in the selfless care of a daughter for her Alzheimer’s stricken mother and in the hospice volunteer confronting his own mortality by engaging profoundly with dying strangers. Love is what motivates the good people who bring dogs and cats into nursing homes to brighten the day of residents and is the ultimate motivation of the pain-control physician who burns the midnight oil seeking a solution to an intractable case—even though it is work for which she will never be paid.
There will always be the Martin Amises of the world raging in despair against life’s vicissitudes. But they will be rendered societally impotent if each of us loves actively. As St. Paul put it so eloquently, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” In the end, if we want to finally defeat euthanasia, it will have to be so with us.
I cannot help wondering if Amis's cruel and hateful words about the elderly are becoming acceptable in the UK. Or in the United States. At a minimum, if we hear such talk around us, we should let others know that it is totally unacceptable, even when it is couched in somewhat more genteel terms and even when the "remedies" actually proposed (however vaguely) are less extreme than Amis's:
A world in which increasingly many human beings are without affectionate relations with their kind, persisting as burdens to be carried rather than companions to be enjoyed, will be a world in which human life seems far less precious than it seems to us today....Old people will be regarded increasingly as a nuisance. Moreover, because their [old people's] numbers will be growing and their legal rights will be in no way diminished by their decrepitude, they will soon be majority shareholders in all private and most public goods. They will be sitting on the collective assets of mankind, preventing the young from owning them, and maybe waving their wills in the face of their heirs, in the hope of attracting attention.
We need to recognize the value of timely death and the futility of living beyond the point where anyone will mourn our passing....The critical question is longevity itself, which has brought about a situation in which we all have something to fear worse than death, namely the living death of the loveless.
The habit of timely death might then become engrained, and love restored between the elderly who possess the world and their progeny anxious for a share in it.
Love of the elderly should never be conditional on their dying soon enough and passing on their worldly goods to others. If the elderly are lonely and unloved, the problem lies with those who abandon and refuse to love them, not with their longevity. To call them "the loveless," to refer to their lives as mere "persisting," as a "living death," and to them as "burdens" because they are no longer "companions to be enjoyed" (as though their value depended on the enjoyment others get out of them) is unacceptable.
Amis's hate speech shocks because it is so frank and his final solution so harsh. But the attitudes it enshrines can be found in people who would not say what Amis says and who do not go as far as he goes in their recommendations. And those attitudes are beyond the pale. Let us stand for life and hold the line against them even, indeed especially, if we should find ourselves called to love amidst a graying population.