15 November 2018
Fountain of Youth
By Lynda Goetz
Mankind’s search for eternal youth is nothing new. It is indeed as old as mankind itself. However, our current scientific knowledge and scepticism mean that the old routes to this nirvana are closed to us. No matter. The modern world has new ways of doing things. We could, for example, try legislating to stay young.
As someone who used to be in the legal profession, I am finding the increasingly subjective approach to matters of law somewhat disturbing. Clearly, in different countries and over the course of history, lawyers and those running judicial systems have not always displayed totally rational objectivity. Not only in centuries past but around the world, political expediency can play a part in any number of cases. The modern tendency in Europe and America, however, seems to have little to do with political expediency and more to do with political correctness (although the two may of course be linked). How else to explain the almost-totally subjective range of hate crimes; the DPP-led focus on dubious rape and sex-abuse cases and the idea that new legislation should confirm people can self-identify as a gender of their own choosing? So, if gender, why not age? The latest in this subjective viewing of legal matters is the law suit brought in Holland by ageing Lothario, Emile Ratelband, to have his birth date legally altered to make him 20 years younger than he actually is – because he feels like ‘a young god’ and according to his doctor his biological age is 45.
Leaving aside the likelihood of 69 year-old Mr Rathelband succeeding in his case (and his motives for bringing it), the fact that he is seriously prepared to throw money at it in the first place seems to emphasise the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ nature of the times through which we are living. Mr Rathelband has brought his suit against the city of Arnhem in the province of Gelderland in Holland, arguing that he faces discrimination (in obtaining work, in buying a house and on Tinder!) because of his age. In an article in Grazia, journalist Vicky Spratt, a young thing in her 30s, argues that Mr Rathelband is missing the point and that whilst it is absolutely true that society discriminates against older people, it is women who bear the brunt of that ‘ageism’. This is true too, but how relevant is the law to any of this?
The law is supposed, surely, to be an objective system of rules designed within countries to help impose order on societal relations and with courts to administer those rules in as fair and just a manner as possible? Once objectivity is replaced by subjectivity we are in danger of undermining the system completely. Hate crimes, introduced in this country by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, allow the prosecution to apply for an uplift in sentence where ‘Any criminal offence is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice…’ As we know from recent headlines, misogyny, misandry and age-related crimes do not currently count as hate crimes. In September it was announced that the Law Commission would look into extending the definition. Cressida Dick, Met Police Chief, backing up police chief Sara Thornton who was attacked on social media for her stance, is reluctant to support any move to add these to the present list, calling instead for a ‘refocus on core policing’ for an already overstretched force.
It is entirely understandable that as society evolves we might wish to refine the way in which our justice systems work. In making adjustments to the way we view crime and criminals and the way we punish those who transgress and break society’s rules,we do also however run the risk of over-complicating wrongdoing and removing the element of objectivity which marks out straightforward criminal intent. If I decide to attack someone in the street, either by punching them, knifing them or hitting them with a baseball bat, does it really matter whether I did this because they are black, Muslim or disabled or that my victim perceives this to be the reason for the attack? My mental state as the perpetrator (unless caused by some sort of mental disorder) should not really call for ever-increasing reams of legislation. How on earth did we manage before 1998?
As older readers of my own generation are almost certainly aware, the court system had the ability to apply stiffer sentencing in cases where it was felt this was needed because of ‘aggravating factors’. These could include, as veteran reporter Colin Freeman pointed out in an article in The Telegraph last month, imposing harsher sentences where ‘bigotry’ (e.g. racial abuse of an Asian shopkeeper) was involved. The current obsession with hate crimes (which appear to have increased dramatically in the last five years, although it is hard to tell whether this is due to better record–keeping or a greater willingness on the part of the public to report such crimes) and suggestions that people can ‘self-identify’ gender, lead directly to a situation where a 69 year-old man can bring a claim to have his birth certificate altered officially so that he can ‘identify’ as 49. Unfortunately for him, such a move, as the judge in the case pointed out, would result in legally deleting part of his life. “For whom did your parents care in those years?” the judge pressed Ratelband in court. “Who was that little boy back then?”
Although many regimes have made it their business to rewrite history and people do it mentally all the time when reviewing their life or in the throes of a divorce, to rewind individual lives so that they can legally gain an extra twenty years seems not only fantastical, but absolutely the wrong use of legislation. Whilst it could solve many governments’ pension problems (as Ratelband himself pointed out), it is unlikely to solve our personal ageing problems. Apart from meaning we would have to continue working for longer, it is not going to change the fact that most of the population at 69 do not have the body of a 45 year-old. Even if they do, are they at 79 going to have the body of a 55 year-old?
Pity poor Mr Ratelband who gets ghosted on Tinder because people see his age. Could that possibly be because he is not trying to date women in their 60s but women in their 40s or even 30s? My own experience on dating sites (pre-Tinder) when I hit 50 was that most of the men of my age had as a ‘non-negotiable’ condition that they were only interested in women at least ten years younger. Almost none wanted to date women of their own age. Unlike Mr Ratelband, this was not because they had the appearance of ‘a young god’ but simply, it seemed, because they had a sense of entitlement which had nothing whatsoever to do with their own intelligence or good looks. Mr Ratelband should perhaps try dating women of his own age. There are a lot of them about and many of them are intelligent and still attractive. They would snap him up – if he weren’t so arrogant and they weren’t dating younger men!