If you are at all interested in ageing, your inbox quickly fills up with an awful lot of blandishments, offers and promises. There are creams, supplements, diets, hormones; you can inject yourself with Botox, or ingest cow’s colostrum, put avocado on your eyes and chocolate in your mouth. The web is bristling with rumours that an anti-ageing gene is about to be, or has recently been, discovered. There are preparations to activate your pituitary gland and pills to boost your antioxidant free radical scavenging capacity, whatever that is.
David Willetts’ book is subtitled, ‘How the baby boomers took their children’s future – and why they should give it back.’ This seems to imply a malign intention on the part of the post-war generation and, sure enough, at points in the book, Willetts talks of the ‘ultra-individualism unleashed’ by this generation, whose failure to exercise self-control he deplores. If you are part of a large cohort, he argues, ‘you will be able to spend your life in a generational bubble, always outvoting and outspending the generations before and after you.’ We are the selfish generation.
But can we help ourselves? It isn’t clear. A book subtitled, ‘How the baby boomers took their children’s future – but that’s what large cohorts do,’ wouldn’t have had quite the same edge. You get the sense that Willetts would quite like to be cross with the boomers (of whom he is one, having been born in 1956) because they have behaved very badly, but he knows it would be intellectually dishonest, because they didn’t have the faintest idea what they were doing.