In our lives we go through a variety of changes. Some of these are socially defined, and are known to sociologists as “Rites of Passage.”
Today, every one of them involves paper work. Lots of it.
It hasn’t always been that way, but it is now. And increasingly, we are know, not by name, but by the number that is assigned to our paper work.
Birth and death are the two universal events. Normally in Canada, you don’t leave hospital until someone has filled in papers for your birth certificate. When you die, you cannot be buried, cremated (or whatever) unless there’s a Burial Permit (which is issued only after the more extensive paper work is done).
In between — perhaps Drivers Licence, High School Diploma, Trade Certification, University Degree. If you get married, a marriage Licence and Certificate. If you have children, their Birth Certificates. All involve paper work.
And on the farm, there is paper work involved with the transfer of farm ownership. Back in the 1980s, when I was reporting agricultural developments on radio and in print, intergenerational farm transfer was complex. It needed very careful consideration. I don’t expect it has become any less complex. If anything, there are probably more things to consider — and more paper work.
What got me thinking about this is the fact that I’m busy filling in paper work. Late this summer, I will turn 65. That, somehow, doesn’t seem right. I don’t actually feel that old. I don’t think of myself as being that old. I’m 64 going on 46, maybe. But my Birth Certificate tells me I’m going to be 65. In this case, the paper work doesn’t lie.
According to my long-time friend and colleague, Ralph Milton, 65 is the “age of certifiable decrepitude.” Supposedly, you’re old and worn out.
That, of course, was not true in Ralph’s case. Nor is it true in the lives of many others. In fact, in my years of work with “seniors,” I saw that many seemed busier in “retirement” than they had been during their “working lives.”
But turning 65 means paper work — for government pensions, or private pensions, or both, that might just wear me out. I won’t get my money until the paper work is done. Even if the money is sitting in some account, somewhere, with my name and number on it. So I’m doing paper work.
And even after retirement, I’ll be participating in the economy and community. I’ll have an income. I’ll be buying things. I’ll be with my wife and family. I will continue writing. I’ll continue to serve on a variety of ethics committees, in our community and university. I’m already facing health challenges, but they haven’t stopped me, though I do need medications. And all of those will require some sort of paper work.
And I hope the economy in which I live will continue to have a place for, and honour the hopes, needs and contributions of, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, highly-educated and less-educated. That it will be, simply, a Moral Economy.