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The Age of Reason: a Liberal Interpretation

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Turkmenistan Pictures

SAPARMURAT TURKMENBASHY THE GREAT (1940-2006)

Gary Graves, CBC News Online | September 23, 2003

You can always see that a reporter, pundit, editorialist or other journalistic hack has nothing intelligent to say at the conclusion of their reports, pontifications, essays or articles when they sum up with, "Only time will tell."

This particular platitude has been used a lot lately while trying to divine the leadership the Liberal party - and with it Canada - after Jean Chrétien hands over the keys to 24 Sussex and retires to his getaway apartment with wife Aline at his side.

A year ago, Chrétien gave us a moving date - the end of 2003 or early 2004. There was no shortage of political commentary to inform us that this extended hold on a moving van could have been a fatal blow to the leadership campaign of Paul Martin.

By the summer of 2004, when Jean Chrétien will have exited, Martin will be 66 years old. This, declared the pundits (and some Martin supporters) would make him too old and thus undesirable to both Liberal party members and, more importantly, the Canadian electorate. So let's speed up the process, they urge, before our leader-in-waiting is past his best-before date.

I can't speak for the Party since I've never belonged, but I have voted once or twice and therefore consider myself one of the body politic that Makes Democracy Great. It seems to me that perhaps Martinites should check with the wannabe prime minister himself to see if he'll be too wobbly to walk the steps into Parliament when he hits that advanced age.

The news that one is unfit for work, let alone for a desk job in government, in one's late 60s would come as a shock to Sir John A Macdonald who, although first elected PM at age 52, died in office at age 76. During his twilight years he accomplished such trivial goals as establishing a transcontinental railroad link and a national police force, shepherding three new provinces into Confederation, overseeing many aboriginal treaties, and creating the first national park. A record like that makes one wonder why we remember this geezer at all.

Robert Borden took over the job at age 67. Now here's a long-lost do-nothing whose impact has been barely felt. The two insignificant accomplishments of this near-septuagenarian were the introduction of income tax and the extension of voting rights to women.

Another forgotten codger is Lester B. Pearson. Elected prime minister at age 66, his yawner of a resumé shows the nation's largest airport and an internationalist/pacifist/humanitarian college bearing his name. Another line in the legacy of this forgotten fogey would be the minor detail of giving the nation its own identity with a flag and a national medicare system.

But enough about how little Canada's seniors can contribute to the political process. Perhaps the issue is not how useless people can be at that advanced age, but rather what kind of ruler we use to measure them.

In August 2002, the president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who's generally referred to by your average Turkman as "Turkmenbashi the Great," decreed that the country would change its perspective on how its citizens view aging. It's interesting to compare this worldview with our Euro-American take on time.

Turkmenbashi the Great, whom I will refer to as Niyazov for short, has defined and divided the Ages of Man into nine segments, each of which is a dozen or so years long. This lifetime calendar has stretched the potential life span to an optimistic 109 years, although statistics show a peculiar tendency of the average Turkman to come up about 49 years short of that goal.

The president declares that "childhood" shall last for 13 years from birth. That's pretty much what we in the West say, too.

Then come the years 14-25, which Niyazov categorizes as "adolescence." Here we begin to diverge in perspective. While there's not much disagreement about the initial teen year, thanks to such enlightened and progressive industrial world advancements as food laced with growth hormones and a popular media which uses sex to sell everything from soup to - er - nuts, our adolescence tends to end at, say, age 15. Then you're an adult, if not legally then certainly physically and attitudinally.

After adolescence comes a dozen years of "youth," terminating at 37. I can't think of anyone I know in that age bracket who would care to disagree with that definition, although some of their cardiologists might.

Until age 49, one enjoys the "Age of Maturity." Again, it's hard to disagree with the definition, although there is the bizarre Western tendency toward immaturity in the later stages of this phase. We call it "mid-life crisis," but obviously we may have to adjust that as acceptance of the Niyazov Numbers becomes more widespread.

An amusing pun comes forth in the next phase, the "Age of the Prophet," which lasts until one's 62nd year. Again, this closely follows our Western outlook, with only a spelling change to make it "Profit" instead.

Then the "Age of Inspiration" kicks in. This also is encouraging, especially for Turkmen, since this is greater than their actual expected life span. Nothing like a little inspiration to keep you going.

Starting at 73 comes the age of the "White Bearded Elder." Providing one still has hair, this time of one's life could be quite ego flattering.

And here's good news for the federal pension plan: under the Turkmen calendar "Old Age" doesn't kick in until age 85. This, of course, conflicts by two decades with our own definition. But you don't need to be an actuary to see how our country could benefit financially by delaying old-age benefit payments until people reached this new, imaginative chronological benchmark.

Next, at 97, Turkmenbashi the Great pays homage to Oguz Khan, an ancient figure who led his country presumably up until age 109. This will be, Niyazov declares, a person's "Age of Oguz Khan."Perhaps Oguz could, but not many others can, lead a nation at that age. Not many of us would disagree if Canadian political figures who reached triple digits were criticized for hanging on to the job too long. Definitely, that's too old to run... or even walk alone in the snow. You could fall and break a hip.

Niyazov, who himself has just turned 62 and looks like he has a tenacious grip on his leadership, is just a few years less inspired than our own - outgoing - Jean Chrétien. Perhaps his insight should be taken as encouragement, not senile doddery, by Ottawa's pundits and powerbrokers. After all, one of his first inspired acts in addition to this inspired new calendar was to rename the month of January... after himself.

Perhaps Canada's political observers should re-think their ageist agenda and consider the possibility that by the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004 (in the snowy month of Chrétien), we could find ourselves looking at a new political timetable that includes a daily dose of one-hour Martinizing.

Only time will tell.


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