Century Marks

Century Marks

Rags to riches?

Nineteenth-century novelist Horatio Alger Jr. has become synonymous with the American rags-to-riches mythology, but it’s a story that he never lived himself. The son of a Congregational minister in Massachu­setts, Alger became a Unitarian minister. Confronted with allegations about nefarious acts he had committed with young boys, Alger left town. Alger’s father talked the church officials out of going public with the evidence and promised that his son would never again seek a ministerial position. Alger took up a writing career in New York City, where he befriended many boys whose tough-luck stories Alger worked into his novels. No allegations were ever made about Alger’s relationship with these boys, who were very loyal to their patron (John Swansburg, Slate, September 29).

Extreme measures

Larry Ellison, one of the wealthiest Americans, is spending millions of dollars on research to prolong life. “Death makes me very angry. It doesn’t make any sense,” Ellison ex­plained. Mortician Caitlin Doughty says it shouldn’t surprise us that almost all the people who want to use extreme measures to stay alive are rich, white males, “men who have lived lives of systematic privilege and believe that privilege should extend indefinitely” (Vox, October 30).

Keeping the faith

Parents are the largest factor in whether youth remain religiously active as young adults, according to the National Study of Youth and Religion. When parents talked about faith at home, were active in their congregations, and attached great significance to their faith, 82 percent of their children were highly religious in their mid to late twenties. Two-thirds of young adults raised by black Protestant parents and one half of those with conservative Protestant parents had high or moderate levels of religious commitment as young adults. Seventy percent of young adults raised by mainline Protestants showed minimal or lower levels of religious commitment (Huffington Post, October 29).

Attention deficit

Our culture has an attention deficit disorder. Mark Ed­mun­dson, a University of Virginia professor, says that we’re losing the ability to be­come absorbed, to lose ourselves in something we love doing. “When that happens, time stops and one lives in an ongoing present.” Absorption in something like the arts can benefit others as well as oneself, while paying attention on the job or in school seems like a task that leads quickly to boredom (Hedge­hog Review, Summer).

Who cares?

In 30 years there will be as many people over 80 as under five, but there likely won’t be enough medical personnel to care for them. Medical students aren’t choosing geriatric care because the work is too hard and the pay too low. Some medical students shy away from geriatrics because they don’t like to face death, says one med school professor. “They’d rather take an anatomy exam for the eighth time than face a dying person,” he said (Vox, October 30).