American writer Barbara Ehrenreich is most famously the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, a first-person exposé of life as a low-wage worker. Now seventy-six years old, Ehrenreich has turned her ruthless eye and keen bullshit detector towards our obsession with health and prolonging life in her new book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. She talked with Maxwell Strachan of the Huffington Post about the book, noting that many people seem to waste the last years of their life trying to avoid death. Read an excerpt from the interview below.
If people shouldn’t spend the older years of their life focusing on preventing their death, I wonder what you think people should spend most of their time doing?
If they were doing anything worthwhile before, they should be doing it still. I think there are two big things about the last years of life. One is that you should have some fun and do things that are enjoyable, which means, for me, eating foods that I like and not just foods that I curate and decide should be on my plate.
And also, it means that doing the usual save-the-world kinds of things. I’ve got a pretty full plate, so to speak, with those agenda items.
I saw you talked with a Jezebel writer about people doing all their self-care in almost solitary confinement. Why do you think people don’t prioritize dancing, partying, all those things a bit more in America?
It’s not just America. I wrote a whole book on this, called Dancing in the Streets, about the destruction in hierarchical societies, which is almost all of them now, the destruction of traditional festivities and dance rituals and things that have always given people intense pleasure as well as some kind of ― what’s the word I want? This is what happens when you’re old, you can’t remember the word you want! [Laughs] Some kind of transcendent experience. We don’t have those anymore. Well, I mean we have some ― I would say that was the point of Burning Man until that became a rich people’s thing.
Image of Barbara Ehrenreich via theartsdesk.com.