The Sixty is the name for the general compulsory killing ordered for humans living on planet Earth in the far future, as described in Isaac Asimov's 1950 novel Pebble in the Sky. Earth then is a planet that can't support a big population, certainly not a retired one, and so everybody has to submit to a draconian appraisal process at age sixty. Almost without exception, they are put down. The 'hero' in the book is sixty two, and obviously in danger!
I read the book in my early teens, and it greatly added to my insecurities. I felt it could easily come true, and that if I survived to age 60 I too would be killed off. This would happen in 2012. It was very discouraging.
Remember, the threat of a neuclear holocaust or some Day of the Triffids type disaster was a perfectly reasonable fear in the 1960s. I used to imagine all kinds of scenarios in which most people on the planet would be killed, but I would survive, stay alive, not go under, and find a way of living successfully in a changed and hostile world. It had a kind of appeal. I was already living a life full of secrets, feeling very alone, and I was prepared to do anything it took to succeeed in a different world. I almost wanted it to happen! At least I would take charge of my life, and stand or fall on what I did or thought best.
This 'waiting for the collapse of society' attitude continued for many years. As soon as I could drive, I identified where the gun shops were, so that I could instantly arm myself. I was fully prepared to kill or be killed, and be a defiant and cunning warrior. It had to be faced: in a world in which all the old constraints had been swept away, personal survival was everything.
This apocalyptic mood passed. The near-certainty that mankind would blow itself up, or unleash some virus against which few would be immune, became less insistant. Eventually it seemed more likely that we would all succomb instead to general starvation or a meteor hit.
And now 2012 has actually arrived. The world is certainly not perfect, nor a completely safe place, but there has been no fall from the tightrope. Apart from a little sabre-rattling here and there, the emphasis is on facing the challenges of reducing resources, and climate change, and coping with an unprecedented series of natural disasters. No country is escaping the worldwide effects of worsening weather. No country will preserve its old ways intact. A total wipe-out seems unlikely, but we must all adapt. The forces of nature override everything and everyone. Competitiveness does not pay. But cooperation might. And I think there are many signs that old-style nationalistic and cultural ambitions are being abandoned. We have also suddenly realised that too much is in the hands of the money men. Time for something better than that.
I rather look forward to the unfolding events of 2012. I think it will be a tipping point, and that it will be remembered as the year in which the world went in a new and better direction.
At least I'm confident that I won't be given a lethal pill or injection when I reach 60 in July!