Empty Days

Friday, February 06, 2004



Is it true that people grow more conservative with age? As a rule - yes. If you understand aging as a process of getting settled socially (career, marriage, house, kids, community, politics, church?) which basically amounts to espousing "the ways of the world" - the more settled the ways, the more conservative the mind.

But outside of that, aging and conservative opinions are not really related. In the end the driving force behind the growing propensity to think and act conventionally (for this is what "conservatism" essentially amounts to) is not greater wisdom but rather a growing resignation in the face of things and the result of a life-long effort to find a place among men and acquire respect and self-respect.

To fight the propensity to conservatism in oneself always entails being somewhat at odds with the bigger world and keep what is called "an open mind" - and this is a sacrifice most people are either unwilling or unable to make. An open mind is rooted in uncertainty - greater or lesser depending on what you can tolerate. The pressures of the world are such that it simply wears you down in the end and you're content to mold yourself in whatever form, so long as it is a well-accepted form, which finally spares you the trouble of being at odds with the rest of humanity.

This wearing down is usually viewed as growing wiser. In the sense of Ecclesiastes - "don't fight it, it's not worth it". And so the older folks look down on the young and laugh at their efforts and vagaries - a poor revenge, considering all the forts they've had to abandon during their lifetime. Popular wisdom is terrifically pessimistic and defeatist - as it reflects a long series of fruitless battles and concludes that this is what life essentially amounts to: a resounding defeat.

Some rare people are able to forestall this great fatigue into advanced age - and those people are usually more than unconventional, they're plain weird and radiant. I once knew an 85-year old woman who was probably about 10 times younger than myself - the secret of her youth and daring was her utter fearlessness.

This example alone is enough to prove that wisdom need not be conservative.





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