Age and wisdom
Monday, May 10, 2021
Every stage of life has its joys, sorrows and consolations. Looking back, I smile at how stressful I found it to be young. I was so afraid of failure; so anxious to get things right. In middle age, with those anxieties largely allayed, I found myself burdened with responsibility for others; a responsibility I had campaigned earnestly to assume, by the way. As I approach old age, those responsibilities are gone too. No-one depends on me. My children are independent. I have no employees to worry about providing with work. I can even glory in the triumphs of the young people I mentored, who are now achieving their own successes. I could shuffle off this mortal coil today with no sense of a task left undone.
Before COVID, I was enjoying that. I was as carefree as in my youth. In fact, more so as I was without the burden of parental, societal or –most onerous of all – personal hopes and expectations. I could reflect on my life and that of my nation or even species. I could read, think, visit museums and galleries, travel and engage in my photographic hobby. I could meet with my friends and smile during our conversations at the truth of the old joke that "the older we get, the better we were." Looking back on lives lived so anxiously at the time, our triumphs seem inevitable and perhaps even (after a few good drinks) deserved.
Post-COVID, things are different. I have not personally been directly affected by the disease itself. Only one friend contracted it and he, thank goodness, survived. Actually I should not thank goodness as he lives in a corrupt post-Soviet state and crimes had to be committed to save his life. He survived a seven hour wait for an ambulance by virtue dint of another friend paying a bribe for oxygen to be brought to his home. Best not to ask from where that was procured. Let's just hope it was not from the bedside of someone who still needed it. Then he avoided admission to a lethally-unhygienic state hospital that would have killed him by bribing the ambulance-driver to take him to a private facility. There even cash would not have secured treatment were it not for luck. He happened to have been the lawyer for the oligarch who owned that facility in connection with its financing and still had his phone number. Calling him and then handing the phone to the doctor denying admission finally saved the day – and his life. His story tells more about statism and the corruption it brings than it does about disease.
At a micro level then, I continue to be blessed. I have a comfortable home in which to be confined. I have a loving wife with whom to be confined. I have every technical facility to stay in communication (I first wrote "touch" but that of course is forbidden) with friends and family. The only real cost to me has been the death of my last illusions.
COVID has been a wet dream for every statist, apparatchik and thug. I have long said that an over-mighty state is a magnet for the worst in society. COVID has proved it.
My nostalgic vision of the British Bobby protecting honest citizens from crime has long been out of date, I know. Yet it was hard to shake the feeling for the boys in blue my parents instilled in me. My mum would make a point of stopping and talking to the local policeman whenever we encountered him when I was a child. She would tell me this was the person I should go to if I were lost, in trouble or just needed to know the time. He was my protector and friend. Sorry Mum, but he isn't and never was. His true nature has been revealed as he has gleefully leapt on the chance presented by COVID to bully and swagger.
I was taught to revere teachers too. There is, I always used to say, no more valuable profession in any civilisation. A society could be judged by the value it placed on its teachers. COVID has exposed that as sentimental tosh too as the teaching unions have used the opportunity to dodge work and to hell with the education and welfare of the children in their members charge. All other public sector unions have done the same. Our public "servants" are our actual deep state masters and their contempt for us has been revealed beyond all reasonable doubt.
This is not COVID related, but has happened during the same period. The Court of Appeal destroyed my faith in the judiciary. I personally witnessed the Shrewsbury pickets in action. I know the truth, but to write it again would now be actionable – so I won't. All I can say here is that the law is an ass.
Though I remember well how upset they were by the death of President Kennedy and how they grieved the death of Winston Churchill, my parents never taught me to love and trust politicians, thank God. So that disillusionment has not been so severe. In fact COVID has not made me think any worse of them. In fact, I have some sympathy with HM Government's plight as a panicked population has cried out for ever-more-tyrannical measures and HM Opposition has only ever opposed them for not acting harshly enough.
I have repeatedly said in the run up to elections that, this time, I will not vote. I have always gone on to do it. I was brought up to treasure democracy as something my ancestors fought for. I felt a duty to their memory to exercise my right. This time I didn't. Perhaps I would have done if I lived in Hartlepool; not from any affection for the party that won but to enjoy the discomfiture of the entitled villains who have so long believed they own the Northern working class among whom I grew up.
In London, there was no point. Khan was a nailed-on winner. There were no credible candidates running on a platform of more liberty and less state. It was – as all elections now seem to be – a menu of different poisons. None of the thugs, bandits and rent-seeking hoodlums in power can say this time that I supported them. Not that they care, but it gives me some small satisfaction.
The wisdom of age is the realisation of how little we can know and the humility that comes with that. It seems I am finally wise but I was happier being foolish.
I know you frequent Samizdata, so apologies if you’ve already seen this TEDx video, The Security Junkie Syndrome, from David Eberhard, a Swedish psychiatrist, posted by Perry today.
In it he posits the notion that the Dunning-Kruger effect may go some way towards explaining the reactions of politicians worldwide to the coronavirus but that it is an insufficient explanation. He elaborates by referencing The Basic laws of Human Stupidity (1976), by Carlo Cippola, an Italian economic historian (a work I’d not come across before, though you might well have done).
Eberhard says, “What defines stupid people is that their actions lead to bad outcomes, for themselves as well as for other people. And overestimating the dangers of an infection with a mortality rate of around 0.2%, and at the same time ignoring the massive negative effects of their actions, cannot be described in a better way.”
I am very much reminded of Orwell’s dictum, “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
Perhaps even more telling in the current circumstances, Orwell also wrote, “Intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history, etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side.” It’s uncanny how well Orwell predicted current times, and how the control freaks you mention have become so blatant.
As to your final paragraph, there is a certain peace of mind, tinged with melancholy, in the steadily growing realisation as we go through life that we know so little and should thus be humble and not presume to take it upon ourselves to organise the lives of others.
To close on a more upbeat note, I have no idea of your taste in music, but somewhat à propos your theme I not so long ago came across this song from the Alan Parsons Project: Old and Wise. The tenor sax in the coda soars off in a most uplifting way. One for my funeral perhaps – I won’t be anything like wise enough before then!
Posted by: David Bishop | Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 04:57 PM
Many of us do adjust our views as we learn things throughout life. However, it is only over the last decade that I have come to the conclusion that the average punter is just plain stupid. Easily led and incapable of analysing any situation. We have watched the visible decline to the end of the West.
Posted by: Lord T | Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 11:36 AM