Once you have passed fifty it gets harder and harder not to notice that you are being left behind. Styles and manners change, of course: that you can cope with, if you are willing to put forth a little effort. Thinking changes too, though, and for that there’s no coping. You can change the outer man, just as you can buff up at the gym, if you follow a few sensible precautions. The inner man, though, is fixed by middle age (if not much earlier). As you lip-sync your way through the new manners, the new fashions, the new cant, the inner man will be whispering inside your head, louder and louder as the years go by: This is all so bogus! These kids don’t know squat!
You may drop the facade at last and just let the inner man speak out, succumbing to “Elderly Tourette’s Syndrome,” saying things that can’t be said any more (but which you know to be true, and which you further suspect that the canters also, at some subliminal level, know to be true), scandalizing and horrifying all the young fools within earshot. You might even — I’ve some way to go yet, I’m glad to say, so this is hearsay testimony from an ETS-afflicted geezer known to me — you may even find that you have righteous fun doing so, though you get invited into polite society less and less.
John Derbyshire, “Flashman, Ron Paul, James Kirchick — And Liberty”, Vdare.com, 2008-01-15.
March 9, 2017
December 12, 2016
Tim Worstall points out that Thomas Piketty has mis-diagnosed the “problem” of rising capital:
The report shows that there were 13 OECD countries in which assets in funded pensions represented more than 50% of GDP in 2015, up from 10 in the early 2000s. Over the same period, the number of OECD countries where assets in funded private pension arrangements represent more than 100% of GDP increased from 4 to 7 countries.
We’re living longer lives these days, we’re working for fewer decades of them and thus people are rationally saving for their expected golden years. Thus capital as a percentage of GDP rises – not to produce inheritances, but to produces incomes in retirement. And rises by potentially at least more than 100% of GDP.
We can’t see that this is a problem and we most certainly cannot see that this is an argument for greater taxation of capital. Quite the reverse in fact, people saving for their old age should be encouraged, not specifically taxed.
So much for the most recent French call for revolution then, eh?
March 7, 2016
I was thinking about this the last few days and I realized we – we modern people – have a very odd relationship with death.
Look, I’m in no way complaining about this, okay? I want you to understand that upfront. For my final exam in American culture, back in Portugal, I had to read this very stupid book who deduced all sorts of crazy stuff about Americans from the fact our dead are usually embalmed. Frankly, I think the author should have his head examined. (He also went on about our putting people in old age homes, forgetting that our elderly live MUCH longer than normal, which means at the end they need a lot more specialized care. He also seemed not to get the sheer immensity of our territory which means family can be flung all over the continent. Organizing a rostrum to visit grandma and make sure she takes her meds is a tad-bit more difficult than in a village or even a moderately sized town.)
However it makes us weird about death. And it distorts our view of everything.
Accidents most of all. What, you think it’s a coincidence that the more remote the possibility of death, the more we pile on safety mechanisms in cars? The more we make our kids wear helmets and eye protection for perfectly harmless activities? (I think the end run of this is that we pad all the trees, like the royal family of Spain when their kids had hemophilia.)
And it goes further. Any death has become unthinkable. We react with shock to any death that doesn’t take place after protracted illness. We start cowering back from eating meat because “the poor animals” and we shy back from any war and try to have it humane and with ROEs that make it impossible to do what war should do: inflict terror and pain on the enemy until they surrender. (I think this goes hand in hand with no longer knowing how to END a war. We don’t say “We’re going to end it by winning.” Or “It ends when the other guy is rubble.” No, we say “We need an exit strategy.”)
If you think of death as the dark tints of life, we’ve become washed out, and in many ways incomprehensible to cultures in which death is still very common.
I know, I know, culture this, culture that – but in the end I wonder how much of our decay and our seeming wish for suicide, from having too few kids to not being ruthless enough to those who hurt us, comes from the fact that death has come to seem unnatural and strange.
Again, I’m not complaining. I’m no more fond of death than anyone else, and no more resolute in the face of it. I know I might be called upon to die for what I believe in, and that’s fine – it’s much, much harder to accept dying because someone’s clutch slipped, or because I caught some weird virus no one could figure out. And I can’t imagine dying even at 100 without feeling that I’m leaving a lot of stuff undone. Still, I can come to terms with my own death – the death of those I love is something else. I’ve already told Dan he must die after me or I’ll never talk to him again. The thought of losing the kids is unimaginably horrific. Heck, I’m all broken up about the idea of losing a cat within the year, and I’ve lost cats before.
BUT while I wouldn’t want a return to things quasi-ante, and while the solutions I could pose – as a science fiction author – range from the repugnant to the horrible and are all “I don’t want this” (Though some might make interesting stories.) I do wonder what part of our decay, or the decay of our willingness to fight and win, is because death is alien and a surprise to us.
We have become like the elves who spawn rarely and live unnaturally long “blessed” lives. Maybe there is some ancestral memory there. Maybe there is a cycle where you become too comfortable, too little used to death, and then the ruthless cultures come in and destroy you, because they walk with death everyday.
Sarah Hoyt, “Death in the Surprise Position – A Blast From The past from Dec. 2012”, According to Hoyt, 2015-11-06.
February 7, 2016
Kathy Shaidle recounts the painful moment of transition:
And it was during the 1990s — that is, my 30s — when That Thing I’d heard tell of and had dreaded ever since finally happened to me:
Every new! hit!! song!!! sounded like it was being played at the wrong speed. By an all-chimpanzee band. From inside a padlocked storage container. Kids these days…
December 17, 2015
Carl Trueman comments on what he calls the transageist community:
The case of Stefonknee Wolscht, the Canadian man who has decided that he is not simply a woman trapped in a man’s body but actually a six year old girl trapped in the same, has attracted some web attention. At first, I thought the story was a hoax but, no, it would appear that the lunatics have taken over the asylum and it is indeed true. Even if a sick joke, however, it would still offer insights into the inner logic of the politics of identity as currently played by the Left. Thus, for example, the U.K.’s Pink News reports that parts of the trans community are upset. Not, of course, at the harm done to Wolscht’s wife and children, those symbols of bourgeois oppression who are thus just so much collateral damage in the Glorious Revolution of the Self(ish). No. They are upset because his claim to be a different age “discredits their cause.”
A moment’s reflection would indicate that this condition, whereby a person is really a small child incarcerated within a much older adult body, is increasingly prevalent in today’s society. Recent events on the campuses of some of America’s top (sic) universities (sic) clearly show that the transageist community is rapidly growing in size, influence and belligerence. Still, as with all vanguard movements, some opposition is to be expected. The concerned reaction of sections of the transgender community is therefore understandable.
No doubt opponents will say that such a view will create chaos. Law courts must recognize an age of consent and an age of criminal responsibility; Schools need an objective standard of age to structure their curricula; And it is in everyone’s best interest that one-year-olds are not allowed to drive on the highways or drink Scotch or play in their cribs with loaded AK-47s. Well, yes, of course — but, please, do not shoot the messenger. I have not created the politics of repudiation which drives so much of the Left today. I am merely pointing out that its logic is inexorable. Those who accept its premises and yet seek to curb its power according to their own tastes are merely so many desperate postmodern Canutes, shouting impotently at the relentless waves of ecstatic nihilism that are even now crashing against the shore.
H/T to David Warren for the link.
November 20, 2015
… Rolling Stone morphed into AARP Magazine so slowly, I hardly even noticed.
Ed Driscoll, “Plutocrat Millionaires Insult Military Veterans”, PJ Media, 2014-11-14.
November 19, 2015
Matt Ridley on recent developments in the search for ways to ameliorate the effects of aging:
Squeezed between falling birth rates and better healthcare, the world population is getting rapidly older. Learning how to deal with that is one of the great challenges of this century. The World Health Organisation has just produced a report on the implications of an ageing population, which — inadvertently — reveals a dismal fatalism we share about the illnesses of old age: that they will always be inevitable.
This could soon be wrong. A new book, The Telomerase Revolution, published in America this week by the doctor and medical researcher Michael Fossel, argues that we now understand enough about the fundamental cause of ageing to be confident that we will eventually be able to reverse it. This would mean curing diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and osteoporosis, rather than coping with them or treating their symptoms.
Let me show you what I mean about fatalism. The WHO report on ageing and health, for all its talk of the need for “profound changes” to health care for the elderly, actually urges us to stop trying to cure the afflictions of old age and learn to live with them: “The societal response to population ageing will require a transformation of health systems that moves away from disease-based curative models and towards the provision of older-person-centred and integrated care.”
Yet it also subscribes to the somewhat magical hope that illnesses of old age can be “prevented or delayed by engaging in healthy behaviours” and that “physical activity and good nutrition can have powerful benefits for health and wellbeing.” This is largely wishful thinking. There is no evidence that, say, Alzheimer’s can be prevented by a certain diet or activity. A lack of activity and poor nutrition can worsen health at any age, but the underlying chronic diseases of old age are caused by age itself.
When I asked Dr Fossel what he thought of the WHO report, he replied: “In 1950 we could have talked (and did) about ‘active polio’ in the sense of keeping polio victims active rather than giving up, but the very phrase itself implies that one has already given up. I would prefer that we cure the fundamental problem. Why talk about ‘active ageing’, ‘successful ageing’, and ‘healthy ageing’ when we could talk about not ageing?”
November 4, 2015
The older I get, the better I understand the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I used to think this referred to some weakness of the mind or obstinance, which I rejected as foolish and even cruel.
I’ve come to understand That saying differently. The older you get, the less patience, time, and energy you have with new things. You’ve seen decades of new things and are beginning to tire of their novelty. You only have so much time, and most of it is taken up with the rest of your life. And you have less energy to spend on something new.
In addition, the older you get, the more experience you have. Starting to learn a new operating system at 20 seems like just a matter of picking up some new tricks, but at 50 you realize just how long its going to take and how annoying its going to be after the previous 5 times through that process. And sometimes it feels like this old Far Side cartoon, where you’ve filled your mind up with 50+ years of stuff like old phone numbers, how to call information on a rotary phone, and the name of that character on Adam-12.
So its not so much you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Its that the old dog has been through this once too often and has better things to do.
Christopher Taylor, “OLD DOGS”, Word Around the Net, 2014-10-20.
October 4, 2015
Believe it or not, the end of the seemingly eternal federal election is finally in sight. We’re getting to the wind-up stage of the campaign and we can now expect certain evergreen political topics to be discussed as we wearily struggle down to the wire. Colby Cosh covers one of the biggest “issues” of every federal election:
The parties are running low on ammunition in the election that never ends, and I can sense, like a tracker laying an ear to the ground, the approach of conversations about demographics and the getting-out of the vote. With this campaign sub-season — suitably located in the autumn — will come talk of “gray power”; dread of the Conservative advantage among bigoted, ornery, vote-crazy oldies; and, above all, the suffocating hatred of the young toward the liver-spotted hands that grip our levers of power and ward off change.
I rarely speak of Baby Boomers without a generous helping of contemptuous spittle. But the great equalizers, pain and death and dementia and distraction, are now starting to take them. The people I call Turnout Nerds obsess over youth voting: it seems unnatural to them, even revolting, that fewer than half of people under 35 bother to struggle to the polls, choosing to deny us their breezy new ideas and their orientation toward the future. (Not that I can see much actual evidence of either quality.)
They do not talk much about what happens to voter turnout once Canadians have passed their peak propensity to vote, which arrives, according to the official estimates for the 2011 election, at the age of 67. The graph, it turns out, looks like a skewed triangle. Voters in the age cohorts from 20-25 had less than 40 per cent turnout in 2011. There is a slow linear climb from there; turnout passes 50 per cent in the mid-30s, 60 per cent in the mid-40s, 70 per cent on the cusp of age 60. It rises to above 75 per cent at about the traditional retirement age.
But the dropoff in turnout from there is steeper than the rise — and how else could it be, given arthritis and lumbago and the other cruel facts of late life? And by age 67, according to an insurance man’s icy “life tables,” more than one per cent of the population is dying every year. If you adjust for mortality, and imagine a hypothetical pool of Canadian voters starting out at age 18, the estimated age at which the highest number of the original group will be voting isn’t 67; it’s more like a flat peak between the ages of 59 and 64. After that, coronaries start taking away more voters than enthusiasm is adding.
August 25, 2015
Many years ago, when I was more reckless intellectually than I am today, I proposed the application of Haeckel’s biogenetic law — to wit, that the history of the individual rehearses the history of the species to the domain of ideas. So applied, it leads to some superficially startling but probably quite sound conclusions, for example, that an adult poet is simply an individual in a state of arrested development — in brief, a sort of moron. Just as all of us, in utero, pass through a stage in which we are tadpoles, and almost indistinguishable from the tadpoles which afterward become frogs, so all of us pass through a stage, in our nonage, when we are poets. A youth of seventeen who is not a poet is simply a donkey: his development has been arrested even anterior to that of the tadpole. But a man of fifty who still writes poetry is either an unfortunate who has never developed, intellectually, beyond his teens, or a conscious buffoon who pretends to be something that he isn’t — something far younger and juicier than he actually is […] Something else, of course, may enter into it. The buffoonery may be partly conscious and deliberate, and partly Freudian. Many an aging man keeps on writing poetry simply because it gives him the illusion that he is still young. For the same reason, perhaps, he plays tennis, wears green cravats, and tries to convince himself that he is in love.
H.L. Mencken, “The Nature of Faith”, Prejudices, Fourth Series, 1924.
March 11, 2015
March 10, 2015
February 9, 2015
Last month, in his Times column, Matt Ridley explained why — until we discover a treatment for aging itself — rising cancer rates are a weird form of good news:
If we could prevent or cure all cancer, what would we die of? The new year has begun with a war of words over whether cancer is mostly bad luck, as suggested by a new study from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and over whether it’s a good way to die, compared with the alternatives, as suggested by Dr Richard Smith, a former editor of the BMJ.
It is certainly bad luck to be British and get cancer, relatively speaking. As The Sunday Times reported yesterday, survival rates after cancer diagnosis are lower here than in most developed and some developing countries, reflecting the National Health Service’s chronic problems with rationing treatment by delay. In Japan, survival rates for lung and liver cancer are three times higher than here.
Cancer is now the leading cause of death in Britain even though it is ever more survivable, with roughly half of people who contract it living long enough to die of something else. But what else? Often another cancer.
In the western world we’ve conquered most of the causes of premature death that used to kill our ancestors. War, smallpox, homicide, measles, scurvy, pneumonia, gangrene, tuberculosis, stroke, typhoid, heart disease and cholera are all much rarer, strike much later in life or are more survivable than they were fifty or a hundred years ago.
The mortality rate in men from coronary heart disease, for instance, has fallen by an amazing 80 per cent since 1968 — for all age groups. Mortality rates from stroke in both sexes have halved in 20 years. Cancer’s growing dominance of the mortality tables is not because it’s getting worse but because we are avoiding other causes of death and living longer.
It is worth remembering that some scientists and anti-pesticide campaigners in the 1960s were convinced that by now lifespans would be much shorter because of cancer caused by pesticides and other chemicals in the environment.
In the 1950s Wilhelm Hueper — a director of the US National Cancer Institute and mentor to Rachel Carson, the environmentalist author of Silent Spring — was so concerned that pesticides were causing cancer that he thought the theory that lung cancer was caused by smoking was a plot by the chemical industry to divert attention from its own culpability: “Cigarette smoking is not a major factor in the causation of lung cancer,” he insisted.
In fact it turns out that pollution causes very little cancer and cigarettes cause a lot. But aside from smoking, most cancers are indeed bad luck. The Johns Hopkins researchers found that tissues that replicate their stem cells most run the highest risk of cancer: basal skin cells do ten trillion cell divisions in a lifetime and have a million times more cancer risk than pelvic bone cells which do about a million cell divisions. Random DNA copying mistakes during cell division are “the major contributors to cancer overall, often more important than either hereditary or external environmental factors”, say the US researchers.
To sum it up, until or unless medical research finds a way to stop the bodily effects of aging, cancer becomes the most likely way for all of us to die. Cancer is a generic rather than a specific term — it’s what we use to describe the inevitable breakdown of the cellular division process that happens millions or even trillions of times over our lifetime. As Ridley puts it, “even if everybody lived in the healthiest possible way, we would still get a lot of cancer.” I’m not a scientist and I don’t even play one on TV, but I suspect that the solution to cancers of all kinds are to boost our immune systems to more quickly identify aberrant cells in our bodies before they start reproducing beyond the capability of the immune system to handle. The short- to medium-term solution to cancer may be to make us all a little bit cyborg…
January 25, 2015
January 3, 2015
At the wonderfully named Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog, Frances Woolley looks at some of the ordinary human cussedness that prevents wonderfully clear and understandable economic theories from working quite as efficiently as their formulators expect:
1. Economies grow when people buy stuff.
2. Over time, people accumulate more and more stuff.
3. People can only handle so much stuff. Sock drawers get full of socks. Cupboards get full of cups. Bookshelves get full of books.
4. It’s hard to get rid of stuff. Economic models typically assume disposing of unwanted things costs nothing. But life isn’t like that. Sorting out stuff that can be tossed from stuff that is worth keeping takes time and effort.
5. People are “loss averse”. Throwing things away — clothes that don’t fit, vinyl LPs — hurts psychologically.
6. There’s no need to replace perfectly good stuff. True some stuff, like mobile phones, only lasts a year or three. But other stuff, like cast-iron frying pans, lasts for decades.
Taken together, observations 2 through 6 imply that, as people get older, they buy less and less stuff. Combined with observation 1, these observations explain why countries with aging populations experience lower rates of economic growth.
My only quibble is with the final sentence of point 3: bookshelves don’t get full … you just run out of immediate book storage options. Bookshelves are never really full, they’re just temporarily over-booked.