Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Following on

Nick Cohen's comment that I quoted in my previous post certainly got to George. It is one of those occasions when phrases written to impress upon the reader the urgent necessity to deal with the neglect and exploitation of a potentially 'lost generation' betray deeper social assumptions that take us beyond the words' intended meaning. Basically, there are two such assumptions at play here. They infect political life and public policy as much as our private lives. Although using the language of hard-headed rationality, they are, in reality, moral discourses. And both, in my view, are utterly wrong.

The first is that youth is not a stage in life, but is a virtue. Is it possible to have a party leader who is not under fifty and often scarcely over forty? The fresh-faced, telegenic figure is seen to be the epitome of political cool, a necessity for that elusive asset - electability. Although what I see when I look at the Camerons, Cleggs and Millibands is an almost frightening inexperience. And even if they are intelligent people, and they certainly must have a ruthless cunning, what is intelligence without experience?

The second is that dependency is a state of sin. I have touched on this before. The refrain of the elderly, 'I don't want to be a burden', is a cry of guilt from someone who worries for their children but craves their love and support. I have yet to see any empirical evidence for the much mythologised damage caused by 'dependency culture', but the appalling pain of neglect is evident everywhere.

Instead, I would argue that dependency is a state of virtue. We seek it out, longing for dependents to complete our lives. We form partnerships 'in sickness and in health', we tend gardens that would collapse into wildernesses without our constant care, we keep pets, feed and adopt stray animals, make strong friendships and feel sad when children leave home.

But what of independence? It is liberty, the essence of youth and a joyful escape from constraints. But that too is transitory as we build our own voluntary bonds and slip into dependence on others as others do with us. And that very mutuality makes us happy.

Youth and age, dependence and independence. They are the dialectic of life; unresolvable and inescapable. Our existence is bound by enigma and ambiguity, not brutal clarity. And the mark of a civilised society is one that values it all.

1 comment:

Gwil W said...

Somebody has to sit on the rock and scan the horizon looking out for the smoke signal or the raised cloud of dust. It takes patience. It takes experience. It takes a few wrinkles.