Winter has already arrived here in the NorthWET, bringing days of steady rain and a desire to crawl back into bed, crank up the mattress warmer, and hibernate for the next seven months.
This was one of those years when we never really got a summer; those happen about every fifth year and turn the supposedly changing seasons into one endless, multi-year gloom. During the few rare pleasant days I was mostly hustling to get walls walled and plants planted and forgot to enjoy myself.
Still, the rain’s bound to make the newly planted grass happy, and it’s the price we pay for living in a green and blue wonderland. And I’m optimistic that I’ll feel alive, awake, and warm again sometime before next April. Briefly, perhaps. But that’ll be a day to look forward to.
Meanwhile, I think gloomy thoughts …
A friend and I were having a discussion about wise women and wise men — not just invividuals who’ve achieved personal wisdom (though thank heaven there are a fair number of those), but tribal elders, if you will. The sort of individuals who’ve lived long enough and learned enough to be valued by others for their cumulative life wisdom and ability to guide rising generations.
We tried to think whether we have any such people here in what’s left of Western civilization. My friend proposed Jordan Peterson as an acknowledged wise man. I came up with Camille Paglia as a wise woman. But given how much Peterson is loathed by the Twitterati and how Paglia has faded from view, not risen into greater prominence, I doubt either of us felt confident in our choice.
Of course, select tribes still have their wise elders. Orthodox Jews revere certain rabbis, living and dead, as wise ones. Some even view particular individuals as lamed vavniks, men of such rare holiness that they constitute the only reason G-d allows the world’s continued existence. Some Nobel Prize winners seem automatically rise to “elder” status. And plenty of professions have their equivalent of elders — men (nearly always men) so formidable, brilliant, experienced, and untouchable that their word is law. Until some rowdy group of youngsters overthrows them. Extended families may have the occasional wise woman.
But as a culture or a nation or association of nations, we of the West have no tribal elders.
In some ways, that’s good. Tribes tend to be not only insular, but static. Revered elders live amid tradition and enforce the status quo. They keep things churning along as they always have — same styles of art, same familial relationships, same hunting methods, same village governance, same foods, same methods of warfare, same social hierarchies.
Can you imagine many of us Westerners responding positively to somebody whose consistent message is, “That’s the way we’ve always done it, so that’s the way it should always be”?
Ha! We’d say, “Eff that, old man!” and storm off to invent something new or try some radically different way of living or thinking. The fact that many of our efforts culminate in personal disaster is a mere side-effect of living in a world that boils with creativity, innovation, and growth. A world alive with unprecedented freedom and opportunity.
Tribal elders? Who has time for ’em? Who has need?
Yet tribal elders also ensure that important principles and important learnings of a culture aren’t forgotten. In that sense, our lack of them is sad — and likely to become a cultural tragedy.
My friend pointed out that one (of many) damaging characteristics of the Roman Empire in the days of its fall was disregard for elders and their value in society. And with us, contempt for flawed Dead White Men as well as live ones — including revered elders from ancient Athens to the founding of the U.S. — goes hand-in-hand with contempt for the principles they promulgated and represented — principles without which civilization as we know it (or as we desire it) can’t long stand.
And then there is the simple, personal sadness of a culture that rejects the value of a large segment its population. (But on the other hand, who needs a bunch of old stuck-in-the-past bores feeling entitled to tell the rest of the population how things ought to be?)
Take my position apart here, readers. Name the contemporary wise men and women my friend and I missed. Or say why the entire concept of wise elders is bogus, unnecessary, or even harmful. Point out what we have that serves instead of elders (though please, not movie stars, sports figures, and 30-year-old tech billionaires). Assure your fellow Living Freedom readers that our world is better off without the backward drag of tradition and principle as expressed by wrinkled old folks. Tell me how all that old stuff just gets in the way of a society that’s designed to be dynamic and growing. Explain how the collective knowledge of the Internet is a more powerful force for good than the elitist understanding of the allegedly wise. Kick the concept of wisdom, or of elders, to the curb.
It would be a great comfort to be wrong.