Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Dusty Rearview Mirror

Yesterday’s post reminded me. The old always bemoan the present. It’s always been so, hasn’t it? O tempora! O mores! The question here is whether that moaning is an indicator of real change or whether it is the consequence, strictly, of aging. If times fall into decadence, other more promising times rise from the shambles; people live through those times too, grow old while the culture is growing, not decaying. Do they still bemoan the present—which then, clearly, is an improvement over the past? I am sure that they do. So whence comes this dark view of the present?

The answer here is probably much more complex than pop-psychology might find. It tends to judge all things by viewing through a lens of egotism. The old are losing energy and wish to be “active” still—a ridiculous simplification much used by advertisers who picturing the aging still kicking ass. The old are by definition have-beens, sidelined, and ignored. They wish to be at the center still; they are not; therefore they view the times when they were as much better. Things change, but people get attached to things, and when they pass, they mourn. Ah, the good-old days when Sears was still Sears. Ssssigh. Hey! Haven’t you been to Costco lately? That sort of thing. And yes. Such things no doubt contribute to that moaning.

Also present here, however, is an objective level. Things do change, of course, but not always uniformly for the better. The physical environment may improve, but values may be lost. In the sacred past the passing of which is now bemoaned, physical conditions may have been a lot worse, but the values were more honored. The paradox is that they were honored because the physical was much more difficult. Alternatively, the physical situation has deteriorated; and in response values are now being cultivated. And the old person is reacting to the stresses of the physical. This tends to be the case in times of cultural growth. The decay of values is the worse of the two, but careful distinctions between the two are not always evident in the moaning.

Lastly—but to understand this you have to be genuinely old yourself—knowledge has slowly accumulated to show, rather clearly, exactly what kind of realm we inhabit in what the old, certainly, always think of as the valley of the shadow of death. For them that shadow has grown looong. That sort of thought is not exactly common-place, but may be intuitively felt. And the moaning then is a kind of projection to the present. To test it, close, detailed study of those glorious by-gone times we of the doddering generation like to sigh over is highly recommended. On such close inspection they turn out to be just as awful as the present. No wonder grandpa was always on and on and on…


  1. Goodness... a provocative post. Mostly, it proves that we are capable of testing our own judgments and opinions to try and see what all is influencing them... or at least try to do so.

    By the way, I have always loved that Sufi story you mention in the last post. And, it has resonated many times in my life, already!

  2. An interesting discussion, and I am pondering it.

    The original quote from "De L'inconvénient d'être Né" says "Happy moment! when there was still somewhere to flee..." rather than the indicated "somewhere to go..."
    You capture that by your mention of "flight"

    The original also uses "desert" in the sense of "sanctuary" in the sense of a sanctuary for an ascetic or hermit who seeks to escape from society (like St. Anthony), rather than "desert" as a general term for desolation.
    Desert is filled with spiritual potential, so it seems.

    I have read a good deal of Idries Shah (on Sufism and the Mullah Nasruddin), and I find his take on the story of the water to be curiously one sided, and seems to say that one should join into the general madness.
    I am very perplexed by this, but the quote on The SPiritual Forum from Idries Shah does state

    "I found this story very interesting, it made me think about, how we deal with problems in life."

    and it sounds (to me at first and second reading) as more self-help than Sufism.
    I mean, it could very easily be interpreted as "The Man Who Lost A Precious Treasure"; i.e., he forgets about his own special water and joins into the new flow of affairs.

    This aspect indicates that your post means to tell me to look about and see what my "special water" actually is, and all my "kvetching" about the indignities of great age is a misplaced desire to drink the general mad waters of youth.
    Of course, "special water" and "flight to the desert" seem to be parallel metaphors for some spiritual thing.

    I only have observations. I do not think I ever thought about age quite this way before.

  3. Thanks, Montag. Interesting takes here. However, I resist the suggestion that I am instructing anybody to do anything ("your post means to tell me..."). Beyond my pay-grade. I pointed to the water story merely to give another example of "madness everywhere." The quote on the referenced site, all the words under the Idries Shah signature line, is the commentary of the lady who posted the story.

  4. I see. That does make a difference; a rather large one.

  5. I do not mean to demean the lady's commentary, not one bit. I only mean to point out that it seemed to me to be very un-Idries Shah-like, and it surprised me.

  6. Yes, of course, Montag. The lady's comments puzzled me too. I went and looked up the original presentation. No comment there of any sort.


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