Confucius defined that which separates the civilised from the bestial in the following way:
“Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”
Nowhere is the importance of respect more necessary than when it comes to a society respecting its elders. This takes many forms from the simple and kind, to the contemplative and profound. A society that looks after its elders is one that demonstrates a stoic and thoughtful pride in its own past. Just as great monuments should be preserved rather than demolished and just as old books should be housed in great libraries rather than be thrown on a fire to create warmth in the winter, so too should a society’s greatest resource, its people, be looked after, cherished and honoured in their old age.
In Europe, the much repeated cliche that ‘children are a nation’s future’ has sadly not been balanced by an attitude that respects the elderly as the closest connection that younger generations have with the past of their own culture and the cultures of the wider world. In European societies where the population as a whole is ageing more rapidly than new children are being born – it is all the more important to value the contributions that the elderly have made in order to build countries with relatively high living standards that on the eve of the robotics revolution, no longer require overly large workforces in order to retain prosperity.
This is why it was truly horrifying that the UK newspaper The Guardian published an article with the supremely vulgar and disrespectful headline “On Saturday the UK turns remain. Parliament must force a second referendum“. The article goes on to state that as of this week, “Enough old leavers will have died and enough young remainers will have come on to the electoral register to turn the dial on what the country thinks about Brexit”
Here, the content of the article regarding Britain’s strained attempts to leave the European Union are immaterial, not least because a more sober statistical analysis could have made the same point without painting an entire generation that is slowly taking its final exit from society as surplus to political requirements. The reality is that whilst not all age brings wisdom, unbridled youth tends to be powerful in its propensity towards extremes, while at the very least, age tends to bring a measure of circumspection. Beyond this, as older people have seen more of the world change throughout their lives, their opinions on issues ranging from politics to culture carry a clear weight because as Bob Marley said “If you know your history, Then you would know where you coming from“. Thus, not only does a culture that values its elderly indicates a commitment to social evolution rather than social extremism, but it likewise helps the young and even the middle aged to gain a more rounded perspective on why they arrived at the place where they are today.
It is the older generation whose sacrifices raised, nourished and provided for the young and for this if for no other reason, society’s elders should be forever treasured by future generations, rather than be treated like a mechanical devise whose purpose no longer serves society. This indeed is the difference between the reflexive tendencies of the beast and the civilisational drive of humans.
Perhaps it is the pan-western obsession with youth that makes many of the young and middle aged reticent to acknowledge, let alone honour the elders of society. If old age and death are to be a subject of fear and if fear is to be shunned in the same way that one would run from a slithering serpent, then one can see a clear linkage between an obsession with youth and attitudes of disgust directed towards old age.
A healthy individual is able to treat life and death with equal circumspection and indeed as circumspection is a virtue of the old, it would behove the middle aged of society not to shield the young from this particular virtue that is generally common among the old.
One thing that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has injected into every element of his public life is reason and rationality. Whether discussing how to handle his hysterical opponents or how to handle constitutional reforms, Duterte is often a voice of reason in a sea of hostility. Duterte spoke of death in the following way,
“We’re getting old. Me, they said I am dying, of course I will die someday. There’s no problem with that. Death should not worry anybody. It’s inevitable and it can happen any day so what is there to talk about”.
This is a statement that every person in the world should hear. From young children scared of the dark to an old person scared of the darkness of one’s final years, one should not romanticise death, fear it, nor artificially hasten its arrival. One ought to live a life of personal moderation guided by ethical pragmatism rather than the polar extremes of greed and narcissism or on the other hand the extremes of self-harm and overwrought nihilism.
If more people in countries like Britain were to adopt the mentality of Duterte and take a reasoned approach to the human life cycle, one would not see a perverse obsession with youth which at its most extreme, results in the despicable criminal act of paedophilia. Likewise in a more well rounded society, one would not see the deaths of an older generation tacitly celebrated because it means that some think that the younger generation will move in their particular political direction.