From Wonderful Machine.
There is an idea bouncing around in my head today that require a little more space than a twitter update to explore.
I'm going to do something that is probably in poor taste- I'm going to explore these ideas as they occur to me, without forcing linearity as I've been attempting to do - with mixed success - in my IoM essays.
This thought-web is about our youth obsessed culture. (When I say "our" I specifically mean what's broadly called "Western Culture," though I admit that term is less and less useful especially as various elements of different cultures continue to intermingle on a micro- level. Still, it's all we have, even if I feel a slight pang of guilt every time I use the term, especially in essays intended for print.)
This long tangent aside, it's clearly evident that commercialism has really latched onto the exteriority of
youth. But why? Ours is a culture of the surface level, and of the eye, which only perceives surfaces. (Alan Dundes has an essay about this final observation that I highly recommend, discussion of it would take us further off-topic. Seeing Is Believing is the name of the essay.)
This has produced a simple duality- one is either "young," or "old."
I see this in my own life, almost upon the very stroke of turning thirty. Certainly, my friends mean it partially as a joke, "oh, you're old now!" But there is always some truth, some sublimated observation, hiding underneath such jokes. There is no real possibility for adulthood, for a continuum or gradation of aging. (In a society where most of us live into our 70s, 40 can hardly be considered "old.")
In an exteriorally focused culture, a culture of surfaces, physical material and the sensations provided are valuable. Status is perhaps the most intangible good considered in the most extreme view of consumer culture. However, it is represented best by material goods, the expensive watch, for instance, which signals one ability to buy an unnecessary luxury item to potential mates, but does a whole lot less. (Not that the absence of utility is the only vector to consider such things along- art, too, generally has little practical value.) The sexualization of youth follows a similar line, even as it butts up against the Christian plates of our ideological geography. I am the last to deny there is a certain appeal to the sexual energy of youth (I'm talking about early twenties, you freaks.) However, in the fact that those attributes are the only pattern that sexual attractiveness can adhere to- especially for women- we see the outline of a cultural psychological imbalance.
The values afforded by aging don't fit into this schema of physicality. Though some people do not change with age, merely experiencing the accumulated detriments of their inflexible habits there is also a possibility for increased self knowledge, wisdom. Many traditional cultures revere the elders for this reason, although it is a double-edged sword- the elders are the most likely to strictly enforce the mores of their day, thus creating a certain a-temporal quality in all such cultures that put the elder in exulted positions.
Youthcentrism provides a certain progressive bent. That can't be considered negative, even despite the repurcussions of the myth of progress (one of the ideas I'm exploring in Pretty Suicide Machine.) It is a contributing factor in a growing problem within our culture- generations of manchildren and womenchildren, who latch onto infantalism and all of the negatives that come along with childhood - including a complete lack of regard for repurcussions or whether a decision will actually yield desired results - simply because youth is so exhaulted within our cultural mindset.
The wisdom of aging is traded for the deterioration of the body. Certainly, there are choices we can make to stall this process. But there remains some truth to the saying "youth is wasted on the young." The height of the physical body does not match the height of the spiritual or psychological self. It comes then as no surprise that age should be abhorred so much, especially when considered in concert with the Western fear of death. However, it is our myths that make this process terrifying, and our myths that create the simple duality of "young" and "old."
At 31, I am neither young nor old. I am an adult, finally self-aware enough to begin taking responsibility for my actions, and make decisions with enough experience to be able to better guess the ultimate results of those decisions. This comes along with detriments- I am beginning to see the accumulated results of my habits, and my body is beginning to get less resiliant, (especially in concert with a chronic illness), but I see decisions I can make to begin reversing some of those unwanted results, and can at least take a shot at accomplishing my goals, rather than being lulled into helplessness by the obstacles.
I don't know if I'll actually attain any of my goals. I'm also not sure if it matters. What matters is our choices, not the obstacles that stand in the way. It may be a cliche, but only because it is so often said but rarely heeded. There is no immortal goal, no accomplishment that will long outlive us in a geological or even historical sense. But that isn't what life is about.
What do you think?
(Side note: aging NEVER has to mean losing a sense of play. In fact, it can mean what we want it to mean, aside from the biological necessities and imperatives.)