Let’s Hear It For Balthasar Castilio

One of the great demographic trends of our epoch is delayed marriage, with couples embarking on parenthood in what would previously have been considered middle age. Because of the immense self-love of the parents involved, it has proven very hard to criticise this development. The 40-somethings immediately scream that we are “stigmatising” them as well as denying their freedoms. Concomitantly, nobody has a good word to say about teenage mothers; that is, about women beginning to reproduce at the same age as the vast majority of humanity through history. Against this brute fact of chronological age is objected that modern teenagers are less mature than the aeons of young mothers behind us; this is probably true, though it is remarkable that the objectors never seem to ask themselves why this might be or suggest remedies. It may also be the case that people are psychologically more youthful at 40 than they used to be. And yet we may suspect that the cultural malleability of the biological processes of ageing is something less than infinite.

It may then be time to recover the wisdom of the entire human race prior to our own navel-gazing era, namely that it is better to be the child of young parents. We have become accustomed to think of senescence in purely physical terms, or at best in physico-mental terms, but there is such a thing as emotional senescence too, with which our ancestors were very well acquainted. Robert Burton, for example, quotes Cicero as labelling old men “suspicious, wayward, covetous, hard”, and one Balthasar Castilio as calling old men “self-willed, superstitious, self-conceited, braggers and admirers of themselves”.

As the child of middle-aged parents myself, I can vouch for the latter. Young people may be self-absorbed, but there is no self-admiration like unto the self-admiration of the old. It is the last thing to go; as with the Cheshire Cat, all other qualities may fade, leaving self-admiration suspended in the air. Naturally we hear more about the wisdom of the old and the narcissism of the young; for it is the narcissistic old who are writing the books.

In the old days, a parent had a certain chance of having their self-love knocked out of them by breeding young and then seeing what a terrible mess they had made of their children. This is why grandparents were often wiser than parents and with any luck took over the rearing of their grandchildren; they now knew what to avoid. When, however, you start breeding at 40, by the time your children have revealed what a mess they are, you are now in your sixties and subject to physiological processes of mental ossification and decay that prevent you learning anything from the experience or engaging in any self-criticism. In most cases there is nothing left but querulous self-love railing at the impudence of the world, everything always being the fault of everybody else.

The revolting moral decay that afflicts us with age is in itself a good reason to die young and not to inflict our senescent selves on our fellows. Failing that, it is the best of reasons to encourage teenage motherhood.

Posted on August 13, 2011 at 14:27 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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  1. Written by Mick Whitehead
    on August 14, 2011 at 11:49

    Yes! As Nietzsche said, ‘die at the right time.’ It seems the tipping point comes when one realizes there is but a single road ahead, the one to being dead for an infinite period of time.

    ‘When we are young,’ Schopenhauer notes, ‘people can tell us whatever they want.’ There are many paths open to the young, many possibilities. One by one these vanish leaving only a trench pointing straight ahead.

    This ‘hardening’ that starts in middle age can come on slowly–the first gray hair, a wrinkle, or overnight with a serious medical problem. Everyone knows people die, but with the above-mentioned situations things change. One understands, as Heidegger says, ‘I WILL DIE!’

    After that point, it seems, a majority of people are interested in nothing that does not involve their personal survival.

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