Every time I go out into our world, it looks older and more unwell. Why? Sometimes I wonder whether it isn't just my own vision that's changed: the more time I spend in my wilderness among vibrant animal life, the more tired and half-dead the human world appears. But I prefer to believe that the respite from constant exposure has granted me a little perspective: I believe I'm seeing something all of us already know.
The firstworld is aging: there is the raw demographic fact of the swell of babyboomers reaching their 70s. The firstworld is unwell: there is the raw physiological fact that chronic illness gets worse and more common every day. But even these facts do not account for what I see: the spirit of decrepitude grows more bold. What defines this spirit? Greed, envy, malice, hunger for pity, an aggressively unwell attitude, petty witchcraft, ill-will: hostility to youth and health.
What has been inflicted upon children in the last few years in the name of "saving lives", is exhibit A: there are actually a great many forces in our world which would like to inflict upon the young a kind of premature old age, a biological poisoning, a suffocation of their right to be children. That millions of healthy kids were muzzled and filled with experimental gene therapies, that their very bodies were exploited as the ceremonial grounds of a mass hysteria and political paroxysm - is surely reason enough to risk a serious diagnosis. Yet again, we must suspend our moral timidities and attempt to tell the truth. Telling timid lies and "hoping for the best", is an attitude of complicity. It is not perpetration, but complicity which makes mass crimes possible.
Several factors contribute to the current spiritual and physical burden of the elderly:
- The baby boom. The fact of demographic unbalance.
- Technologies of longevity. More and more, it's possible to extend a life without the slightest consideration to the idea that it might not be a good idea.
- The increase of capital gains versus the value of income. Once rich, it's easier than ever to remain rich. Since the late 1970s, income purchasing power is lower every year - meaning that young people, despite their high productivity, are less rewarded than the old with their accumulated wealth. Combined with longer lifespans, this means wealth is hoarded at the far tail end of age and inheritance may not happen until long after it might be useful. Many will not see their inheritance until they themselves are elderly, and even then it will have been squandered on enriching the increasingly lucrative biomedical industries, which have every reason to discourage "death with dignity" and encourage the moral timidity surrounding the question.
- Dissolution of familial bonds. Social and geographical mobility undermines the role of grandparents as secondary childcare: they provide no useful service.
- Knowledge obsolescence and wisdom extinction. Our elders generally know nothing worth knowing in any economic sense: this only becomes more acute the further into a realized Information Age and total service economy we proceed. In addition, the consumerist self-indulgence of the babyboomer generation, combined with the unprecedented ease of their prosperity, has rendered them spiritually null: they have no wisdom to impart.
- The epidemic of alienation. Social isolation and accelerating reliance on the Internet for social bonds leaves the elderly more stranded than ever. They are therefore more desperate and resentful than ever.
- Shopping as consolation: the more expendable funds are utilized to fend off the eternal attack of loneliness and despair, the more the old become a nuisance in public spaces - which in our world is largely the space of consumption. Repeatedly driving to and from the store to purchase a handful of unnecessary crap, parading around parking lots alone, dwarfed by one's oversized vehicle like the inversion of a clown car - six thousand pounds of painted steel encasing an old lady out looking for revenge and a morsel of attention - this is a familiar blighting sight to anyone capable of observation.
- The indulgence and spoiling of the young: due to the misplaced and botched attempts of my generation to raise their kids according to a half-therapized vision of emotional justice, children are taught less respect of elders than ever. This combines with the fact that these elders deserve less respect than ever, to produce a growing but unarticulated hostility between the two.
- Exploitation of the morality of compassion. As the familial bonds which once protected the old weaken, and as they become more glaringly useless, numerous, and in the way, they resort unconsciously to an appeal to the compassion of strangers: every year we find ourselves more beset by other people's neglected grandparents - like pigeons in the park, the merest act of attention and empathy will attract a small crowd...
- Premature aging. As the physical differences between the young and old diminish, as the age of the onset of chronic illness steadily drops, as the physicality of our lives in general diminishes in scope and intensity, as our work and prosperity depends less and less on the strength of the body, the old feel more emboldened relative to the young: exploitation of the doctrine of equality. We are all equally useless and laughable. An old woman can sloppily drive an SUV and write passive-aggressive emails just as well as a 24 year-old man.
The babyboomer generation of the firstworld has benefited from the economic accident of the peak exploitation of fossil fuels and all the low-hanging fruit entailed by postwar economies, more than any other generation ever will. The period between 1950 and roughly 1980 was the easiest time to establish a base of wealth: they are the first and last of the true middle class. Wage has not kept pace with inflation, and wealth sequestration only gets more extreme every year. Simply put, they are spoilt and self-important: there will perhaps not be a more shamelessly materialistic and conspicuously consuming generation within this century. For example, ever noticed how babyboomers enjoy plastic waste? How they love to fill up garbage bags with plastic water bottles and single-serving coffee cartridges because it makes them feel important?
Partly, their parents spoilt them: those who lived through the Great Depression definitely made the mistake of throwing too much wealth and ease at their children in compensation. Partly, they just benefited from one of the best times to party and act out: the hippies never meant anything they said - in the end they generally chose to live much more wastefully and indulgently than their parents.
Because I strive to take prehistory seriously, I'm always seeking to deepen my anthropological perspective. Lately I've been appreciating Asen Balikci's classic, The Netsilik Eskimo. What I find, is that due to the nearly unlivable conditions in which these people lived, their ethnographic profile aptly demonstrates the core human technological package: they had to rely on the fundamentals of human adaptation, or die. Collaborative and independent hunting, toolcraft, skincraft, dogs. Wood, bone, stone, and sinew. Nothing extraneous remains. For example, marriage is an institution but possesses an almost postmodern flexibility, and there is no unnecessary filigree: to get married, the young girl just packs up her belongings and moves in. While I sympathize with the Boasian reaction to premature Frazerian generalizations about "the primitive", I do find that without stupid racist agendas it's actually quite obvious what remains common to homo sapiens: unearthing this core and illuminating its psychological persistence, is one of my longer goals.
And for our current purposes, learning to gaze into the murky looking glass of prehistorical record, into prehistorical instinct, is part of my method: else we are comparing degeneracy with degeneracy, maladaptation with maladaptation, senility with senility. Post-agricultural civilization is perforated by renaissance, not defined by it. Human health and civilizational forces are antagonists, not allies. We are only as young as we are uncivilized.
Avarice is the vice of the old. Confucius laid it out for us:
There are three things the gentleman should beware of: in youth when the energy is unsettled, beware of sensuality. In your prime when your energy becomes unyielding, beware of bellicosity. In old age when the energy declines, beware of greed.
Why does an old man become greedy? Obviously there is some adaptive value, in that he's attempting to prepare for the time when he can no longer acquire anything. But why is the threat so much greater now? Because the wealth of the earth has been sequestered. In our nomadic past and thus for 99% of our existence, there were three primary forms of wealth:
Children. Healthy progeny was always the first and foremost retirement fund.
Knowledge. To become a storehouse of valuable experience, ensured that the young would come to you for advice. Among the Netsilik, the eldest functioning hunter was called inhumataq, "the one who thinks".
Honor. To acquire reputation through many services to the tribe in hunting, war, and hardship, ensured that you would not be easily forgotten. Formal hunting alliances are also a form of wealth conditioned by honor, and according to Netsilik tradition were also heritable.
Everything else, including weapons and tools and tents and dogs and clothes, were expendable and replaced often. Wives were not exactly wealth, but a form of investment: offspring was the dividend.
This is the man's perspective. And what about women? Actually almost the same: a good husband is a cash machine, and meat and skins were cash. But it's always in the form of children that wealth is realized. It was common for the Netsilik aging woman to adopt orphans and unwanted children, calling them a "walking stick" for her future.
And as the knowledge of hunting grounds and seasonal variation and toolcraft was the man's secondary retirement fund, herbal lore and skincraft were the old woman's specialties.
The old of the tribe are supposed to be a vital link in the chain, a chain that remained unbroken for at least 400,000 years. They are supposed to be the deep wells of knowing, where one goes to hear echoes of the ancestor's voices, to learn the impossibly ancient songs... But that time is gone: can you understand this? Can you allow yourself to feel that loss? Are we sure we're on the road of progress?
So why do our old become so greedy? Why are the babyboomers in particular so insufferably materialistic? Because there is no legacy. With the final dissolution of even those post-Axial Age religious loyalties which were designed to replace and contain the divisive forces of modernity, and the gradual achievement of a Foucaultian architecture of atomic interchangeable individuals unrooted to anything but momentary political advantage, there is no legacy. Babyboomers have no faith in the cultural longevity to which they are supposed to belong, because they helped destroy it. Because the chain is more broken now than perhaps ever: even the nuclear family, the last vestige of tribal life in the midst of civilizational tensions, is finally eroding. Even gender itself is eroding. Many of the best of us choose not to have children at all: what clearer sign of a dying race than this?
Let it die. European culture wants to die: so be it! I don't suffer from intractable alarmism: there are many other unforeseen peoples and cultures yet to take shape. An inexhaustible magma of cultural invention lies just below the surface of this too-visible rot. The sooner it drowns itself beneath its moral posturing, technocratic suicide, and idiotic fantasies of the "end of gender" and socialist-mediated genetically engineered dystopia, the sooner will the next human renaissance begin.
The plague of the old is primarily a spiritual crisis, and not at all a mere demographic accident. Our contempt should not be mistaken for an adolescent inability to appreciate the gifts of age: actually my generation is ravenous for wisdom, and some of the best of my onetime peers have lost their way precisely because of this eagerness to humble themselves before the promise of superior experience and knowledge - they would not guess that there was nothing to be gained, that they already knew more than their teachers, that the well is dry.
The well is dry: but not because it has been drained. Because the water moved elsewhere. The landscape shifted: the babyboomer generation upon which I feel free to heap so much contempt, lost its way because it failed to integrate and overcome its own challenges - challenges which were primarily conditioned by unprecedented privilege... That this is any great divergence from previous generations is certainly not true - we are only waking up inside the great sinking ship of Western history, which is itself only tossing fitfully within the storm of post-agricultural civilization - yet I do feel confident that in this moment, we are at least glimpsing something characteristic of how and why human cultures age: the average of decrepitude rises, until a threshold is reached in which it suddenly seems that the prematurely old and chronically ill outnumber the young and healthy.
They are innocent. Of course no one in particular is to blame: we're talking about tidal historical forces, in which personal responsibility is at best a useful illusion, along with any generational unity - I use the "babyboomer" designation as merely a teaching aid. Yet they are what they are: everyone's essential innocence relative to the leviathans of history and civilization, does not negate fundamental judgments about viability and worth - contradicting such judgments in the name of compassion can seriously endanger one's health and chances for health.
My goal is to demonstrate to the hopeful reader how telling these truths is possible, without resorting to ugly attitudes or a falsified certainty about solutions. It should be possible to read all this and agree with every word, and still like yourself as much or more at the end of it. Your guilty conscience for having quietly thought much the same thing already, is to be addressed directly. The first step however, is to carefully identify every evasive maneuver you have been tempted to mimic: namely moral posturing, which in this case would feign some certainty in the inviolable and incommensurate value of every human life, no matter what they do or fail to do. To say, "there are too many people around who contribute nothing to the young and the future, because they never became anything worthwhile" - is already too direct a challenge to the religiously conditioned doctrine of equality, which would forbid that we make these judgments explicitly, and prefer that we hide our valuations of human worth behind other masks. The primary hypocrisy at work here, is that moral posturing of this kind is concerned most of all with unarticulated criteria of group exclusion: to avoid being the victim of the ugly bigotry of a frightened group, each one of us has dabbled in redirecting that ugly bigotry upon ready targets. Much of my vocation is to make a target of myself, and by allowing this projection to proceed in controlled isolation, demonstrate both its mechanics and the kind of immunity possible to develop against it. Primarily we're talking about the ability not to react: it is the reaction to the threat of exclusion which inspires false moral attitudes, which then propagate through the community by virtue of inspiring a heightened atmosphere of terror. A false moral attitude is what one uses, immediately before committing something one does not otherwise have the stomach for: group complicity is the first and last defense of the violent but cowardly ape.
Not to react - because actually the more honest responses we're looking for are already present: disgust is healthy, contempt is healthy, the prioritization of the young is healthy. The problem is that these instinctual responses are not allowed to develop, but smothered beneath both the anxiety of being discovered in the wrong alignment relative to group consensus, and intellectually negated by the insistence that some ideal solution be immediately discovered: repressive momenta which are the seeds of mass hysteria. The more we cannot afford honest healthy responses to unhealthy conditions, the more likely hysterical displacement becomes - and hysterical displacement is the medium through which protofascist politics achieve realization.
From the "phylopsychological" perspective, the function of an exaggerated moral attitude is firstly to provoke your rivals into action while the atmosphere of terror persists; secondly to create opportunities for political power via the urgency of persecuting these rivals; and thirdly to accomplish much of the violence which was originally desired both via this persecution and via the collateral damage of their own defense. A great deal of what characterizes the contemporary "left", is the art of provoking the "right" into assuming and acting out repressed impulses: an army of ugly idiots who say and do what we have forbidden ourselves and desire all the more.
Care for the old is an analogous extension of care for the young, which forms the core of the vertebrate capacity for what is questionably termed "altruism", since it's driven ultimately by kin selection. The elderly become the infantile: and in place of our hopes for the future we feel our gratitude and attachment to those who once cared for us. The Netsilik use the same kinship term for great-great-grandparent as they do for great-great-grandchild: the circle of relations closes, one ends where one began. This is a glimpse at the healthy human core as it has existed for 2 million years, with relative uniformity across cultures: the anthropologists report a surprising degree of uniformity in the kinship structures and tribal protocols regarding the concentric circles of relatedness - but since this is all genetically determined, with precise average ratios of relatedness, it's not surprising after all.
In other words, contravening our natural tendency to care for our own should not be taken lightly, whether young or old. But we live rather in a tribeless age in which everyone and no one belongs, in which everyone and no one is your ill-defined kin. And more often than not, even the closest kin tend to fail basic tests of loyalty: contributing factors are not only the lack of explicit tribe, but economic independence, social and geographic mobility, along with the sense that other more useful group loyalties have ascendancy - such as political alignment, and even the vagaries of social media credit is now enough to compete with the much weakened modern family. Internet-mediated sociality is just one more worm in this rotting edifice.
One of the most pernicious aspects of the modern firstworld family, is the way that reckless inclusion is employed as a means of diluting the tribal factors of exclusion, in order to soften its borders and thus permit more bad behavior... Most babyboomers I know, have been quietly setting up weakened family standards of behavior, so that they may regress and act out in their retirement as much as possible...
Suppressing our own compassion, which is as healthy a tribal function as any other, has been painful. It might be easy for loitering scoffers to imagine that someone like myself is unfamiliar or unpracticed in the arts of compassion: yet a complication in my message is that the years I spent tending to the psychological wounds of some of the most hopeless cases in our world - life histories which would make most of our safeguarded middle class woes blush - I would never consider regretting. Confrontation with a little genuine hardship is a warrior's drink. But if I had continued, it would have destroyed me - or at least encouraged the formation of that impenetrable armor which makes most psychotherapists so useless at best and dangerous at worst.
In our sad struggle with compulsive compassion, we're not talking about care for a beloved faithful mother, or sitting with grandfather near the fire listening to his stories of wisdom and wit - we're talking about forever nursing the bereft, those who are afraid to die because they were even more afraid to live. Those who are so insatiably greedy for any reprieve from their own failures that they will endanger the future of humanity itself: those who perpetrated the worst of COVID were not actually the terribly old in body, but the decrepit in spirit. This increasingly bold hostility to youth and health must be confronted directly, without taking leave from the shackles it would impose on us first: that we forever prove and reprove our innocence before we gain the right to question the authority of this sham court... To take merely one example: why is it that I seem to be alone, in pointing out the unthinkable hypocrisy of frittering away at least a trillion dollars in COVID lockdown nonsense, making worried faces of "compassion" and a great show of concern for the wealthy 80 year-olds dying "from" COVID, while there are millions upon millions of children on this earth who contract HIV from their own mothers, from the water they drink, from having been born - that there are millions of children who die from diarrhea, from neglect, from squalor? That there are places where leprosy is still a serious problem, where malaria rages every year infecting hundreds of millions... Does this begin to make our moral timidities seem absurd? Never for once doubt, that the moral actor is a well-practiced liar: there is always an angle from which to reveal his essential contradictions - because otherwise he would not need his elaborate disguise.
We modern men, so delicate, so vulnerable, giving and taking a hundred considerations, we imagine that the delicate humanity we represent, this achieved unanimity in forbearance, in helpfulness, in mutual trust, is a positive progress that places us far beyond the men of the Renaissance. But every age thinks so, it must think so. What's certain, is that we would not dare to place ourselves in Renaissance circumstances, or even imagine them: our nerves could not endure that reality, not to speak of our muscles. This incapacity however demonstrates no progress, but a only different, more belated constitution, a weaker, more delicate, more vulnerable one, out of which is necessarily engendered a morality full of consideration. If we think away our delicacy and belatedness, our physiological aging, then our morality of "humanization" also loses its value at once - no morality has any value in itself - : we would even despite it. On the other hand, let's not doubt that we moderns, with our thick padding of humanity which dislikes to bump against any objection, would provide the contemporaries of Cesare Borgia with a side-splitting comedy. We are in fact involuntarily funny beyond all measure, we with our modern "virtues"... The decay of our hostile and mistrust-arousing instincts - and that is what constitutes our "progress" - represents only one of the effects attending our general decay of vitality: it costs a hundred times more effort, more foresight, to cultivate such a dependent and late an existence. Here everyone helps everyone else, here everyone is to a certain degree an invalid and everyone a nurse. This is then called "virtue" - : among men who knew a different kind of life, a fuller, more prodigal, more overflowing life, it would be called something else: "cowardice" perhaps, "pathetic", "old woman's morality"...
Nietzsche, Götzendämmerung, 9.37
We're unwittingly funny, with our delicate sensibilities, our carefully balanced accounts of minor trespass and preemptive apologetics like an overworked waiter in a street café balances too many dirty dishes and customers at once - I'm unwittingly funny, with my attempts to absolve myself and appease my resurgent conscience, with my attempts to console us all with tales of a longlost tribal wholesomeness to which we quietly fantasize we personally could return one day... Or do we fantasize that we're already there? That you and I represent, with our gleaming pulsating intellectual life, with our proudly displayed scientifically acquired trophies of hearsay, anything like a culmination of human potential? Laughable, ridiculous, clownish: the best way out of these labyrinthine fingerpuzzles of moral tendernesses, these pathetic rivalries for the Champion of Correctness, the Princedom of Never-Having-Hurt-Anyone - is laughter at ourselves. That the "right answer" for all humanity for all time, could ever possibly be generated by creatures as universally frail and ill as we are, is preposterous: has it ever occurred to a smug moral preacher to ask whether he really has a right to ask anything at all, but how to feel a little less wretched today?
Disgust and compassion are intimately related: thus it is a serious and suspicious error to confuse the love of our own children with some blandished sociologically self-conscious "altruism"... It is one of the primary patterns of camouflage of the vicious moralist we should be familiar with, this "universal love". To turn disgust into pity, is something we are extremely adept at, without recognizing how important the ingredient of disgust is in this recipe: modern compassion-morality is largely the poisoncraft of the disgusting, who find - or manufacture - more pitiable sights than themselves. To feel superior to something, someone, anyone: as I've said before, there's an enormous contribution of Schadenfreude in all arts of compassion... To watch something writhe under the bright light of pity, to play with one's spiritual food: if it weren't for the repulsive moral mien these types find so necessary, their blank-eyed cruelty might begin to look sufficiently arachnid to find its way back to respectability.
Your guilty conscience concerning your scorn and indifference to the old and unwell must be confronted: but unraveling this tangled snare requires a reeducation about the meaning of guilt. Guilt is a relatively unstable emotional complexity, relatively new in the hierarchy of physiological response, and only necessitated by tribal life: in other words, an instinctual novelty for apenature. Guilt is preconditioned by frustrated instinct: it arises in no other context. Guilt is the affective result of repressed impulses and incoherent structures of behavior, around which a "fault" is woven as cause: animistic thinking regarding trespass and guilt, taboo and punishment, is almost universal in the human adaptive package. Thus guilt is part of the mythopoetic technological complex, as innate and inevitable as spirits, gods, ceremony. That guilt is animistic and thus projective in function should not however instigate a preemptive dismissal of its means and ends: it is a social signal of disfunction, as vital a signal as anxiety, which have their functional value in modifying tribal behavior towards a more adaptive milieu. Guilt and anxiety are feedback signals which prepare the tribe for change, which disrupt and undermine behavioral expectations, and which necessitate therefore either contained ceremonial attack or radical social alteration. A guilty conscience is a symptom of frustrated instinct, and self-awareness is one of its byproducts: as I've shown before, our much-fondled "consciousness" is actually a secondary product of the arrest of instinctual algorithmic process. Becoming aware of oneself, embarrassed, stopped in one's tracks, suddenly unsure, suddenly clumsy, suddenly reflective: guilt is not primarily about ensuring social conformity and the guardian of "altruism", as the evolutionary psychologists all thoughtlessly assume. Most of the episodic guilt we experience is actually a symbolic breakthrough of the ubiquitous guilt entailed by frustration: most violations are performed in order to relieve this same condition - but afterward we say we are guilty "because" of this violation, when the reality is reversed. The function of guilt therefore is to subtly alter the emotional fabric of the tribe, such that the threshold for change is lowered - sometimes destructive, sometimes constructive: a change in locale, a change of leadership, a split or reunion of the tribe, an act of revenge - the ancients were as likely to feel guilty for not exacting revenge, as we are for wanting it.
Guilt is caused by angry spirits: among many other things, these evolutionary psychologists are ignorant of the meaning of spirit, which we should understand as an affect belonging to the group, a nonlinear response for which it is impossible to assign unique responsibility. But then again, almost no one has asked themselves what the function of emotion is: which in my terms is the preparatory lowering of a threshold for a conditioned instinctual response. Thus when an angry spirit requires propitiation, we translate this into our language as "the group requires an alteration of priorities", because its members are experiencing too much frustration to be optimally functional. We are thereby a step closer to appreciating the mystery of psychosomatic illness: in traditional contexts, all illness that does not have immediate and obvious natural causes, like a snake bite or a broken ankle - is caused by angry spirits and requires the tribe's attention. Guilt is psychosomatic: you are guilty because our priorities are fucked up, not because you are "wrong".
It's important not to confuse the wishful dogma regarding our "moral sentiments", such as has been taught since late antiquity, updated by Kant and the 19th century English utilitarians, and lately gussied up in the shallow reasoning of evolutionary psychologists, as proof of an innate rationale of altruism guiding us toward righteousness... Actually the distribution of the guilty conscience could hardly be less equitable: real perpetrators almost never feel guilt. At most, they fear group expulsion and reprisal: this anxiety is often enough considered proof of remorse. Meanwhile those who suffer most acutely from guilt, are almost always some perverse Kierkegaardian golem of penitence, whose only crime is having learned to feed on his own ecstasies of self-inflicted pain. But the majority of us modern types are merely frustrated, irritable, and looking for someone to blame: that we occasionally run out of targets other than ourselves, is just an accident of carelessness and temporary scarcity. The ubiquitous guilty feeling of modernity, is not due to injustice nor our fine sensitivity to injustice: it's a consequence of cagey irritability, which is a consequence of living in a cage.
Confronted with the wretchedly old and unwell, we're embarrassed: it's embarrassing to realize the futility of their lives, the sad sputtering end... It taxes the sense of the worthiness of living, seeing such sights, smelling such smells: Prince Siddhartha was correct thus far. We're embarrassed for them, we're embarrassed of our own disgust, but probably most profoundly we're embarrassed by the failure of the human community. Let not this shame be transformed into self-glorifying pity: our rescue does not lie in indulging our own addiction to pity and competing with one another to appear most blameless. Our shame is functional: it's shameful, to have wasted the opportunities of a firstworld life, to merely grow greedy and spiritually wicked, to contribute to the global pandemic of chronic illness, to demand more longevity even as the human race smothers the biodiversity of this planet.
I want the reader to notice that my insistence on dealing with the problem of age as a spiritual problem, is not merely a Romantic cop-out - as a means of avoiding the implications of a fascist genocidal campaign - something which modern people very suspiciously are always ready to suspect. The spirit of decrepitude has always been with us: we have long since invented many ways to deal with recurrent spirits, which require their place in the animistic pantheon. Making a mask to capture its essence, dancing in its honor and thus calling that spirit forth, contains its effect on the wider community: this is what "propitiation" means. Witchcraft must be combated but can no more be eliminated than illness: the avaricious old man, the blood-hungry envious old woman, must be given their place but clearly dealt with - that's the consensus of almost every culture which deals effectively with spiritual roguery. Even as late as Christian Europe, "Belschnickel" persists as the embodiment of the slightly dangerous, perverted old fart who is a little too eager to attract children with candy: once you gain an eye for such masks, you realize how widespread they really are. Therefore all that's really required of us as a dramatic first step, is that we identify the spirit of decrepitude: dealing with it once it's identified, will come naturally. Most of the point of anthropomorphizing what we might in scientific language call behavioral proclivities or "affective thresholds", is to learn to relate to something otherwise intangible: exploitation of our almost infinite capacity for subtle personal relationship in order to gain strategic advantage over the elements of decadence in the tribe, which will otherwise ruthlessly exploit our hesitancies regarding "spirits" which no one is really responsible for, is almost the definition of animism. The spirit is responsible for itself: that's not merely a "primitive" accounting trick, it's the more accurate assessment of the plurality of soul which the human creature really is.
To give an example of the kind of incremental physiological change I'm talking about, I saw the other day a pair of young truckers at a gas station, the shape and demeanor of which was a kind of wakeup call. They lacked the classic North American trucker physique, along with the expected attitudes. Rather than the once customary paunch and skinny legs, cigarette hanging from the lip and a hard look in the eye, they were pudgy and soft, with large womany asses and obvious endocrine disruption - like an obese child with a disturbing fat distribution pattern. As amphibians are more vulnerable to toxic accumulation and thus act as an ecological bellwether, I expect that the trucker is more exposed to fluctuations in diet and narcotica: where once was grease, nicotine, and amphetamines, there is sugar, smartphones, and antidepressants.
But what is true of their microbiota, is true of their "psychocosmetics": their talk was not gruff and terse, but had the emotional maturity of middle-school boys. There is a hybridization and meeting of extremes occurring - gradually, imperceptibly to most of you - between the old woman and the adolescent: the body of an old woman and the shallow impudence of a spoilt boy.
What is the ugly response? It's physiological, make no mistake. Not at all merely culturally determined, and not even "merely" physiological: it's as holistic and immediate a judgment as any judgment perhaps can be. More immediate than "bad", much more immediate and unavoidable than "false": aesthetic judgments are not what was once called "synthetic", to borrow a Kantian term.
What is ugly is bad for us: not to be eaten, not to be dwelled in or among, not to be mated, not to be allowed to consume resources. There are many kinds of ugliness: the first case is a marker of genetic fitness. What is beautiful is well-formed, ripe, functional. But there is also ugliness of attitude and behavior, which reveals the history of the organism and its likely future behavior: greed, pettiness, bigotry, self-loathing, and so on, are all aesthetic judgments about the value of an individual to the tribe. Will this woman make a caring mother? Will this man provide? Will this woman share her food? Will this man betray us?
The hag is ugly: she has outlived her fertility and has nothing more to offer anyone, because she failed to develop into something which might edify the community. The old fart is beneath notice: because he has outlived his strength, and failed to develop into anything which might educate the young. These are the judgments we make, whether we are now willing to acknowledge them or not: even spelling them out is not easy on our delicate moral sensibilities. But we must not allow our delicacy to make us stupid: that too, is geriatric morality. That too, is hostility to youth in the guise of moral superiority.
Do not doubt that the old can be more sublimely beautiful than the young: inward coherence, an orderly articulate emotional life, the glance of wisdom and the glint of humor - a realized spirit, a wry old fox, a reclining dragon. But do not lose sight of the fact that this judgment, "beautifully old", is the judgment: "immensely useful, available cultural riches, a path to dominance".
When discussing the mysteries of beauty and ugliness, it's worth pointing out that some people just possess a magnetism that cannot be explained. If you'll forgive a ridiculous but thoroughly enjoyable example, in the Dino De Laurentiis masterpiece of production design, Conan the Barbarian, what is it about James Earl Jones that's so convincing as a cult leader? How in the world does he make the short bangs of a Prince Valiant haircut into something so strangely sexy? Because he wills you to be attracted to him.
Or take the career of Bette Midler: that a woman with a face as brawny as that, managed to make it in Hollywood, says something about her willpower: she commands that you find her beautiful - your own astonishment at the boldness of this claim she utilizes as further seduction - as proof of her power, which you now begin to confuse with attraction.
Therefore we begin to suspect, that ugliness is also something communicated. That we are compelled to find someone ugly: herein lies one of the secrets of the spirit of decrepitude. Ugliness weakens, demoralizes, disheartens: isn't it possible that ugliness is the preparatory attack, before the wave of pitiableness begins? To induce the happy and healthy to become ashamed of their happiness and health, to not only give it away but wish it away... There are also many women who inflict a cultivated unattractiveness upon the world as a form of revenge, for not having paid attention sooner...
Ugliness is a strategy just as much as the position of weakness has strategic advantage. For the woman this is an especially pertinent bifurcation: an aggressively unattractive woman seeks attention not despite her appearance, but because of it. She utilizes your own repulsion and subsequent embarrassment as leverage to generate an exaggerated estimate of her value: often enough she has nothing to contribute, yet demands attention all the more.
One of the reasons for the exponential expansion of decrepitude, is that there's a kind of contracting "Pareto frontier" of arresting ugliness: not only is there diminishing returns as actual decrepitude begins to approximate the cultivated - but there's a kind of arms race of ugliness as we all become inured to the sight and sense of dread.
The obsession with longevity is a symptom of decrepitude. Wanting more life than one's fair share is nothing but blind raging greed. What happened to "three score and ten"? As though 70 years were not enough, as though we need more of these avaricious undead creeping around our world hoarding the planet's resources, as though humanity were not already taxing the earth heavily enough.
I recently stumbled across a thinly veiled expression of the spirit of decrepitude: a highly popular book from yet another guru-wannabe pandering to babyboomer vanity with the revealing title of, "I've Decided To Live to 120". This longevity so many seem to hope for, is nothing but a greatly elongated period of senility: to live more than half one's life as a frail expensive pet, wheezing and waiting to die! Has no one asked what the immense cost of this longevity might be? How monstrously entitled this attitude is? It wants to disguise its fear of death as life affirmation: but embracing death, taking risks, living a good mortal life and looking to the next generation is the affirmation of life. They are only symbolically afraid of dying, because they have been much more afraid of living: dying is the final expression of what it means to live.
The spirit of decrepitude would destroy the creative tension between life and death, blur the line and prolong a living death, in which nothing must be confronted, in which a heavily-medicated blurry-eyed shuffle between bed and toilet occupies a majority of a human life.
Longevity is an old tightwad's wetdream. Just as the immortal soul is the invention of a languishing culture: late Egypt, late China, late Rome, and now again late Europe. Oncology and genetic engineering is what they call it now: and the reality of an achieved longer life span is thus far more dangerous than mummified fortresses and alchemic dreams of "Peach Blossom Land"...
In place of mummification and cinnabar cocktails, we get talk of "replacing the biological body" with nanotechnology - as though a living creature were anything but the living body. As though biological reality were somehow inadequate and not already "self-replicating"! In place of a heavenly reward, we get fantasies of benign genetic engineering extending the life indefinitely - as though any such life extension would not be a tortured unholy thing and apply solely to the billionaires whose existence is already a fucking blight. Humanity is creeping toward serious blasphemies, and one can only hope we will run out of fossil fuels before some of the more indelible will occur. Or perhaps they should and must occur: perhaps we are looking for our master. Perhaps like a spoilt child, we break precious things because we want an adult to appear and draw firm boundaries. It's likely we will not learn anything collectively until something truly serious and irreversible happens: "gain of function" and the engineering of SARS-CoV-2 is likely just the beginning of an age which will make the atomic threat pale.
A life affirming culture is not afraid of death. A culture assured of its future, teaches that to die well is an honor. How one meets death, can define a life: may I die well.
Have you ever witnessed a human death? Have you ever felt the life go out of a human body? Seen the dimness come over the eyes and listened to the last breath? While traveling in South America many years ago, I experienced this with a boy whose life I was trying to save: I gave him CPR on the side of a road, as his lungs filled with blood. I failed, and he died in my arms. I can't tell you exactly what this means to me, but I can tell you that it was an important experience. Maybe I died a little that day: maybe a native childish belief in my own invincibility died. Maybe because I failed, I learned who wins in the end. Maybe being defeated by invincible death, and early on in life, is what our cushioned firstworld existence is missing. Maybe those so obsessed with longevity have not grown out of their adolescence, maybe they need it explained to them how little they matter. Maybe the recent hysteria regarding a fictional pandemic, is the wish to be confronted by death.