"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Alte Kockers Taking Themselves Too Seriously–Bernie, Hillary, And All The Other Old Guys Who Don’t Know When To Fold It

There is nothing wrong with being seventy-seven except for the existential issue of it being quite close to the end.  In fact many men around that age are in fine fettle and are studying theology, teaching literature, painting, or contributing somehow to betterment.  Yet these are only retirement options, easing the elision from K Street to the eventual chaise lounge in Florida - still a productive life, just one not so demanding. It is enough for these old men to skim the exegetical chapters on Exodus or Paul or John and avoid going farther into source criticism, linguistics, and Biblical cross-referencing; in other words to slack off. 

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For many, such intellectual slides are unacceptable, signs perhaps not of atrophy but of an equally problematic indifference.  What really does it matter whether P, D, J, or E wrote pieces of the Pentateuch? Or what of Paul’s particular parsing of Jesus’ meaning is necessary to retain?  Or his views on marriage (don’t do it if you can possibly avoid it), homosexuality (don’t even think about it), or much more importantly his understanding of the doctrines of grace, works, and the Law?  Isn’t a bit late to decipher the second hand opinions of a Christian latecomer, regardless of the epiphanic nature of his revelation?

Most older people at some point in their second career – occupations far from the lawyering, doctoring, or accounting of their firstsimply realize it for what it is.  Elision, transition, easement, adaptation, whatever; the shift from expected self-worth signifiers (Ivy League, worthy marriage, responsible profession)  to some doubtful self-determined valuation is never easy.  In the final accounting who cares what the alte kockers attending a class on Kant given by an alte kocker himself, both tempted by ‘pure reason’ but having little of it may learn? They are not in the class to sort out life’s conundrums about being, but to be productive, to take the class they never had the patience to take in college, to make something of their later lives before the recliner.

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‘Too soon old, too late schmart’ is the old Yiddish expression which sums it all up.  There is no such thing as a pull-by date for learning.  All knowledge, whenever or however acquired, is equally valuable.  It is never too late to figure out what’s what.

All well and good up to a point.  Most late-learners give it up for the chaise lounge, the grandchildren, and winters in Palm Beach before too long.  If you haven’t gotten the picture by 75, you will never get it; so why not simply relax, enjoy the warm weather and Florida sunsets, and forget the gym, the classes, and the poetry?

Tolstoy spent much of his life trying to make sense of a meaningless world.  Philosophy, science, theology, mathematics, physics, religion had to hold the answer to the purpose of our short, unhappy lives; and why God in the first place created us as sentient, intelligent, creative, humorous, and insightful beings only to allow us to live a few decades and then consign us to eternity under the cold, muddy ground of the steppes.  He ended up by shrugging his shoulders and considering that if tens of billions of people had believed in God, his plan, and his salvation, why shouldn’t he?  A man can only challenge unanswerable questions just so long.

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Which is why it seems a bit unusual for American politicians to, well into their seventies, think that they still have some first-career something to say.  Bernie Sanders who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, feels that not only does he still have some fight left at seventy-seven, but that his fight, his legitimacy, and his political values are more than ever valid, valuable, and worthy of recognition. 

How can this be?  Anyone of that age knows that the world has long since passed them by – a world which belongs to those 50 or more years younger.  Of course Bernie appreciates the new configurations of society – social mediated artificial intelligence; the eventuality of DNA reconfiguration, a new world of recombinant human beings, and a world where the originalist Enlightenment  values of Jefferson and the Founding Fathers have no meaning whatsoever in a relativistic, identity-driven community – but he doesn’t get them.  A new world where traditional progressive morality, socialist ethics, and post-modernist historicity have no place.  You simply cannot be a few years shy of extinction and actually, honestly, with no trace of irony or reflection say, “I get it.  I get you.”

For all the naïve idealism of political newcomers – young early 30-somethings who have never been around the block, never tested by the Scylla and Charybdis of compromise and principle, not old enough to have gone through war and economic depression, and too young to have any idea about nature-nurture, cause-and-effect, or meaning and meaninglessness – it is their day.  The old political hacks, selling the same old chestnuts, hawking the same tired, shopworn, uninteresting, and hopelessly out of date and discredited ideas of neighborhood, community, and benign humanity, need to move aside.  Why suffer the humiliation not only of defeat but existential dismissal?  Bernie, Hillary and any other of their lost generation of progressive idealists cannot but be defeated roundly and completely.  They were defeated and left on the curb in 2016 and will be left in the cornfields with little notice in 2020.

Yes, their offspring are waiting in the wings – the black, Latino women and men who are the legatees of the old timers, and who feel that ‘La lucha continua’, that idealism need not die when its older evangelists have passed, and that a better world, is within our reach.  They are too young to understand that idealism has always had currency, but as history continues to show the inevitable devaluation of the idea, it becomes more and more worthless.  So they change the set design, the costumes, and the direction.  Few of the new generation  talk of Henry Wallace, the good Soviets, or the hope for universal socialism; but of youthful, exuberant revolution.  Black Lives Matter, Women’s Marches, demonstrations against racism and to save the Bay, are angry, participatory, socially mediated events that express the general, anti-intellectual, emotional causes of the day.  There is no room for Bernie’s carefully articulated verses about wind power, solar energy, or world peace; or Hillary’s antiquated versions of feminism.  Cory Booker, Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie, and Hillary might be in the same church but in very, very different pews.  In fact different churches of the same denomination.

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Many older Americans wonder at the energy, the continued political commitment, and the passionate interest of older politicians like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton who in any other generation would have been considered well past their prime if not supernumerary.  Most voters wonder what these alte kockers are still doing in the race.  Have they learned nothing?  Has not the venality of the enterprise taken its toll?  Or the national recognition if not adulation been enough, already?  Do they not see the irony, the anachronism, the sheer silliness of their presence in a young world which has long since passed them by?

A very few feel sorry for these dinosaurs who have a) failed to realize the irrelevance of their candidacies; b) failed to appreciate the essential zeitgeist relevance of the newcomers; and c) have failed to realize that it is time once and for al to leave childish things behind.

Those with a longer perspective, while saddened at the alte kockers insistence on relevance, have to laugh at the newcomers’ idealistic posturing. Given today’s market-driven free-agency, it is quite understandable that the supposedly oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten are making a go.  While Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and Adams might turn over in their graves at just the thought of an Ocasio-Cortez or Booker candidacy, the prize is theirs for the asking.  America if anything is opportunistic and enterprising.

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As much as one might wonder at these newcomers’ credentials or intellectual weight, one can only wish them well.  America has long ago lost the intellectual and philosophical moorings of Jefferson, Locke, and Rousseau.; and for better or worse is engaged in a playground free-for-all.  Not only does one wonder who will surface but who cares?  Once the fight becomes completely venal and self-interested, the result is irrelevant.

So Bernie, Hillary, Mitt, and who knows whatever other over-the-hill politician, will contest the presidency in 2020 and probably lose.  What most of us in their age bracket wonder is why they have stayed in the ring for so long.  How could these otherwise intelligent, reasonable people have opted for nose-bloodying over the chaise lounge?

Most of us know or have realized thatplus ça change, plus c'est la même chosemakes perfect sense; i.e. there is really not much point in demonstrating, contributing, or convening within a cyclical history which validates a perennial, permanent human nature – aggressive, self-centered, self–defensive, and territorial.  Yet alte kockers like Bernie and Hillary, God bless 'em, keep on running.

Their persistence in one way is a validation of the human spirit – never say die – but on the other a sad, dismal accounting of human intelligence.  Have we learned nothing? Has ignorance of history consigned us all to be Don Quixote?  Yes, yes, and again yes.

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