Friday, 16 September 2011

If not psychological neoteny: what? The role of old age


One of the most influential of my ideas - if you can even call it an idea - was psychological neoteny -

- which was covered internationally by the mass media and became one of the 'ideas of the year' in the New York Times.


The name put a word to, and some kind of explanation for, the phenomenon that modern humans retain many immature traits into adult life: the behave like teens, they try to look like teens.

At the time I wrote this (when I was a hedonic libertarian agnostic), I was vaguely positive about the phenomenon; on the basis that it might help the economy if people were flexible and 'open' in their behaviour.


But, there is a big problem about old age in modernity.

There is essentially no role or function for the old.

Consequently, the only positive thing that can be said about an old person nowadays is that they look or behave younger than their true age.

At best, therefore, the old are second-rate youngsters.


So what should the old be doing?

The answer is obvious: old age is for spiritual development.

Even CG Jung saw this clearly - although his idea of spiritual development was (merely) self development.

Since modern society is secular and hedonic, it does not value spiritual development - therefore modern society does not value old age.

But that is modern society's problem: it does not affect the reality of the situation.

At any rate, this is the 'function' of old age; spiritual development is what old people do better than the young, for which they are better equipped.


Or should I say we instead of they?

By any rational calculus, once he is aged 50 a man is  old - plain and simple - indeed probably even before that.

So I am old. 

Of course I am old. 

But why does it sound affected or disingenuous to say so?


One of the signs that our materialist, secular society has no role for the old, is that it leads to continual inflation of the age at which one becomes 'old'.

It is now generally regarded as an insult to a female human aged 60 years to call her what she plainly is: an old woman!

The notion is apparently that 'attitude', cosmetics, dyed hair, exercise and fashionable clothing have somehow changed the fundamental nature of human reality...


The age at which one becomes 'old' is now the age at which is can no longer credibly be denied that one is old; but that age keeps creeping-upwards because - in a society where the median age is c45 and rising - and where old age is dis-valued, it suits the mass of the old to be able to collude in denial of their own status.


Protestations that someone (superficially) looks younger, or feels younger, or behaves younger - are vain and irrelevant at best; but more often this is a serious, indeed sinful, evasion of the proper business of human life.

If one is fortunate enough to reach old age, then this is good fortune. But not in order to try and emulate a superficial and second-rate youthfulness; because old age is a chance for spiritual development: a gift denied to almost everyone in human history but which is now common.

We should be grateful to be old.