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Chestnut.

Between Sebbo’s digression into the Bloggerhans triumphalism that really isn’t the point of my homeschooling post below at all, and this genteel dustup over in Johnathon Delacour’s always-excellent journal, I’ve found myself falling backwards into thoughts of generalizations, and why we do them, and when, and how, and when they’re well done, and when they aren’t, and how, and why, little stuff, you know, so instead I’m going to talk about this quote, and this bit from the Tao Te Ching, which maybe have something to do with generalizations, what doesn’t, after all, but really they more sort of back into some really big stuff that kept trying to squeeze its way into the aforementioned homeschooling post no matter how many times I tried to wave ’em off, since, you know, really fuckin’ long, and if after reading this the connection isn’t so clear to you, keep in mind it’s only rather moreso to me; my muse, it sems, is a magpie. (Ooh! Shiny!)

The quote:

Anyone who is not a liberal at 16 has no heart; anyone who is not a conservative at 60 has no head.

Which has been said in a lot of different ways by a lot of different people at a lot of different times, so let’s take it, glib though it is, as if there were hidden inside a kernel of truth. —Because I’m starting to think there is, and not of the liberal-who-gets-mugged or the liberal-who-pays-property-tax-for-the-first-time variety. (After all, what of the conservative who gets arrested? —But are they really becoming liberal? Or have they merely found something new to conserve?) Let’s take as our text “Freedom,” the 80th chapter from Ursula Le Guin’s rendition of the Tao (she doesn’t call it a translation, and we might as well respect that):

Let there be a little country without many people.
Let them have tools that do the work of ten or a hundred,
and never use them.
Let them be mindful of death
and disinclined to long journeys.
They’d have ships and carriages,
but no place to go.
They’d have armor and weapons,
but no parades.
Instead of writing,
they might go back to using knotted cords.
They’d enjoy eating,
take pleasure in clothes,
be happy with their houses,
devoted to their customs.
The next little country might be so close
the people could hear cocks crowing
and dogs barking there,
but they’d grow old and die
without ever having been there.

And the 60-year-old says after a thoughtful pause, yes, I can see: this would be the best of all possible worlds; this is the solution at the other end of the moral calculus; this is the good life for the greatest number of people, with a minimum of pain and suffering. Utopia. Nirvana. On a clear day, you can just barely see it from here.

The 16-year-old? The 16-year-old blinks and shrugs and says, yeah, sure, but what the fuck do you do on a Saturday night?

  1. Sebbo    Mar 11, 03:10 PM    #
    Hey! That post was a lot less digressive than my first, durn it!

    A little more on topic for this one: Once upon a time I read an interview with Patricia Ireland wherein she observed that in her experience it's just men who become more conservative as they get older. Women become more liberal.

    Do I believe that? Eh...ask me again in twenty years when my data pool is better.

  2. language hat    Mar 12, 03:52 AM    #
    I've never been able to decide where I fit on the conservative/liberal scale; a large part of me wants everything to stay just the way I'm used to, and another large part wants everything to be very different (eliminate all hierarchies!), and those two parts are forever arguing about who gets dibs on what part of the order of things, and I just try to keep my head down and stay out of the line of fire. It does puzzle me that "conservatives" seem less and less interested in conserving things.

  3. --k.    Mar 12, 04:31 AM    #
    And of course I cheated a little (deliberately) in summing up the 60-year-old's position, by assuming the 60-year-old realizes we aren't there yet (for all the many and varied values of "there"); there are quite a few who'd label themselves conservative who would mull it over and say, "Heck, we're already close enough for government work. Why rock the boat?" —Patricia Ireland's observation could be fitted in by noting it's rather easier for men than women to look around at where we are and think we're already close enough.

    Of course, there's a not-so-insignificant chunk who insist we must do more to return ourselves to a time when we devoted ourselves more fully to (some of) the customs as written down in this book or that, but these people aren't conservatives, they're reactionaries, which is a word that should probably be used more often these days than it is.

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