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The Wisdom of Age

Entry 2016, on 2019-12-03 at 18:34:37 (Rating 3, Comments)

From "OK, Boomer" to "pale, male, and stale" to "how dare you?", there seems to be a lot of bigotry aimed at older people today. Of course, it is also aimed at white people, and males in particular, but on this occasion I want to concentrate on the ageism we regularly see demonstrated today.

Before I am accused of being one of those extremely privileged people who still complains about the exact thing I criticise other people for complaining about, I do want to say that I'm not really doing that. I think people should be free to say that older people's opinions are invalid, or should be ignored, or whatever else they might want to say, just like I want the opportunity to challenge social justice warriors in a similar way. But I do think that I have the right to answer those comments, and to point out where they are wrong.

But are they wrong? Well, it actually goes beyond mere wrongness. You might say they are not even valid enough to be wrong, because these arguments are so superficial and meaningless that they are neither right nor wrong... they are nothing. If I offer an opinion on a controversial subject, like free speech or abortion, and my thoughts are rejected through a comment like "oh, you're just an old white guy, you can't comment on that", then is that an effective riposte to my thoughts? I don't think so. We haven't actually learned anything from that response because it isn't a counter to anything I have said - it's just irrelevant.

If a young person had made the same comment as I did - and that is possible, because some younger people do share my views - what would the response have been then? It would need to be something different, which shows the person isn't really honestly answering the actual point; instead they are offering a meaningless ad hominem, which many would say is the most basic type of logical fallacy.

So I think it is clear that those types of responses are worse than no response at all. The fact that the person has to resort to an attack on the person, rather than the point that person is making, to me shows how weak their opinions really are. At least if they had remained silent we might generously assume they have real arguments, but the personal attack suggests maybe they don't, because if they did wouldn't they have used them?

So I think it is clear that attacking a person based on their age instead of trying to counter their ideas is grossly lazy and intellectually dishonest. So the next question might be, do older people's opinions make sense; are they relevant; and are they applicable to the current time, or are they out of date?

As an older person myself - having just celebrated my 60th birthday - I unsurprisingly am going to say they are relevant. In fact, I think older people have more wisdom from the experience they have gained over their lives, and might be less susceptible to group thought - in other words they are far less likely to base their beliefs on what is currently trendy, and more likely to think for themselves.

There is a well-known phenomenon where people in their teens and twenties do put a lot of effort into fitting in with their peers, so after growing out of that tendency a person's thoughts are more likely to be their own. That doesn't necessarily mean they are more likely to be right, but it is a factor to consider when you see younger people all parroting the same platitudes.

Numerous studies show that older people have better judgement and make better decisions, based on the lessons they have learned during their life. This compensates for a reduced ability to learn new information - in fact it exceeds it and means older people actually have an advantage. It also just makes intuitive sense that an older person will have had time to consider more ideas and will have a far greater sense of nuance than someone who is younger. Of course, this is just on average and I'm sure there are some every wise younger people, and some ignorant and unreasonable older ones.

In my own case, I know that I have a more subtle and reasonable view on the world than I used to, and I am certain that I am less affected by what my friends and colleagues think, and that most of my views have come from personal experience and thought. My blog goes back almost 17 years and a reading of that demonstrates this principle quite well. I have definitely drifted towards being more conservative, but I also recognise the good and bad aspects of every political philosophy far more than I did in the past.

And that is an interesting point: as people get older, they often do become more conservative. Why is that? Some might say it is because older people are less able to accept new ideas and want to return to the past. Others might say that they gain advantages from the system staying the same, so their selfish response is to resist change. But I think it is because of a more reasoned and nuanced approach. I have better understood the role that conservatives play in society recently. I also understand the role liberals play. So it's not so much that I am a conservative, it's that I am rational and can see the good and bad aspects of both political views.

And I really think it is a simplistic, dogmatic view that the younger people have which leads them to favour more radical ideas and to reject those which have already been proved to work. Of course, we should welcome change when it can be clearly shown to be advantageous, but change for the sake of change is generally not a good strategy.

Finally, don't assume that this means that older people are more boring. In fact, you could make a case to say that it is the others, who jump on every new fad with the predictability of mindless automatons, who are really boring. I can still engage in a political rant like the best of them! But I just do it a bit less often now, and am self-aware enough to know that my rant is fairly humorous, because I don't take myself too seriously any more.

So, it's not so much that I have changed my mind on most issues, it's more that I can now see both sides. For example, I still think democracy is a deeply flawed system, but it has many good points too, and those shouldn't be ignored. Similarly for capitalism: it has caused a lot of harm, but a very good case could be made to say that it has resulted in a lot of good too, and states practicing more pure forms of socialism have been an obvious failure in every case (at least, as far as I am aware). And political figures I don't like aren't automatically wrong about everything. I have doubts about Donald Trump's presidency, but I think the Trump bashers are often wrong, and I admit when he does something good. The same applies to our PM, who I don't like as a person, but I am prepared to admit that some things her government have done have been quite beneficial.

These attitudes might sound just like common sense, and you might ask what's the big deal. Well, here's the deal: they are common sense, and that is exactly my point, because many people don't use common sense in forming their opinions, they are too swayed by popular trends and dogma.

And maybe I was in the past too, but not any more. I am now enjoying the wisdom of age!

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Comment 1 (5124) by Anonymous on 2019-12-03 at 20:08:51:

There is a wise old head on those shoulders.

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Comment 2 (5125) by OJB on 2019-12-04 at 11:14:28:

Yeah, thanks... I think (even though I am old and wise, I still sometimes don't detect sarcasm in comments!)

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