Aging is a cultural treasure
Looking around at the tables around ours, I didn’t see anybody over the age of thirty-five, and sitting there, half-deaf, I enjoyed being alien, just as in Paris I make no attempt to appear French. I seemed to be the only guy on the block who had owned an Underwood typewriter, used carbon paper, had cut the head off a chicken with an axe, been baptized total-immersion, and seen Rod Carew steal home. I felt like a cultural treasure.
Irrelevance is a great blessing. You realize we are not in control. Maybe $88 billion cannot buy a functional democratic government in a tribal country up against forces that espouse cruel misogyny and bribery, and I’m not referring to Texas. So I skip reading the newspaper, preferring not to waste the day in hopeless anger, and instead drink my coffee and write a wedding sonnet for a couple in California and joke with my daughter who is starting a new life in a new city and sit with my wife and enjoy the breeze and smell the hydrangeas.
I appreciate such gentle wisdom from a close-enough age cohort.
But in some ways, I’ve been an old soul for a long, long time.
One of my favorite songs of all time, which nobody seems to sing any more (and none of my Pandora stations have in rotation) is This Is All I Ask, and Tony Bennett’s 1963 rendition may have been what hooked me (I can’t think of a single song where I prefer Old Blue Eyes to Tony).
As I approach the prime of my life
I find I have the time of my life
Learning to enjoy at my leisure
All the simple pleasures and so I happily concede
That this is all I ask
This is all I need
Walk a little slower when you walk by me
Stay a little longer with the lonely sea
When you shoot at bad men, shoot at me
Take me to that strange
Enchanted land, grown-ups seldom understand
Leave a bit of color for my heart to own
Stars in the sky
Make my wish come true before the night has flown
And let the music play
As long as there’s a song to sing
And I will stay younger than Spring
On the other hand …
Notwithstanding the individual pleasures of getting old, it’s pretty clearly not good for a whole culture.
The age data is straightforward. We already had a sense from April’s data that U.S. fertility had continued to slow over the last decade; the overall population growth of just north of 7 percent over 10 years was the slowest on record. But the latest age data shone a glaring spotlight on that phenomenon: Over the last 10 years, the total number of children living in America actually decreased, from 74.2 million in 2010 to 73.1 million in 2020. By comparison, the U.S. has 258.3 million adults, up from 234.6 million a year ago.
This does not bode well. People who think we should, and can without economic disruption, stop allowing immigration, or replace it with greater fertility by Real ‘Muricans, are living in a fantasy.
On the third hand …
… it is worrisome that our young future elite leaders are systematically being shielded from stuff that might make them uncomfortable.
This is not going to get any better. I want you to recall something I’ve written about in this space before. It’s what a European friend told me was the upshot of his time doing graduate studies a couple of years ago at Harvard. He said it was shocking to him to see how so many students asked professors not to talk about issues and topics that triggered their anxiety — and how professors yielded to these crazy requests. My friend said this happened in class after class. It scandalized him. He said that not one of his fellow students doubted that they were destined to enter into the elite class of leadership. It shook him up. He said that his country depends on a strong USA, but he could tell that the next generation of leadership elites are going to be even more fragile and wrongheaded than the current one.
Rod Dreher (emphasis added).
Steel-manning as reflex
The term "steel-manning" has come into vogue of late as a polar opposite of straw-manning.
Barack Obama was a master of it. He could state the conservative case for policies better than their conservative supporters. (Then without even poking holes in the conservative argument, he invariably rejected it. Sigh.)
A relaxed conversation with my brothers over the weekend (first time we’ve all been together for almost seven years) reminded me that "steel-manning" is substantially what my older brother’s high school’s debate team did every debate season because they never knew before a debate which side of the year’s resolution they would be assigned. Yes, it might be easier to argue both sides on a debate topic on which you had no strong opinion, but the practice still built up skills and, perhaps, habits.
Outside of the context of formal debate competitions, steel-manning, it seems to me, gives your ideological adversary the dignity of knowing he’s been heard. That all by itself lowers the temperature of differences — as I’ve noticed ever since I first observed Small Claims Court (where the quality of legal reasoning was sometimes shaky but where the parties both got to state their cases before the judge decided for one of them or, not infrequently, "split the baby").
We could really use a lot more people reflexively steel-manning instead of straw-manning, couldn’t we?
Why don’t we build infrastructure to last a thousand years? Others have.