In past societies, the elderly were revered as wise. Now as an aged English major/theology minor person with a Master of Divinity degree, I am just a nuisance to the young, so the best I can hope for is to get philosophical to help pass the days.
Philosophy has mostly been dominated by very smart people who think they have figured out what life is all about, and who put that wisdom into words which only a few other very smart people can understand (but with which they disagree because they have their own philosophy).
I used to love diving into the depths of philosophy and theology, but now all those ideas are way over my head and out of my league, as we say in the mixed-metaphor division.
For most of us, all the philosophy we can take is about one sentence worth. For example, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” I think that was Epicurus. Or maybe Plato. Possibly Thomas Aquinas.
Philosophies often come in contrasting pairs. An opposing philosophical school is that of Jean Paul Sartre, who said something like “Tomorrow we die. Maybe today.” That may not be an exact quote, but it gets the gist of it.
What we need now is a philosophy that will help us survive the present crisis in our nation when we will soon transition from the first black American President to the first American President who doesn’t want intelligence briefings, the first who admits that he reads very little, and the first who claims to know more than all the generals, federal employees, and intelligence agencies combined. And those traits aren’t nearly the most frightening aspects of his presidency.
As I see it, there are two contrasting all-American philosophies that hold promise for our present situation.
The first is from lawyer-turned-philosopher, Steven Pastis, who expounds on his philosophy through his comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, in which animals talk to each other.
As best I remember, in one strip we saw the cynic, Rat, writing this:
“How to Appreciate Everything Around You” by Rat.
“Lower Your Standards Immensely!”
Rat then says to Goat, “I just solved life.”
Admit it, that is a viable and Trump-worthy way to get through the next four years.
A contrasting philosophical school was articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr. A friend, and one of the nation’s great preachers, Dee Eisenhower of the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church on Bainbridge Island, Washington, brought this to my attention in a recent sermon. She summarizes this way:
“Our little church book group is reading one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last books, Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community? King writes about the days after the Voting Rights bill was signed with grand words about a triumph of freedom, a striking away of the ‘last major shackle of fierce and ancient bonds.’ A year later, the white backlash resulted in, among other things, elections in several southern states of ‘men long regarded as political clowns [who] had become governors…their magic achieved with a witches’ brew of bigotry, prejudice, half-truths and whole lies.’
“A somewhat depressed King talks about how the majority of white Americans consider themselves committed to justice, to a middle-class utopia embodying racial harmony. But, he says, ‘this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity…America has been sincere and even ardent in welcoming some change. But too quickly apathy and disinterest rise to the surface when the next logical steps are to be taken.’ …..
The great majority of Americans are, he judged, ‘uneasy with injustice but unwilling to pay a significant price to eradicate it.’ [Ouch.]
“Even in the midst of this ruthless analysis, King did not express hopelessness. He recalls that the line of progress is never straight. ‘For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the line bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you are moving backward, and you lose sight of your goal; but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by…The inevitable counterrevolution that succeeds every period of progress is taking place.’
Well, you can see that even Dee’s summary of King is far too long to hold our attention, but it is the opposite of Rat. The problem is not that we don’t understand King. It is that when we understand him, we are called to action. For us old people who used to take action on behalf of the good, and are now both retired and tired, that’s tough.
So my philosophical choices are reduced to two: Rat or King. Hmm. This will be hard.