Listen to your Elders

I’ve spent a fair amount of time contemplating Muslim culture and I find the vast majority of it detestable. And I’m no armchair quarterback; without divulging too much of my personal life, there was a time when I wore a uniform and went around the world ostensibly to keep a particular race of people from getting too big for their sand-covered britches. So I’ve seen with mine own eyes the beast in its natural habitat. Theirs is a culture wholly incompatible with the West.

That being said, the Muslims do have one thing correct and that is a reverence of and deference to their elders. In traditional Muslim culture (is there any other kind?) the eldest man in the village has the ultimate authority. He makes the decisions.

In the West, our authority and value as individuals is thoroughly linked to our profession. The level of prestige we bestow upon an individual is quite often based on the job they have (and its implicit salary). I suppose theoretically this is a decent enough system assuming that compensation is commensurate with responsibility of profession and that responsibility of profession is commensurate with competence in the highest level of leadership and decision making. For those of you with little life experience, these are flimsy assumptions.

But for sake of argument, let’s assume the system works as described. There’s another critical flaw in that the labor force in the West encounters (mercifully) a little thing called retirement. And when we mercifully retire, we must relinquish the authority and prestige that we once enjoyed as a doctor, lawyer, school teacher, mechanic. And let me not mince words here: retirement is a privilege that primarily only western, Christian nations enjoy—and certainly only first world nations enjoy.

Perhaps this is an exponent of capitalism more broadly. I’ll be the first to admit that capitalism has its flaws but by no means does this admission mean I’m willing to supplant the free market with something as suicidally foolish as socialism. On the other hand I will not hide from the self-evident reality that capitalism comes with its own set of pitfalls—chief among them is that our value as individuals is wedded to our professional title.

Furthermore, on the equally opposite side of the spectrum, we make another foolhardy assumption that youth and vigor is the only thing of any real value in our society. We perversely vaunt youth to deific heights when we repeat platitudes like “youth is the engine of the world.” Of course there’s a grain of truth to this sentiment; we’re destined to be replaced by those who come after us the same as how we ourselves replaced those that went before. It’s the natural order of things, but blind faith in the ingenuity and innovation of youth as some kind of savior is abjectly misguided.

And these words ought to carry extra weight as they originate from a (relatively) young person. In the West, I have the advantage of inheriting a society that wants nothing more than fro me to take the helm. Were I a gambling man, I’d be absolutely crazy to bet against that. I’d have so much to lose and nothing to gain. Yet here I am, offering the gift right back because I feel unworthy. Just as age is no guarantee of wisdom, youth is no guarantee of innovation. And in an age where our society has come increasingly unmoored, I advocate a return to balance. I advocate a return to a time—not too distant yet—when our elders were appreciated for their hard earned insight and world-weariness and not cast aside as decorations. I advocate a return to a time when youth was marveled at for its passion and spontaneity but ipso facto was denied the keys to the estate.

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