Betrayed by the Elders (Philosophy)
I remember when my scope of concern encompassed breakfast cereals and Saturday morning cartoons. My daughter is about that age now. As I've gotten older, the scope of my concern has broadened to care about things like: our existence, our beliefs, the earth, the poor and oppressed, the way we organize our civilization, and what I can realistically do, or what anyone can practically do to make this world a better place for others.
I am assuming that this broadening is the natural progression of our concern as human beings. It only seems natural. As we realize in full that we are mortal beings who will pass from the earth, our concern grows into something that is more and more beyond ourselves. Now, more than ever, I feel that the elders in our society have abandoned this path for something much more selfish. Our tribe's elders have begun to abandon their elderhood.
I'm not saying that this broadening scope is better, just natural. I mean as natural as the changing of seasons, the planting and harvesting of crops, or the coming of a long, cold winter. My own broadening concern feels like part of some long lost shamanic path--a selfless stewardship for all things as one matures and takes on the responsibility held by the tribe's elders. It seems to reflect the processes of life, caring for more and more of the young as you get older, because inevitably, you’ll die and they will remain--the natural order.
The world that arises now, which we are all thrown into, is one that we’re not necessarily accustomed to based on what we understand of our innate capacities for human social competency or societal awareness. We have cultures of hundreds of millions of people. Each of us have incredibly specialized careers, among billions of people who rely on our governments and economies. And all of the above are awash in technology beyond what any of our distant ancestors could’ve imagined. I’m not saying that our world is bad. I have beheld its awe. I’m only pointing out that we are not necessarily equipped to deal with all of it straight out of the gate--hence the broadening of concern from breakfast cereals to the more abstract concepts of the world, etc.
In this world, we are increasingly exposed to new forms of entertainment, advertising, and propaganda. Over the course of our lives, our economic systems condition us to think and behave in particular ways. In place of our overloaded social competency and societal awareness, we have ideologies that we use as heuristics to govern our myriad interactions. Our current economic system, which feels intuitively natural in the sense of trade and exchange and reaping the reward of our efforts, is also built upon the organization of millions of disconnected individual wills vying for their own benefit and interests. It takes the fruit of the labors of many to create power and influence for a select few. Not everyone makes a fortune. Not everyone eats. Most people used to do well enough to have something to retire with. I see a lot of old people working service jobs these days. And if we stay on course, my generation will have a harder time retiring. My daughter’s generation will need steady work to survive their elder years as more and more jobs are replaced by automation and technology. And to think, in previous ages, very few people lived into the twilight years that we all now take for granted as being there at the end of the road. Maybe things will change back.
All these things considered, it seems that as people grow and age in this world, their scope of concern narrows. Still, they laud the system. In our society, economy, and culture, we tend to view selfishness as normal. Who can blame us, given what we are exposed to and the conditions that we have to live under? Most of our elders have less concern for stewardship of the planet and our people because they are concerned with their own continued survival. It’s then no wonder that our elder’s scope of concern is a selfish and shrunken glint of what it may have been ages ago. It seems unnatural.
I am not saying that something unnatural is necessarily bad. For example, we get all of our food from supermarkets. Maybe you remember perusing the cereal aisle as a kid too. It might be unnatural, but its greatness is well intact.
However, despite all of our individual wills and collective wills, none of us, not even the eldest among us, had anything to do with the creation of this system. Still, we are expected to maintain it, and like an old car against the ravages of time, it is beginning to cost more to repair it than it would to buy a new car that utilizes today’s fantastic new technologies. It is ironic that the system, which has us all becoming so self-concerned, simultaneously requires so much of us to continue. In that, our last bits of selflessness are forcibly surrendered to values of freedom and democracy; or even worse, mere symbols of freedom and democracy, like the flag and patriotism, as if those alone sustain the system on which we collectively rely to survive.
So here, at the furthest edge of my scope of concern, I turn inward, and ask what I can do, what we can all do, to ensure something remains beyond us when we leave this world. The very least we can do for the good of all is to comport ourselves socially and civically with the broadest scope of concern we are capable of. Again, that is the very least. Many of us will do more than that. If the wisdom of it does not suit you, then perhaps you can ask yourself where all your cereal and milk comes from. If those two things involve other people, or perhaps an entire civilization, you might consider expanding your scope of concern beyond yourself, for your own sake.