Brenda-Lee shares her observations of a particular type of old man.
It takes all kinds of make a world and you’ve probably noticed that people fall into different categories: the incompetent boss, the naïve and angry punk, the air-headed bimbo, etc… This phenomenon should not be new to you (P.S. you are a character too). If it weren’t for our ability to categorise people into characters, we would not be able to enjoy stories (literature, TV, history, you get the picture) because we wouldn’t be able to relate to them. While some characters are more universal, there are some with which we only become familiar if we run in certain social circles.
I would like to describe a certain type of person of which I have only observed four specimens in my lifetime, they seem to be especially prevalent in academia, but I am sure they are to be found elsewhere.
Meet the Senile Idealist:
This man is at least 65 years old, he is still riding the waves of a brilliant career in either one of the social sciences, philosophy or theology. It has to be a “soft” field because if someone was rambling nonsense in the sciences it would be easier to ask them to back up their claims (unless they are speaking off topic). Even though it has been years since he has contributed anything of substance to his field, people keep inviting this kind of man to conferences so as to have a “big name” on the list of speakers – invitations which he gladly accepts, despite being obsolete. At these conferences or in his classes, he spends his time rambling off topic, quoting various authors though has a particular fetish for the works of Shakespeare and the Bible. You’re better off skipping class if you have the misfortune of having one as a professor and besides, as long as you ramble like him on your exam/assignment, you are guaranteed a decent grade.
Instead of coming up with a well-thought-out argument to support his ideology (because this particular man is an ideologue, usually very left leaning), he will just spout out some quotes about loving your neighbour and showing empathy without elaborating on the best way of going about this. An example of a question would be: “What should be done about the situation in the Middle East?” His answer: “No matter where you go in the world, people have the same struggles. There should be no “us” versus “them” dichotomy when we are all the same and should respect each other’s humanity.” Uhm… okay, care to flesh that one out? You may think I am exaggerating, but it is exactly this kind of vacuous platitude they come up with. Frankly, it’s downright irresponsible in some cases. Telling us to adopt these idealist notions, but they’ll be dead soon and who’ll be left holding the bag? Us.
In depth: This is comparable to telling a woman to not get an abortion, because she’ll love that baby so much when it is born, which is probably true, but love isn’t sufficient. Another comparison would be, when you take shrooms for example. You do indeed see more clearly and realise to which extent love is meaningful and all that deep shit, but when you sober up again, you still have to attend to practical matters. I am sure with the perspective of age, you realise that the most important things in life were your family, your friends and your pets, but that is as true as saying that all you need to make mashed potatoes is potatoes. That is simply not true. You also need salt, butter, cream or milk, maybe some chives… The point is, the devil is in the details and nobody dares tell them that they’re wrong because of the legacy that they have built.
They are also vain. If they still have hair remaining, it will be by default messy in an “Einstein”-like way (a caveat: there are some very competent older men with Einstein-inspired hairdos). They also cultivate an enigmatic all-knowing smile (wipe that smirk off your face!) and often have an added quirky element to their look, such as a bowtie. Sure, this might be common amongst many professors, but I’m just telling you what to look out for.
Should Stephen Hawking become senile should we still invite him to conferences on physics? No. What matters is his legacy, not his name. The thing about senile idealists is that they resist retirement and why should they when people are willing to listen to them ramble on. Think about it: Grampa Simpson won’t shut up unless you tell him to. So, people just end up listening politely, silently wondering to themselves, “Am I the only one who thinks that this supposed great guy is spouting bullshit?” They’re too afraid to seem uneducated in front of their peers, and so the cycle continues.
A final thought
There are plenty of older people who have a lot of wisdom to contribute to us young folks, but we need to remain critical as that is a sign of respect, that we aren’t patronising them, but rather, we hold them to the same standards we have for younger people. This means that their knowledge might be out-of-date on some issues or irrelevant for us younger people who shall inherit the Earth. The senile idealist should be encouraged to spend their final years “savoring the finer things in life” by retiring. And if you really want to hear more of that heart-warming rhetoric, call your grandpa or visit a home for the elderly.
Have you met a man like this? If not, don’t take my word for it, go out and explore the world, follow your passion. Remember, never let money get in the way! You are all beautiful worthwhile people and I know that you can accomplish whatever you set your heart on.
I can tell you all this stuff because I have absolutely no stake in your well being. Now go out there and be all that you can be! I believe in you!