Chapter 9 Did Socrates ever retire?

第九章 蘇格拉底曾退休過嗎?

9. Did Socrates ever retire?

The negative paradigm of aging continues to imbue our civilization. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the concept of getting older with my class of fifteen-year-olds at a local high-ranking high school. These young people are all from good families with mostly well-educated parents. Though there were some exceptions, the vast majority continue to view aging as a disease, not as a celebratory time of deep wisdom and societal involvement. It was a tragic wake-up call: we must educate more. Where does this misconception come from? Firstly, it is from the aged themselves: many old people are apologists for a life poorly lived: they are physically, spiritually and intellectually unwell. These attributes are, many times, chosen by a dissolute life and not arbitrarily given by the heavy hand of an “unjust” God. Secondly, our concept of retirement as an institution is from Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), Chancellor of the newly formed German Empire.1 His policy was to remove older, hence less productive, workers from the labor force and to prevent poverty (and probably a revolution), the old industrial employees were awarded a small stipend or pension. The main motivation here was capitalism2 and productivity, not caring and compassion.

Most older people, however, are like our grandparents. They define what it means to have strength in the self, power in the world and love for humanity. If they are removed from active participation in the society and then, at some point, simply warehoused in some old folks prison (sorry, I meant “home”) to die, it is the community, that suffers. The vast majority of society’s ideas, thoughts and inventions were, and are, created by older and not younger individuals.3 Someone once asked the playwright, Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) what, in his opinion, is the most beautiful thing in this world. “Youth,” he replied, “is the most beautiful thing in this world -- and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!” This was eventually reduced to the more concise expression: Youth is wasted on the young.4 The problem is that our contemporary world is in love with the newness of things: a new cell phone, a new computer game, and a newly minted boy-band, for example. “In the west, scholars present the current century as ‘the century of old age’: there are fewer children and an increase in elderly people. This imbalance is a great challenge to contemporary society. And yet, a certain culture of profit insists on making the elderly appear to be a burden, an extra weight. They are not only unproductive; they are an encumbrance, and are to be discarded. And discarding them is sinful. We do not dare to say this openly, but it happens. There is something cowardly in this ‘inurement’ to a throwaway culture. We want to remove our growing fear of weakness and vulnerability, but in this way we increase in the elderly the anguish of being inadequately supported and abandoned. … We are all a little fragile, the elderly. Some, however, are particularly weak, many are alone, and affected by illness. Some depend on the indispensable care and attention of others. Will we take a step back for this? Will we abandon them to their fate? A society without closeness, in which gratuitousness and selfless affection — even among strangers — are disappearing, is a perverse society. … Where there is no honor to the elderly; there is no future for the young.” 5

We must find a way to create a diverse community in our neighborhood. We simply cannot be a mono-generational civilization. Without the imagination of the young and the analysis of the old, we are finished as a thoughtful and intellectual species. The playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) has a thought: “It is well to believe that there needs but a little more thought, a little more courage, more love, more devotion to life, a little more eagerness, one day to fling open wide the portals of joy and of truth.”

The only way our community of men will grow and blossom is to live in an integrated community. The young, the middle-aged and the old must all cohabitate in a society. This is ideally created in a village atmosphere.6 Many cities are trying very hard to create livable communities based on this model. One of the great gifts that I receive on a weekly basis is my exposure to literally hundreds of young ideas from a multitude of young people. They are not all well thought out or even clever, but they are novel and fresh. Society is much like a forest. The old oaks shelter the undergrowth so that the new saplings can find nourishment and are, therefore, able to mature.

9. 蘇格拉底曾退休過嗎?


然而,老一輩的人就如同我們的祖父母一樣,他們定義了什麼是自我的力量、對世界的影響力,以及對人的愛。若他們無法積極參與社會的活動,到了一個時間點,我們把他們送到老人監獄(抱歉,我指的是老人院),讓他們等待死亡的來臨,這樣即是整個社會的損失。目前社會大部分的想法、思維和發明皆來自於上一代,而非年輕一代3,過去如此,現在也是如此。曾經有人問劇作家伯納‧蕭(1856-1950),世上最美麗的事物是什麼?他回答:「青春是這世上最美的事,但可惜的是,它被孩子浪費掉了。」用更精簡的方式來說:青春在年輕人身上浪費掉了。4 問題的癥結在於,當今社會喜愛新鮮的事物,舉例來說:新的手機、新的電腦遊戲,剛組成的男子演唱團體。「在西方社會,學者將當前世紀描述為『老年人的世紀』:出生率降低,而老年人口增加了。這失衡的狀態對於當前社會是個巨大的挑戰。然而,追求經濟利益的這種文化仍將老年人視為負擔,一個額外的負荷。他們不僅沒有生產力,還是個累贅,終將遭到拋棄,但是拋棄他們卻又是不道德的。也許我們不敢公開地談論此事,但這確實是存在的事。「習慣於」這種拋棄式的文化是種懦弱的行為。我們想去除對身體虛弱與易受傷害日益增長的恐懼感,但這種心態卻徒增老年人得不到充份支持與遭到遺棄的痛苦不安。年長者都是有點脆弱的,而其中有些人更為嚴重。很多人孤苦零丁,並遭受病魔侵襲,有些人則必須仰賴他人不可或缺的照護和關心。我們是否能夠退一步想想這個問題呢?我們是否會讓他們遭受遺棄的命運?一個缺乏緊密關係的社會,一個甚至對陌生人沒有抱持善意和無私情感的社會是不正常的......在一個老人不能獲得應有尊重的社會,年輕人便沒有未來。」5

我們必須找出方法建立一個多元的社區。我們絕不能成為單一世代的文明。沒有年輕人的想像力和年長者的分析能力, 人類就不再是一個有想法、有智慧的物種了。劇作家莫里斯‧梅特林克(1862-1949)有個理念:「我們最好要相信,只需要更多一點的思考,更多一點的勇氣,更多一點的愛,更投入生活一點,更多一點的渴望,有朝一日,便能夠打開歡樂和真理的大門。」

人們能共成長與繁榮的唯一方法就是住在一個世代整合的社區。年輕人、中年人和老年人必須同時居住在其中,最理想的狀態是創造出村落生活的氛圍。6 許多城市很努力想要用這套模式創造出一個宜居的社區。我每週收到最棒的禮物就是得以接觸眾多年輕人提出的幾百個想法,當然並非所有的想法都經過縝密思考,或甚至是比較聰明的點子,但是這些想法確實都是新穎且原創的。社會就像一座森林。老橡樹庇蔭下層的灌木叢,讓幼樹得以獲得滋養且成長茁壯。