The elderly men who run the world give us hope

All around me, I see elderly folks who have meekly receded into retirement and they struggle to fill their days. (AFP)
All around me, I see elderly folks who have meekly receded into retirement and they struggle to fill their days. (AFP)


  • Instead of grudging their authority, we should learn a thing or two from their zest for life

The world seems tired of elderly men, but the feeling is not mutual. Many countries are run by old men, large corporations too, and also most housing societies, it would seem on most days. Some people appear to hold contempt for ageing men for not receding into irrelevance quietly. This is odd, because being old is the future of all, and what some of them have demonstrated is that ageing need not be the same as dying.

What must be going on in the head of US President Joe Biden as he prepares to run for office again at the age of 81? ‘Without me, the wrong kind of people will run America. I am the answer’? No other American presidential candidate has been this old. When a special counsel appointed by Biden’s own administration said that he is “a well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory…" he was enraged.

Donald Trump has been mocking Biden’s age in more cruel ways. But Trump himself is 77.

How is it that people often sneer at the elderly who do not quit, especially men, yet they manage to control so much of the world?

The world appears jealous of the young, it has too many opinions about the young. People reward the old for denying the success of their peers. But their endurance does not interest me so much as their desire for power and respect. Desire is life.

All around me, I see elderly folks who have meekly receded into retirement and they struggle to fill their days. Some appear to feign concern for a wounded delivery agent, just for the chance to talk; they plot trips to hospitals purely for entertainment; former captains of industry are seen today picking fights with house helps and drivers.

But could this be what the world wants from the old? What else do people expect from their ageing parents? Don’t do anything interesting that might make you fall? Be with other elderly people, don’t get involved in too many things, assume that the lives of other people are more important and more precious? Be alive and dead at once? It’s convenient for us to imagine that all the old want to do is withdraw into a forest, and that they don’t do it only because there are not many forests around anymore. But is this what you would like to be when you are old?

The elderly are the only real outcaste left. I can say that even for a country like India. A lot of caste strife is misunderstood as oppression. Indians do practise caste, but on most days, it is more classification than discrimination. Yet, there is a group of people who often get looked down upon for no reason other than their age.

One of the great old men of our times is Clint Eastwood. At 93, he is in the middle of directing his next film. On his persistence with life, he has said, “I try to get up and be productive, and don’t let the old man in."

Most successful old men were healthy young men who were either genetically lucky, or who trained their bodies to get lucky.

As a Malayalee, I know how common and easy it can be for the elderly to be healthy. Health and fitness at two different things. Fitness is tough and of no importance to most people. But it is truly within the reach of most people to age with enough health to keep working, and to long for something, and come in the way of the undeserving young who think they have the first right to the new world just because they were born later.

Longing is healthy in the old. But there is a longing that is often considered taboo for old men—sex. It is possible that old men do not lose interest in it, and I really hope they don’t, but what may interest them sexually attracts social reproach. Because it is the instinct of the world to protect young women from old men. “If the old men hog the young women, what will be the future of the species?" J.M. Coetzee writes in Disgrace, “Half of literature is about it: young women struggling to escape from under the weight of old men, for the sake of the species."

A way of the world is that it moves mountains to help young women escape from under the weight of old men, but easily surrenders everything else to patriarchs.

It may appear that I am a fan of elderly men, but I am not.

Even as a kid, I never fully believed that the old had some great wisdom in them. In fact, I thought most of them were just kids in ageing bodies. Even so, the natural right of the young to replace the old is plain absurd because the smartness of the young is more overrated than the wisdom of the old.

Most people in their twenties know very little. And a 30-year-old is usually only a 20-year-old who has learnt how to pretend he knows something. People in their forties are infected with a sense of doom and failure, as if they already are in the infancy of old age. In their fifties, a lot of people have already given up. So why sneer at some ambitious old men who thrive? We must instead learn from them how they endure.

Elderly men protect themselves by ignoring the most lethal wisdom that has influenced the world—that adaptation is survival. They survive by not changing, by not ‘adjusting’ to the demands their external environment. That is why Max Planck said, “...truth doesn’t triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light but rather because its opponents eventually die…"

Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist, and the creator of the Netflix series ‘Decoupled’.

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