Yeats once asked, "Why should not old men be mad?" In his final broadcast for A Point of View Clive James offers his answer. With his granddaughter and her friends bouncing on the furniture, James looks back on his own childhood to a time when the modern world was at its worst and countless millions "died pointlessly for the fulfillment of idle political dreams." Thinking himself lucky to be able to grow old at all, let alone to do so in peace, James reflects:
There should be pride in it, that you behaved no worse. There should be gratitude, that you were allowed to get this far. And above all there should be no bitterness. The opposite, in fact. The future is no less sweet because you won't be there. The children will be there, taking their turn on earth. In consideration of them, we should refrain from pessimism, no matter how well founded that grim feeling might seem.
This passage is reproduced in James’ book A Point of View.
I think it is nonsense. Stupidity. I believe that this sentiment represents surrender.
I think Yeats is absolutely correct. Why should old men not be mad? Death sucks. Old age is only slightly better.
James calls for gratitude in old age and claims that the future will be no less sweet if I am not there. But James is wrong. The future will be decidedly less sweet without me.
It will be less sweet for me.
And while I would love to feel joy for the subsequent generations and their bright and promising futures, I can’t be joyous for anyone if I am dead. There is no future for me once I am dead.
So how can the damn thing be sweet?
Yes, I realize that this is all based upon my narrow, relatively minuscule perspective, and that the world will move on just fine once I am gone, but my perspective counts for a lot. It’s the basis for my feelings and my beliefs. If I don’t exist, I don’t have any perspective at all, minuscule or otherwise.
Nonexistence is the worst.
I have said it before: I don’t trust anyone who isn’t afraid of death.
Give me Yeats or Dylan Thomas any day. These accepting-of-death types annoy the hell out of me. Life is tragically short. How someone like James can find pride and gratitude in his shuffle off this mortal coil is beyond me.