Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, October 13, 2017

YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN

As I think I may have remarked somewhere, the principal problem with the sort of Continuing Care Retirement Community [CCRC] where I now live is that it is full of old people, which reminds me more often than I would like that I am going to die.  The principal benefit is that it is full with old people, many them older than I, some much older than I, thus giving me reason to believe that I will not die just yet. 

Slowly, I have been getting to know the people who live here [here being Carolina Meadows], mostly those in the building in which I live, but bit by bit those in other buildings or in what are called “villas,” small one story free-standing homes with garages and such.  For well-known demographic reasons, more of my fellow residents are old women than are old men, and some of the women are well into their nineties, or even beyond.  Almost all of us have suffered the visible insults of old age, and there are as many walkers in use here as there are bicycles on a college campus.  Some of us are bent almost double with arthritis and other physical problems, others have a marked case of “widow’s hump,” and a fair number of folks exhibit some sort of cognitive loss – forgetfulness, short term memory loss, and so forth.  People here are touchingly understanding of and accommodating of the frailties of others, routinely and without comment.

All of this made me feel, rather defensively, when I first moved in, that I did not belong, that I had no business being here, that although I am a naturally polite person [believe it or not], I really had nothing in common with the other residents.

But little by little, around the jigsaw puzzle table or the dining rooms or in the hallways, I actually began to talk with folks, and I have discovered to my great surprise and considerable pleasure that contrary to appearances and the usual “tells” by which we appraise people, many of my fellow residents are genuinely interesting people.  Most of them have college degrees [remember that only about 5% of people of my generation completed college], many have traveled to places I have never seen, and all have, during their long lives, done genuinely interesting things. [I leave entirely to one side the report that the man who occupied our apartment before we moved in was a Nobel Prize winner.]   

Several months ago, shortly after moving in, I got into a conversation with a tiny woman, bent over double by extreme arthritis, who paused to try to get a piece in the jigsaw puzzle we were then doing.  She is so crippled that she has to turn her head to one side to look up when she talks to someone.  Every instinct in me cried out that this was someone I should help across the street, but not someone I would want to talk with.  But I actually have an acute ear for language, and a turn of phrase she used struck me as lovely and genuinely intelligent.  She turns out to be a fascinating person who is, appearances aside, one of the sprightliest people I have ever met. 


Again and again, I have had experiences like this here, challenging and rebutting my lifelong habit of judging people by their academic stigmata.  It has been an eye-opener living in a CCRC.

16 comments:

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

That is genuinely beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Genuinely beautiful? "These old people, slow, infirm, crooked, bereft of any badges of higher education and thus typically below my notice, are surprisingly interesting! Some are actually smart! So cool."

Robert Paul Wolff said...

You just don't get it, do you? I am one of those slow, infirm, crooked old people, and as it happens most of them do have impressive badges of higher education. I guess I have to go back to writing ideological screeds, which will be read as simple descriptions of the world.

Reporter553 Reporter553 said...

What amazes me is that once moved on to this phase, one expects, after the apprehension & resistance phase, you will be slowly immersed in the new life & activities, and seemingly you do. But in addition to that, you also slip to your observational post & study the human condition.
Now, I am studying your Ideological Critique videos & find them source of amazement & enjoyment. Wish you can tell us more about your new life, what strikes you as wonderful in the life of your compatriots - like the tiny lady you mentioned, the mix of storytelling & explications you have perfected along the academic years.
The last phase of lives can be a descent to a grave (like the horse-shoe you described) or an assent to higher understanding & humility. It seems to me that you Dr. Wolff took the latter route, writing from their will help us at least see the promising possibility.
And, yes, I am impressed by your wish to communicate and keeping your lines open. A Benevolent Herzog-like.
Regards
Kayed

Anonymous said...

Is it so surprising that most of them have college degrees and have travelled and done interesting things? Those things require a fair bit of money, as does living in a retirement community. The population of a retirement community is not exactly a representative sample of humanity as a whole.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Anonymous, reflect on this. These are all people in their eighties and nineties, save for a handful in their seventies and a few over one hundred. That means they were all of college age in the nineteen forties or very early fifties. At that time [NOT NOW] roughly 5% of the adult population had four year college degrees. Of course they are all quite affluent [but probably not really rich - there are ritzier CCRCs for them], but many many affluent people in that age range do not have post-high school degrees.

Debra Campbell said...

I thought that was a lovely, hopeful blog. Thank you for that. It was reading your book "In Defense of Anarchism" that led me to (eventually) a Ph.D. in Political Science, and to defend direct deliberative democracy. I believe your claims to be an atheist and a Marxist, but I'm not sure you are really an Anarchist? :) Perhaps you can be persuaded to adopt a view that I share with my fellow political theorist, Jack Crittenden, that is, 3-D politics - direct deliberative democracy! Here is a link to our primitive, fledgling website: http://www.3-dpolitics.com/

Hope you keep learning and blogging!

Debra J. Campbell

Anonymous said...

Hello, Robert.

I see some self-righteous and self-important anonymous jackass is on your case. This holier-than-thou trend is really getting insufferable. Rest assured -- many of us from the younger generation are fed up with these sorts of petty cavils.

Keep on posting this great stuff and never mind the social preening and virtue signalling of these irksome types. They will learn soon enough, I hope, that they will never amount to anything this way.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous may have been a bit rude in his or her way of raising the point, but I do think there’s room for critical reflection here, It’s a wonderful post in many ways, but I admit Iwas a bit bothered by this passage:
“...many of my fellow residents are genuinely interesting people. Most of them have college degrees [remember that only about 5% of people of my generation completed college], many have traveled to places I have never seen, and all have, during their long lives, done genuinely interesting things. [I leave entirely to one side the report that the man who occupied our apartment before we moved in was a Nobel Prize winner.]”

This does, whether intentionally or not, imply that if one is less educated or less well travelled, then one is unlikely to be interesting. I doubt this was really meant in that way, but why not pause to think about the implication? It’s interesting too that Professor Woolf in his reply stresses the reasonableness of surprise that they have degrees, not that of the inference from degrees to interesting.

He then adds that they are all quite affluent, which I suspect is the real causal link: affluent people are more likely to have the kinds of interests someone like me (I’m also a college professor in the humanities) has. But from there is a bigger logical step to, therefore they are truly interesting, unlike those who don’t have the interests of the affluent.

Thought experiment: how would the post have been different had it been in a decidedly non-affluent retirement community?

Again, I don’t think this is what the post really meant to say, but it did worry me a little, and I understand why anonymous or others might have a critical reaction.

Litowitz said...

Robert, I know your work and enjoyed your post. Do you have any thoughts about how they do things in Asia? My wife is from Taiwan and I am in Asia a lot, and the grandparents have the task of taking the kids to school, then shopping for the day at the outdoor market, talking to friends, then picking the kids up at school. So they live with the family and actually spend more time with kids. To me, it makes sense, and previous generations in America lived together. I can’t help feeling that society doesn’t want to see old people when in fact they cut through the BS and have great things to say and contribute. Thoughts?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Professor Campbell, thank you so much for the comment. I will check out the website. Direct Deliberative Democracy is the next best thing to legitimacy.

Debra Campbell said...

You are very welcome and thanks for your interest! I enjoy following your blog. I came to the conclusion that direct deliberative democracy might be the closest thing to Aristotle's Polity and could be the best form of government. It's becoming clear that if our democracy in America doesn't evolve into something more like a polity, then we are likely to devolve into tyranny. Here are some of my thoughts on how troubling Trump is for America and yet many people I know support him: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59e39d85e4b003f928d5e7bc

I just heard of a study (I'll have to look it up) that shows that 30% of the American adult population would prefer to follow an authoritarian figure. That is, coincidentally (?), about the size of Trump's base. That is troubling and Democrats/Progressives must find a positive alternative or suffer the consequences.

Anonymous said...

My apologies, I just noticed that in my post I misspelled Wolff as Woolf. But surely it's a complement to be confused with Virginia!

Anonymous said...

"I see some self-righteous and self-important anonymous jackass is on your case. This holier-than-thou trend is really getting insufferable. Rest assured -- many of us from the younger generation are fed up with these sorts of petty cavils."

Leiter is so not part of the younger generation. (I doubt he ever was.)

Anonymous said...

FYI: Uneducated people who are not well-traveled are, indeed, less likely to be interesting.

Anonymous said...

"FYI: Uneducated people who are not well-traveled are, indeed, less likely to be interesting."

This is far from self-evident, and the belief that it requires no evidence may reflect a certain narrowness of experience and mind (ironically, being provincial or less than "well-traveled" psychologically and demographically. As Thoreau once said, "I have traveled a great deal in Concord.")