Summing Up


The Summing Up, Somerset Maugham, was written when the author was in his sixties before World War Two. It is a book of interest by a capable writer who can develop a point without being realistic or accurate in his assessments. Consider his analysis of being old:

“For the complete life, the perfect pattern, includes old age as well as youth and maturity. The beauty of a morning and the radiance of noon are good, but it would be a very silly person who drew the curtains and turned on the light in order to shut out the tranquility of the evening. Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth. The philosophers have always told us that we are the slaves of our passions, and is it so small a thing to be liberated from their sway? The fool’s old age will be foolish, but so was his youth… It is true that the old man will no longer be able to climb an Alp or tumble a pretty girl on a bed; it is true that he can no longer arouse the concupiscence of others. It is something to be free from the pangs of unrequited love and the torment of jealously. It is something that envy, which so often poisons youth, should be assuaged by the extinction of desire. But these are negative compensations; the old age has positive compensations also. Paradoxical as it may sound it has more time. …Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long. In old age the taste improves, and it is possible to enjoy art and literature without the personal bias that in youth warps the judgment. It has the satisfaction of its own fulfillment. It is liberated from the trammels of human egoism; free at last, the soul delights in the passing moment, but does not bid it away. It has completed the pattern.

(Penguin Books, NY, 1963, p. 190-191)

Maugham is very hopeful about what lies ahead (lived into his nineties), but fears and forces of age are to be observed. Loss of energy, loss of ability, loss of senses are major deficits in any human being, whether young and old. They are common with age. There may seem to be more time, but remember each act takes longer. Secondary symptoms accompany these deficiencies: loss of confidence, reduced sense of fitting in, being inflexible and frequently misunderstanding.

Maugham writes about a small percentage of people when he assumes as a person ages responsibilities, hatreds, prejudices and states of mind can change more easily. Age frequently ossifies points of view, sets biases, and gives obligations an anchor while limiting choices, augmenting burdens and submitting to predilection. The long and short of Maugham’s aging theory is, success in fulfilling it for all people happens long before they reach old age. If persons have no ability or inclination to change or learn from life and its experiences at 20 years or at 40 years, it can be assumed that people will not change at 60 years or at 80 years. Will people “undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long?” Are persons with no sense of passion and no desire capable of mastering new learning, seeing new perspectives on life, and taking new efforts to reach satisfaction?

It is more likely that most elderly will disappear quietly, except they vote. They get the most benefits from the government; they claim they have contributed and they are owed. That is true if they remain active. If they are passive and do nothing for themselves, for Americans and the country, that is the worst result. The old can participate and become elders – have a satisfactory life in old age, but that is a role to be earned.

Today is a situation that the Boomer and more recent generations must face, and it might be considered a joke like an earlier incident. Miley Cyrus did a skit. Apparently everyone was offended, but what is disgusting about it? I’ve not seen but heard about it. [My eyes are too sensitive. Having written a long novel about the Nixon years in Berkeley, I’ve seen more than I can imagine, about anatomy, bodies and activities arising from each.] About the skit Mothers and Fathers, throughout America deplore that it was broadcast without any rating: INAPPROPRIATE FOR TEENAGERS AND CHILDREN WHO WILL SEE IT ON THE INTERNET. Someone asked why the MTV producers allowed it on the air?

Is this the first time parents have talked to their kids about sex, love, life, drugs and the commercialism about all those topics? If it happened this morning and this week, it is too late. The idea that Miley Cyrus has presented a defining moment in American history is nonsense. As part of raising children, parents have the responsibility to be parents, just like all other animals do, and teach the young what is important, how to act, what to do, and how to get and use protection against culture and society. The skit is not Pearl Harbor, 9-1-1, or The Free Speech Movement.

Did Cyrus do this out of the blue? NO, she grew up with it. Remember Bill and Monica, a couple that will live in celebrity, in notoriety, in infamy. There were cigars, the acts and gyrations, no “sex-with-that-woman” and the other lies, the blue dress. Front page news for a few years, and Bill Clinton was a punch line while arguing that he had prerogatives, privileges and immunities to lie in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a third woman he victimized. The women were right; Bill was wrong, as is reflected in the large settlement he paid. However, the third woman was referred to generously by Clinton supporters as trailer trash. Apparently any woman bringing a sexual harassment charge against Bill was trailer trash, and no one defended those women; no one complained about the belittling, mocking, deriding “the third woman” or “that woman,” either. Just throw those women and all other like women under the bus. I wonder if the women who were subjected to Bob Filner’s (San Diego mayor) advances, affections and moves should be so labeled. Filner complained he was targeted in Republican San Diego because he is a Democrat.

There was some hope after Bill and Monica. Apparently Al Gore had indiscretions, and his wife, Tipper, divorced the asshole. I voted for Al, but in one way, I’m happy he lost: Any politician who can’t keep his indiscretions confidential should not be president. It is said that the French nation laughs at American shock and dismay that our politicians have affairs. That is incorrect. The French laugh because American politicians are indiscrete and like to be found with their pants down.

So what of the skit that Cyrus acted. First, there are no lies and no lawsuit; anything she did is less serious. Second, it is probably bad entertainment just like it was bad news 15 years ago. Third, if the content was all right for America in 1997, what is the difference in 2013? PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, cable news and (All the news that is fit to print) The New York Times versus MTV, today? It is sour grapes that MTV did it first. Fourth, if the perpetrators and the acts themselves were not condemned in 1997, why are people spouting off, hypocritically, today?

What does this have to do with age? Reason, judgment, logic, thinking don’t improve with age unless each human being reflects, thinks and knows. A twenty year old can know as much as a sixty year old. Memories and memory don’t always play well in human beings, young, middle aged or old. Why cringe at sex today and yet when younger, not be startled or alarmed by lies, lawsuits, sex and abuse of power in 1997? I don’t condone Miley Cyrus, but I’m not shocked or surprised anyone would overlook the chance to do her skit. Anything to keep the name before the public benefits her. However, gaining a name by being a-serial-killer-want-to-be-musician appears to be the limit.

Charles Manson didn’t have the charisma, the savoir faire or grace to use older words. He didn’t talk well; he was a poor singer; he danced badly, he sneered when he smiled. He lacked the cherished traits to pass and get the attention and love from other human beings. Anyone who can do those needs no talent, no training, no ability and no mind. Just show the audience you’re willing to do anything to get the face and name into lights, on TV, before the public, on the Internet – chatter, sing, smile and dance senselessly.

Being old only allows people to forget what happened 15, 33, 50 years ago; there is no virtue or benefit in a poor memory or an inability to communicate accurately or with wisdom. Some people were causal 15 years ago, and are shocked today, and Americans may only say, we have learned nothing over the course of our lives. We should know our reactions to the Cyrus skit should not now be astonishment and horror. That should have happened in 1997 and 1998. Today we be ashamed.