Saturday 12 May 2012

The Politics of Boredom

Old Age, Ugly but Unbored, with Heracles
Hebe, Cute but Bored & Lonely?
One of the things that the poet Louis MacNeice found notable about the ancient Greeks was that, unlike many moderns, they ‘believed in youth and did not gloze the unpleasant / Consequences of age.’ The Greeks were right, and MacNeice was right. It feels sensually good to be young and beautiful like the athlete Heracles and his girlfriend Hebe, the divine  personification of youth. But there is nothing pleasant about sensing your physical powers deteriorate every day. What I personally most resent is that I can achieve only about 60 per cent in any 24 hours of what I could get through in my early thirties.

But recently I spent a whole week on my own for the first time in fifteen years.  I was deliriously happy: no cooking, dishes or laundry for ungrateful adolescents;  evening TV tuned to news analysis not teen soaps; total, dense, ear-caressing silence all day long. 

I was so thrilled to be under-occupied and isolated that it got me thinking. When I was young, and hangovers only lasted three hours, I was frequently BORED and/or LONELY.  But with the sole exception of a mindnumbing Classics conference two years ago (I will kindly not specify which one), at which otherwise intelligent people managed to deliver epochally tedious papers on some of the most exciting poetry in world  history, I have not suffered a single moment of either boredom or loneliness since  1998. When I do find myself alone, with nothing in the diary, I now feel the purest joy.

Boredom and loneliness will always threaten young people’s happiness, at least  before they have figured out what they want to do with their lives and whom they want to do it with. In 2012, these natural hazards of youth are however being criminally compounded by crippling debts and chronic joblessness (in Greece youth unemployment has hit 52 per cent).  So truckloads of  brilliant creativity, innovative ideas, fresh perspectives, energy and ability to take risks and bounce back, qualities which make our young people such a crucial asset, are being despicably squandered. 

Let’s stop pretending that being young is fun--‘glozing the unpleasant / Consequences of youth’. Francois Hollande was so right to insist last week that he is not just the president of France but ‘the president of the youth of France,’ even if he is losing his hair and pushing sixty. Hollande also proposes to create subsidised jobs for young people in areas of high unemployment, 60,000 new teaching jobs, to tax the rich more, and  reduce the retirement  age. While we wait to see if he has the real intention or capability to act on any of this, let’s briefly enjoy the glimmer of hope on the Euro-horizon. I had begun to forget that politicians could even talk like that.

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