In my mid-eighties myself I was interested to read in Alan Bennett’s diary in the London Review of Books that as an octogenarian he is always conscious of his age with its infirmities and ‘the only end of age’ as Larkin put it. In his case as well as many others the personal situation is acerbated by the visibly worsening of society in many respects nationally and internationally. We can see the pressures on young people setting out on adulthood and on the poor in our own society and the conflicts abroad leading to the miseries of loss of home and livelihood leading many to become refugees. We can see that our cherished western liberal, humane society that we believe in as the beacon for the future, is beset on all sides.
Ironically ‘the enemy within’ turns out to be what we thought of as one of its central pillars namely democracy itself. Large numbers of people have become conscious of their power to bring about change. The change voted for unfortunately is in favour not of greater equalisation of wealth and social opportunities and away from rampant capitalism but is to turn inward to become nationalistic and chauvinistic.
We have turned away from a united Europe once the great post war dream of peace and co-operation. In America they have elected to replace an intelligent, civilised and well-intentioned President with one who is the opposite and whose many shortcomings are overlooked in favour of his appeal exclusively to self-interest.
Alan Bennett finds consolation in the fact that he has no children or grandchildren to feel sorrow and guilt about the future that our generation is bequeathing. I know what he means. Those of us who have staked our hopes for the gradual improvement of mankind in the potential of people to work together cooperatively with good will and kindliness to all, can only take a deep breath and hope that the present situation is just a blip on the upward climb.
Dr Brian Nicol
Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists