This post continues a topic that I started with this post, What is Conservatism? — Part 1. As Smash Mouth Politics observed (here), there is an old adage that says we get more Conservative as we grow older. Moreover, there is statistical evidence that supports this claim. So I decided to study the issue.
Why does experience make one more Conservative?
What is experience?
If we look at the word itself, the answer is not readily apparent. Experience can be used at both a noun and as a verb. With the addition of a “d”, we gain a new form of the word, “experienced.” That form is used as an adjective. Nevertheless, in all its forms, the normal dictionary definition of the word “experience” refers to gaining knowledge firsthand from observation and participation.
How does experience change us?
No ordinary dictionary definition of “experience” will say much about what experience does to us. For that, we must go to the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce.
EXPERIENCE, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced.
To one who, journeying through night and fog,
Is mired neck-deep in an unwholesome bog,
Experience, like the rising of the dawn,
Reveals the path that he should not have gone.
Joel Frad Bink
When do we begin to gain experience? Human life begins as a single cell in the womb of a woman. In a period of weeks, the head and arms and the legs take form, and a clearly human form emerges. Yet even after months have pass, it is only at birth that “experts” say the formative years of human life begin. From our perspective, from long outside the womb, perhaps there is some small truth that demarcation. How can a fetus be reckless? What choices can a fetus make? Its attitude? Perhaps, but no one knows.
So it is that we usually think of wisdom as something we gain from the time of our birth. Yet Jesus observed that to gain wisdom we should behave like little children.
Mark 10:13-16 (New International Version)
The Little Children and Jesus
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
We enter the world small and needy, dependent upon large adults for all our needs. In time we grow bigger and stronger, and others become dependent upon us. In time we lose the humility of childhood. In time, we become unable to receive the kingdom of God with the humility of a little child.
Yet God calls us back. With maturity come responsibilities, misfortunes, and blessings.
- Responsibilities: Both our conscious and the world make demands of us. Sometimes these demands are more than we can bear.
- Misfortunes: Trouble comes. Sickness, accident, job loss, broken friendships and so forth unravel our peace and our confidence.
- Blessings: Unexpected joys, help unwished for….remind us that everything does not depend upon us alone.
Age also tears at the strength of every man and woman. Age stoops the back; age slows the mind. With increasing aches and pains, age assures us that a procession of funerals will eventually end with our own. When we finally accept the certain knowledge of our own death we become afraid. We become desperate for answers we do not have.
Why would experience make us more conservative?
Imagine being Job (The Book of Job). You sit in ashes, mourning. You have lost all. Your family is dead. Your servants and your wealth are gone. Your body is covered with painful sores. All that is left are your friends. They come to share your misery, and for a time they are silent with sympathy. Then they begin to speak, and their words are an accusation. What, they wonder, have you done to earn God’s wrath?
Job was guiltless. Job was so worthy God honored his faith. He made Job’s faith an example for angels and generations of men to come. So that we might know of Job’s example, God allowed Satan to curse Job. Job, however, did not know of God’s intentions, and Job’s friends were unwilling to believe God would allow a good man to experience such ill fortune. So they judged him, and they added to his pain.
Nonetheless, Job’s friends were not bereft of wisdom. When Job repeatedly denied their accusations, they eventually grew silent. Then a young man spoke up.
Job 32:10-13 (Today’s New International Version)
“Therefore I say: Listen to me;
I too will tell you what I know.
I waited while you spoke,
I listened to your reasoning;
while you were searching for words,
I gave you my full attention.
But not one of you has proved Job wrong;
none of you has answered his arguments.
Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom;
let God refute him, not a mere mortal.’
The young man found himself angry at Job’s denial, full of words, and compelled to speak. God would not punish the guiltless, he thought. Since God seemed unavailable, he decided to speak for Him.
Job 36:2-4 (Today’s New International Version)
“Bear with me a little longer and I will show you
that there is more to be said in God’s behalf.
I get my knowledge from afar;
I will ascribe justice to my Maker.
Be assured that my words are not false;
one who has perfect knowledge is with you.
When the young man had finished speaking, God decided to speak for himself. He began by reminding Job, Job’s friends, and the young man of how little we actually know. The Lord reprimanded Job’s friends. Of the young man, nothing more was said. Presumably, he was forgiven due to his age. Perhaps he was expected to learn from his folly.
Experience is the difference between theory and practice. As we get older, we accumulate a record of trial and error. Under the care of parents, children have yet to be humbled by reckless behavior and evil choices. Children do not fully understand the benefits of careful consideration and concern for the welfare of others. Too often, the young have the confidence and pride of perfect knowledge. The young have yet to see how what works theory fails in practice.