We are a funny lot we humans. We invent all sorts of complicated ways to explain ourselves to ourselves and to each other. Among the more recent of these has been the concept of identity politics. This is a product of the internet and enables us to use an essentially binary technology to find any number of like-minded groups to belong to or loathe and ideas to believe in or despise and use the term non-binary to describe the subtlety of differentiation that creates their and our individual personas.
The most potent exemplar is gender. The box to tick is no longer M/F, but L/G/B/T/Q/I. Society is not a simple matter of young or old, rich or poor, married or single, straight or gay. It never was but we (and the media) like the stereotypes. The labels keep things simple. But we have all moved on; except possibly the popular media which still exist in their own universe of cultural prejudices. If over 65 and if in a car crash or the captor of a bank robber one is still a ‘pensioner’.
Age remains an issue of a debatably binary nature. Are older people a problem as we live longer and consume more social resources in pensions and healthcare – squatting in property of which we have no need? Or are we providers of tax revenue from our pensions, expenditure the economy sorely needs and finance for our off-spring? Well, we are all of these, but sadly neither cultural prejudice about our driving (thanks Duke of Edinburgh), nor the Treasury (honestly guv, I can pay my own TV licence) seems capable of applying the same analytical sophistication to age as they do to sexuality.
Luckily, amidst the gloom, confusion and for those conscious of advancing age and guilt about not making the best of ourselves, Carl Honoré comes to the rescue with his latest book, BOLDER – subtitled ‘making the most of our longer lives.’
So it can all be good. Carl, (given his presentational style I think I can call him Carl without offence) is an optimist. He is aware of difficulties on the road to universal enjoyment of his prospective life condition but remains enthusiastic about the possibilities of us living a happy and fulfilled life: if not forever, at least so long as we are breathing. As his TED talk shows, he is something of a motivational speaker. His writing is much like his speech – full of energy, fluent and accessible. It is difficult to disagree with his proposition. What is not to like?
There is nothing to dislike. Unless you are not in the target audience – who are over 40 and troubled by a sense of departed youth and advancing age. Carl is quite open as being at 50+ central to the target audience and leader of his own identity group campaign.
If a younger reader, there is a relevance test – unless you have got upset about reaching 30. If older, in that category defined as ‘pensioner’ you might be irritated. The cheery injunctions to get involved with almost anything; the catalogue of admirable folk from all corners of the earth jumping out of gliders, climbing mountains, starting businesses or having passionate affairs in their 80s will have a dispiriting effect on any reader whose age, lifestyle, physique or temperament precludes emulating the role models cited.
So this is not a self-improvement book. Nor is it a useful guide to coping with age and infirmity. It’s a spirited pep talk for self-obsessed miseries panicked about facing transition to another decade. They certainly ought to read Mr Honoré and adopt his philosophy. If disinclined to buy the book they should look out for the television or Netflix series for which this is quite obviously the script and probably already in production.
For the rest of us, we know that we are where we are, that there is not much of a Plan B, and that in any case no-one gets out.
Carl Honoré; BOLDER; Simon & Schuster; ISBN 978-1-4711-6435-4; available on Amazon from £9.99