Si Jeunesse Savait, Si Vieillesse Pouvait

August 09, 2012

Multiple Pages
Si Jeunesse Savait, Si Vieillesse Pouvait

Back on July 19th I wrote about taking the family shotgun apart. Curious readers have been emailing to ask if I ever succeeded in getting the thing back together.

Yes! The reassembled mechanism—load, fire, eject—works fine with shotted dummy shells. Whether it will work with live rounds, I’ll find out this Saturday when I go to the range.

However, as sometimes disconcertingly happens when you take something apart then put it together again, there’s a part left over. It’s possible that this is some item unrelated to the gun, but I don’t think that’s likely.

So if any reader can tell me where this piece fits in a Mossberg 500, please let me know by email to the address on my home page—preferably before I blow half my face off at the range on Saturday.


Notice the three-week gap between that July 19th piece and this one. Taking a shotgun to pieces and putting it together again isn’t that big of a deal: a few dozen parts, some basic tools, cleaning and lubricating materials. I don’t have a day job, the wife’s out to work, and the kids (19, 17) are self-maintaining. What took me so long?

I have offered the opinion elsewhere that the saddest true thing ever said is: “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait.” The bloke who said it was Henri Estienne (1531-98). It translates as: “If youth only knew, if age only could.” Which is to say: When you’re young you are up for anything but don’t know squat; when you’re old you know it all but can’t be bothered.

“When you’re young you are up for anything but don’t know squat; when you’re old you know it all but can’t be bothered.”

Having now the biblically allotted span in plain sight, I can testify to M. Estienne’s wisdom. You slow down, and looking back on your life, you find yourself wondering how on Earth you found the time and energy to do some of the things you did.

The Theory of Special Relativity predicts something called the Lorentz Contraction. If you accelerate away from me, as you approach closer and closer to the cosmic speed limit I see the clocks and all the physical processes on your starship slow down. If you could actually attain light speed, it would seem to me that everything aboard your ship had stopped.

Aging is a lot like that. You don’t necessarily perceive much change in yourself, but by the external world’s standards, all your onboard clocks are slowing. Less and less gets done. There are, to be sure, those who try to buck the trend; but they’re like starship passengers trying to defy the Lorentz Contraction by moving around faster. You can’t fight nature.

As with persons, so with civilizations. Western civilization, plainly now in terminal decline, is finding it harder and harder to do anything and is looking back wistfully like a geezer on the accomplishments of its youth.

This came to mind as I was watching the feed from JPL Mission Control on Monday. It was thrilling to see the engineers’ reactions as their subcompact-sized rover touched down on Mars. The event was hardly epochal, though. We first soft-landed equipment on Mars in 1976. The Apollo lunar module we landed on the moon 43 years ago was way bigger than the Curiosity rover, and unlike the rover it had to take off and return.

Forty-three years! Forty-three years before that, Lindbergh had not yet flown the Atlantic. Forty-three years before that, the only automated forms of transportation were the railroad and the steamship. Bruce Charlton:

That landing of men on the moon and bringing them back alive was the supreme achievement of human capability, the most difficult problem ever solved by humans. 40 years ago we could do it – repeatedly – but since then we have *not* been to the moon, and I suggest the real reason we have not been to the moon since 1972 is that we cannot any longer do it. Humans have lost the capability.

These melancholy thoughts of civilizational decline came to mind again when I heard on a news broadcast that it will take at least a year to bring the Colorado cinema mass murderer to trial. And even when the trial eventually gets underway, says TIME, “the case is shaping up to be a years-long criminal proceeding.”

Why? The guy did it, didn’t he? He was arrested on the spot and identified by scores of witnesses. Sure, he might be crazy, and long-standing legal tradition insists that until we have professional opinions on this point, proceedings can’t begin. How long does that take, though?

A year to get to trial? Followed by “a years-long criminal proceeding”? Can’t we any longer get anything done briskly and efficiently?

It’s the same with Jared Lee Loughner, the guy who shot up a crowd in Tucson a year and a half ago. Again, there’s not a shadow of doubt the guy did it, yet it took this long to get a verdict. And that’s with an assist from Loughner’s pleading guilty:

The plea, following Loughner’s long-anticipated competency hearing, forgoes what was expected to be a lengthy trial that would have been draining on survivors and victims’ family members.

Speaking of distress among victims’ family members, spare a thought for the loved ones of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, two young people of Knoxville, Tennessee. Christian and Newsom were kidnapped, raped, tortured, and horribly murdered five and a half years ago by a gang of feral lowlifes whose guilt is no more in doubt than is Jared Lee Loughner’s or James Holmes’s. Yet we still have no final resolution of the case.

Five and a half years! Our arthritic, Alzheimer’s-addled criminal-justice system can’t even deal effectively with dimwitted monsters such as Lemaricus Davidson and Letalvis Cobbins.

It’s all seized-up. We can’t do anything. I’m occasionally asked in conversation what I would do about illegal immigration. “Round ‘em up and deport ‘em” is my stock answer. The reaction is usually furrowed brows and looks of puzzlement. Does he really mean it? Does he really think it’s that simple? Yes and yes. It’s what we used to do when we were young and vigorous.

We can’t do it anymore, just as we can’t send killers to their just deserts or land on the moon. We can’t because our civilization is decrepit and burned-out. You don’t get a second shot at youth. Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Daily updates with TM’s latest