The slowly ageing idol said that it was finally time to give up smoking cannabis because he now had a “sense of responsibility” towards his eight-year-old daughter. He added, “When you’re bringing up a youngster, your sense of responsibility does kick in, if you’re lucky, at some point.”
This statement was very revealing – far more revealing than it was probably intended to be – because it constituted an admission that smoking cannabis was an act of irresponsibility. There is, of course, a time and place for irresponsibility in a man’s life, namely adolescence, but 69 is a little late in the day to grow out of it.
Of course, Paul McCartney was protected from the consequences of his own irresponsibility by his talent and great wealth; he didn’t really need to be responsible. But most of us have no such luxury. Responsibility is required much earlier in our lives, because of both our circumstances and our choices. Airline pilots and train drivers cannot behave like superannuated rock stars. Unfortunately, more and more of us kick against the traces, as if we were still 18; we want to be superannuated rock stars.
The development of a sense of responsibility does not “kick in” if we are lucky. No one is self-indulgent by virtue of bad luck; he is self-indulgent by virtue of egotism and an indifference to others. The adoption of a culture of adolescence is therefore bound to result in a society of isolated self-absorption and indifference to the welfare of others.
Yesterday, I happened to be walking through the church of St Mary the Virgin in Nottingham. On the wall was a plaque to the memory of Frederick John Cox, “a youth of great promise”, who was “cut off in the morning of his life” and who “died on the 28th of November 1809 in the sixteenth year of his age”. To this some verses were appended:
“Farewell dear Youth! Too soon thy course is sped.
Fond Nature cries, and mourns, the untimely dead.
Yet why these tears? In everlasting day
Still blooms thy youth, and never shall decay.”
We have impiously – and ludicrously – brought down from heaven to earth the hope of an everlasting day of blooming and undecaying youth.