Radical Longtermism and the Seduction of Endless Growth: A Critique of William MacAskill’s ‘What We Owe the Future’

Link post

Just stumbled upon this recent post and thought I would share it here for discussion. Feel free to also discuss on the substack itself if you have something worthwhile to share.

What do we, in 2023, ‘owe’ to future generations of humans? What about to future plants, animals, and ecosystems?

Rupert Read and Émile P. Torres dive deeply into these questions in their guest essay for us this week, and put forth a much-needed argument for why we must look more critically at dangerously seductive, radical forms of longtermism.

Aside from evoking the various unsettling aspects of longtermism, one of the most piercing elements of this piece is Read and Torres’ exposure of the paradox within this ideology: that ‘longtermism’ is in fact at odds with long-term thinking. Long-term thinking, as they define it, is an ‘ethical practice and commitment’; it requires deep reflection on the meaning of life; and it requires care for other humans, for future humans, and for our planet. They write, ‘it involves a recognition that there probably will be people long into the future, and that the quality of their lives and the options available to them depend to some nontrivial degree on our actions today.’

A carefully considered critique of radical ‘longtermism’ is therefore not a matter of throwing up one’s hands and ignoring the future of humanity. Drawing upon Hannah Arendt, Joseph Nye, David Graeber and David Wengrow, Read and Torres offer alternative pathways to the broadly utilitarian ideology of ‘longtermism’, rooted in a more temporally and ethically expansive sense of what it means to be human.

- Leigh Biddlecome, Visiting Editor & Curator, Perspectiva