Focusing on people who’ll live centuries or millennia from now can definitely feel weird, especially when there’s so much going on in the world today that seems so pressing. But I like to think about our current situation in the context of the history that got us here. There’s a lot to commend about our world and we owe much of that to people who came before us, and at least some of them were thinking pretty selflessly about prosperity. And likewise, there’s a lot that seems like it could’ve been better if previous generations had acted with a bit more foresight. One example is the founding of the US. The founders probably could’ve served their present generation pretty well by being less thoughtful and relying on the leadership of say George Washington as a powerful executive. Instead, while it was extremely far from perfect, they deliberated pretty hard to set a different precedent and come up with a system that would be good after their political cohort was long gone. On the flip side, the greenhouse effect was first proposed in the late 19th century, and certainly by the 1970s and 1980s people knew enough about climate change to at least have started investing in greener tech. But this is the classic story of shortsightedness. And look, if I were say a philanthropist or aid org back then, I probably would’ve thought “can we really think about funding low carbon energy when there’s millions of refugees and starving people, the threat of war between the US and Soviets, etc?” But had people back then gotten the ball rolling on sensible climate policies, just think how much better our current world, let alone the next century, could have been. Ironically, a lot of the problems that probably seemed more pressing back then, like poverty or conflict, would be a lot better now if people had had longer time horizons. So it seems like if we’re interested in helping people, one solid approach could be to think about how we can be good ancestors.
Thanks for your submission!