What Do We Owe The Future?

There are many problems facing us as a species. Some, like racism, have to do with how we treat each other now. Others, like climate change or fossil fuel use, are problems we can predict for the future.

The most immediate problems that we see are the problems facing us right now. For instance, do I need a haircut? Am I dressed appropriately for today’s weather? Is my stomach growling? Which bills are due this week?

We do some planning for the future. For example, when possible we create retirement accounts so that we have enough money to last us into our old age.

However, we aren’t all that good at looking far ahead. Most people do not save enough money for a comfortable retirement. Some of that, no doubt, has to do with the lack of extra income to put toward retirement. But some of it comes from our inability to imagine the future.

As difficult as it might be for an individual — rarely do we actually have our lives mapped out in advance — but it becomes almost impossible in aggregate. Our society has a difficult time sacrificing our present for a better future.

As an example, let’s consider fossil fuel use. We’ve known for decades that the supply of fossil fuels is limited. There is only so much oil and coal in the ground. However, this stored energy has allowed us to build our modern day society, from the grandiose, like the ability to travel around the world quickly, to the mundane like having a light to read during the night time.

However, knowing that we have a limited supply of fossil fuels, fuels that power our present-day life, we continue to increase our usage year after year. It is only recently, after decades, that we have started to develop renewable fuel technologies. Even now, decades later, they still only make up a tiny fraction of our overall energy usage. We have concentrated instead on more efficient ways of extracting these fossil fuels, rather than transitioning to alternate sources.

Why is it so hard to plan, collectively, for the future? Individually, we might be able to sacrifice present-day luxuries for a better future. Why not as a species?

Or is the question itself the wrong one to ask? Should we not be making decisions for the future? As airplane safety teaches us, it is important to secure our own oxygen mask before assisting others. If we don’t survive in the present day, preparing for the future won’t matter.

To summarize, how much of our thought and energy should be thinking about future generations? What do we owe the future?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? How do you set priorities? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? What is your five year prediction? Ten? What are you saving for?

Is It Fair To Judge The Past With Morals Of Today?

If you look closely enough at any beloved historic figure, you can probably find some flaws. With some, you don’t even need to look all that closely.

For example, let’s consider U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. He saw the United States through the Great Depression and instituted some revolutionary programs, like Social Security. However, he also was responsible for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

It is relatively easy to look back at injustices in history and harshly judge the people making the decisions that led to those injustices.

But is that fair? Those people were a product of their times. Prevailing public opinion changes over time, and things that are seen as acceptable at one time in history may not be in another time.

To return to Roosevelt, his decision to round up American citizens can today been seen as obviously wrong. However, at the time the decision was made, the U.S. had just suffered the attack of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and it was determined that Japanese spies within the U.S. provided information for the attack. National security was at stake.

Or is any effort to explain negative behavior just an effort in moral relativism? Are there things that are simply right or wrong, and any human being should be able to tell the difference? Or is morality something that shifts and changes over time? Or perhaps there is a mix of some moral absolutes, and some morality that evolves.

Is it fair to judge the past with morals of today?

Thanks go out to Harold Helson, for suggesting the question.

Related questions: What do you do that you shouldn’t? When is a lie justified? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? What is truth?

Past, Present, Or Future?

In the final week of 2018, we look to the past. On New Year’s Eve, we gather to note a single moment as one year changes to the next. Once 2019 starts, we make resolutions for the future in the coming year.

Which do you prefer: the past, the present, or the future?

Share why if you wish.