Humanity, today, is in its adolescence. Most of a teenager’s life is still ahead of them, and their decisions can have lifelong effects. Similarly, most of humanity’s life lies ahead – an estimated 118 billion people have already lived, but vastly more people, perhaps thousands or even millions of times that number, are yet to be born.
And some of the decisions we make this century will impact the entire course of humanity’s future.
Contemporary society does not appreciate this fact. To mature as a species, we need to embrace a perspective called longtermism – a way of thinking that differs greatly from the prevalent mindset today.
Longtermism is the view that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time. It’s about taking seriously the sheer scale of the future, and how high the stakes might be in shaping it. It means thinking about the challenges we might face in our lifetimes that could impact civilisation’s whole trajectory, and taking action to benefit not just the present generation, but all generations to come.
The case for longtermism rests on the simple idea that future people matter. This is common sense. We care about the impacts of climate change, radioactive nuclear waste, and resource depletion not just because they affect our lives, but because they affect the lives of our grandchildren, and their grandchildren in turn. If you could prevent a genocide in a thousand years, the fact that “those people don’t exist yet” would do nothing to justify inaction.
Many social movements have fought for greater recognition for disempowered members of society. Advocates of longtermism want to extend this recognition to future people, too. Just as we should care about the lives of people who are distant from us in space, we should care about people who are distant from us in time – those who live in the future. [Continue reading…]