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The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking

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It is the year 2100. The Earth is burning, glaciers are melting rapidly, the forests being swiped up in the last century, lakes and rivers desiccated, seas polluted, agricultural lands turned barren, industrial production stagnated, atmospheric air unbreathable and there stands our descendent cursing us, ‘this is what our ancestors did for us.

They have made earth inhabitable for us simply because of their transient and short-term goals. They have polluted seas, dried rivers and lakes, swiped up forests to cut timber and extensively depleted fossil resources. Oh, God! They have made the earth inhabitable’

Imagine the abovementioned and deliberate what your response would be to future descendent? It is certitude that many of us would not be in the year 2100, and maybe our children or grandchildren would be living up till then, how would our descendent remember us?

They would likely curse us and the more they could do to us would be to annihilate our graves and wipe out our signs that we ever lived, this prospect should scare the hell out of us.

These are horrible deliberations and maybe if we continue with contemporary developments, the prospects would be more awful for future generations, rather by twenty first century, the civilization might collapse as Ilhan Niaz’s, Downfall, Lessons for our Final Century portends.

Although, Dr Niaz prognostications are quite horrible that suggest that the human civilization might vanished by the year 2100, and this may be our last century if leaders kept on with short term thinking like Croesus, however, there is still chance of humans a bit long survival if the current pace of environmental degradation is halted to some extent.

So, why not we try to avoid outcome portended by Downfall: Lesson for our Final Century and do such things that might lead to more generations far beyond the 2100, our posterity remembers us by the good name, ‘the Good Ancestors’

Here is an intriguing account by Roman Krznaric of short-term thinking of humans in his book, The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking’which guides us through plight of the present world to become ‘good ancestors’ for the descendants who could equally enjoy the felicities of life and thank us for our long-term thinking that would be affecting their lives in very positives ways.

The author gives us very profound and interesting insights into contemporary developments on the planet Earth that would certainly affect future generations. He points out the problems of our short-term thinking__based on immediate gains and instant gratifications__which is pervasive over the whole world.

Companies or corporations, governments, politicians, businessmen and states alike focus on very short-term gains such as politicians bent on winning next elections or corporations focusing on gaining as many shares and profits based on short-term results.

The book is divided into three parts which comprise of twelve chapters. The second part is most important which deals with six ways for long-term thinking and overcoming short-termism. The six ways for long term thinking are ‘deep-time humility’ which urges us to be aware of our minuteness in the comic world and look into broader time and space; ‘legacy mind-set’, desire to be remembered and recognized by posterity; ‘intergenerational justice’ care for future generations; ‘cathedral thinking’ which is the art of planning into distant future; ‘holistic forecasting’, accepting uncertainty and preparing for things when they happen and ‘transcendent goals.’

All of the aforementioned deal with the art of becoming good ancestors. They focus on long-term thinking, planning for future generations, the capacity of humans to be remembered, representation of future generations in contemporary planning__the idea may appear weird but it would intriguing to represent future generations because our current developments would impact largely on future generations and establishing commissioner for future generations.

The author brings to light the acts of the present generation that are going to colonize the future, colonization refers to the exploitation of future generations by our current short-term decisions.

Part three laments contemporary systems and solutions to problems. It highlights how efforts are being made and could be made to decolonize future generations. It divulges the short-sightedness of our politicians who are less concerned about the prospects of future generations.

The author aptly figures out the causes of short-sightedness in the democratic system which are short electoral political cycles, interests of pressure groups, digital media, political controversies, shunning of interests of future generations and nation-states focused on their interests rather than holistic thinking to combat major global challenges.

It is to be noted that we cannot say that our contemporary actions are exploiting and colonizing the future. The term colonization of the future is out of context because if the current generation plans something for its own sake and maybe its impacts go beyond a few decades that does not mean that it was a deliberate attempt to harm the future generation.

Colonization and exploitation are deliberate acts and it can be posited that alleging the current generation of colonizing the future is injustice.

There is another interesting and strange idea of representing future generations in current systems that would likely impact the future. It appears reckless to me how one can decide for the generations that are yet to come.

As Harari puts that we are unable to predict the world in 2050 and maybe our current systems of education may become obsolete up till then so it is impossible to determine the auspices of future generations and the idea appears insane utopia.

There is no doubt that the Earth is moving toward dangerous paths and long-term thinking is the only way forward. The author has aptly argued in favour of the future of the planet that needs careful attention from the leaders and planners of the world.

Many organizations and institutions are working for the safeguard against environmental collapse which is a major challenge to the modern world.

Though, Krznaric is scornful of the scientific views that it would be able to protect the planet from the despoiling acts of humans and seems pessimistic about science as solution to long term problems but it is quite possible that he is naive in speculations.

Thomas R Malthus, in his ‘An Essays on the principle of Population’ in 1798 speculated that population would exceed the production leading to collapse of the environment but scientific revolution solved the issue and production exceeds many times that of populations. It is probable that science may find way for sustainable future.

We need certain long-term planning and consent on the affairs regarding climate change and impending ecological catastrophes. The safeguard of our mother Earth should be the top priority because our survival is with her survival.

The author needs full compliments for bringing to light the major issues of the world and by tackling these issues shrewdly we can be remembered as ‘good ancestors.’

Despite disagreeing on few of his assumptions, the book is intriguing read to get insight of few intriguing and weird ideas of the author. Moreover, his emphasis for saving the Earth from collapse demands instant attention from the world community.

The only way to sustainable way forward is long-termism that Krznaric inform us that we can achieve via training our brain for distant planning by following his six ways. But who would follow and care these steps is subject to question because millions of people would not forsake their gratifications only for sake of becoming ‘good ancestors.’

Azfar Khan
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Azfar Khan Niazi is Student of History, Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.
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