What Do We Owe To Future Generations? (Part Three)


As we continued our discussion three main questions were at its core:

Where is the golden mean? How much to consume vs conserve? Someone mentioned Jeremy Bentham, an advocate of utilitarianism, who argued that we need “to form laws in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number, and that the concept of the individual pursuing his or her own happiness cannot be necessarily declared “right”, because often these individual pursuits can lead to greater pain and less pleasure for the society as a whole. Therefore, the legislation of a society is vital to maintaining a society with optimum pleasure and the minimum degree of pain for the greatest amount of people”.

How do you know what to do? My personal opinion is that we need to raise awareness of what we know and make best decisions now in order to create the best possible society and environment today, no matter what happens tomorrow. So we don’t really owe to future generations but to ourselves and to current generation.

The concept of time is an illusion, everything is happening now. So we should learn about different perspectives to form a realistic opinion of the situation and do the best we can now. No one owns air but we are all responsible for keeping it clean. . That is why NGO s and Intergovernmental policies are important. If one part of the world suffers from pollution other parts of the world need to know that problem and do what they can to help and solve.

How to motivate people to act responsibly? In my group I was told that even when people know what to do, they often will not do it, as no one really wants to sacrifice their privileges and give up their comfort for someone else (whether existing or non-existing). My response is that we need to create incentives and rewards for good behavior and penalties for opposite (on individual, corporate and government levels). They could be monetary or not. One of the example, carbon tax. Beyond extrinsic incentives there are intrinsic ones, like feeling good that you do the right thing (example, recycling) because you live according to your beliefs…

There is an overlap between personal good and common good. Awareness of problems and solutions should help with motivation and building incremental changes in our lives. We should find the balance between being content with what we’ve got and setting goals for what we want to improve. Deep inside we all want inner peace and be a part of this big ecosystem where we reside together with other species whether present, past or future.

We finally got back to our big group of four dozen people and shared our ideas. We voted on whether we think we, humans, are doing well collectively in preserving the Earth for future generation, and the answer was unanimous no.

Someone interjected saying that we should not worry about humans as they are adaptable; they will adjust to new conditions (no matter how dramatic they are). If we run out of natural oil, humans will invent something else. There is no other way to motivate but educate vs hard lessons. Say, if the US goes bankrupt due to its international debt, then it will have to review and restricts its consumerism and credit policy.

Another good point was on religions. Some go on saying that nature is a gift and we can use it up; others warn us to be reasonable and leave resources for other creatures. Several people were against procreating: “If only 1 billion humans could live sustainably on the planet, we should stop multiplying”.

At the very end someone concluded that the question should really be about what motivates us and what we are willing to do not what we owe. And what we should be focusing on and pass on to future generations is not technology, but knowledge of wellness and humanity. Speaking of love for humanity Eric invited all to the theatrical production of “The things we do for love and presidents” at Warszawa Restaurant in Santa Monica today, Feb 16th at 7:30PM.

The most surprising closure came via email I received from one of the attendees several days later:

“My name is Mitch. Just one thought I didn’t share this Sunday, which you reminded me of with your mention of Kabbalah…

Rabbi Hillel famously tried to summarize ethics like this: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

There are three parts, but I have almost always over focused on the middle bit, with the occasional admonishment to myself to remember the last part.

Well, Hillel went to the trouble of putting that first part in there. He even put it, you know, first.

It’s occurred to me that I, and many people I know and like, are inadequately selfish. If life is meant to be good, it’s not just meant to be good for people we don’t know, we’re responsible for making life work for the people we can help most – ourselves.

Which is how I think this ties back in to “What do we owe future generations?” I heard people say, almost apologetically, that it’s okay for us to use some natural resources today … but I never heard anyone say that one of our main jobs is to live well, ourselves, here and now. (Hillel listed it first, and I suppose third too!)

The entire discussion seemed to be variations on “how do we restrict our inherent selfishness,”rather than “what do we owe ourselves, and what do we owe future generations.”

Resources: What a Way to Go Movie, I am Movie, Free Speech Blog Post, Creating a world that works for allBook, Home Free Movie, Intergenerational Justice Article, Is It Wrong To Wreck The Earth Radio Talk.

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