Reviewed by Bev Scott
We live in a culture of short-term thinking. Such as: When can we stop wearing our masks? When is the next election? When is the next quarterly report? This is the “tyranny of the now,” says Roman Krznaric in his book The Good Ancestor. He argues that to be a “good ancestor,” we need to think of future generations, the “Seventh Generation” as do some indigenous cultures. We must think decades, centuries, even millenniums into the future. Our lack of long-term thinking in planning and decision-making has led to the potential existential risk of not making it to the end of this century. Given digital distraction, political presentism, and pursuit of endless economic growth, we have little concern for the long term. We have “colonized the future,” exploiting our planet’s resources for current financial benefit.
Why we should care about the long-term
Krznaric presents arguments for why we should “care” about future generations, such as taking responsibility for our own descendants. Do we acknowledge that expansion of future populations will need more resources than the present population? He questions whether or not we would choose for ourselves to live in a future generation and the ethical guideline of the intergenerational Golden Rule. I also appreciated his identification of rare but interesting examples of the results of long-term thinking. A cathedral in Germany was begun in 1377 and finished in 1890. A Japanese forest was razed between 1550 and 1750 and was on the verge of ecological collapse. It then became the first mass plantation forestry project between 1760-1860. The London sewer was built in the mid 1800’s to replace a practice of flushing into the River Thames and is still in use today. Short-term thinking, the “tyranny of the now,” would have doomed these projects.
Although he gives other examples of projects beyond our current horizon, our planning and decision-making is not commonly concerned with the impacts on the future. Instead, he argues convincingly that we must become “good ancestors.” This includes safe-guarding the interests of future generations, stewarding scarce planetary resources, involving the disenfranchised, and building systems that are equitable and just. As human beings we thrive on striving toward meaningful goals. Thus, he challenges: What are the most powerful reasons for caring about future generations? What legacy do you want to leave for your family, your community, and for the living world? What long term projects could you pursue with others that extend beyond your own lifetime?
This is a book which will stimulate your thinking and perhaps your action to become a “good ancestor.”