Never trust a politician who is “thinking about your children’s children”

My grandfathers died around 80 years ago. They could not have conceived of the world their grandchildren would live in and the challenges they and their world would face. They would surely have been able to recognise our behavioural characteristics but they would not have been able to imagine the society we live in. The values of current society would have been difficult for them to understand.

My father died 26 years ago. Not so very long ago. Yet he would not have been able to predict – let alone address – the kinds of challenges my children and the world they live in will face in the next 20 – 30 years. His values were those of having fought in WW2 and the hope of the 1950’s. He would not have been able to predict the pace of life and the networks maintained by my children. He could not have forecast the day-to-day problems they will face or the “big problems” their world will face over the next 50 or 60 years.

Around 100 years ago my grandfathers could not have foreseen the Second World War or the spread of easily available and affordable electrical power, or of the second industrial revolution or the digital revolution. Even if they could have foreseen the future they would have had the intelligence but not the knowledge or the technology to better address the challenges of today. In fact they would have been very stupid to have tried to forecast and then plan for their choice of problems to be faced by their grandchildren.

Our children’s children will live into the 22nd century. Any forecast I try to make of the development of technologies and knowledge and societies and values 100 years from now is going to be wrong. For the last 50 or 60 years we have lived with the perception of the problem of population rise and limitation of resources. Actions have been taken – and very successfully – to reduce the number of births, to improve food production and in finding new and alternate resources. In another 50 years populations will decline and the pressure on resources will decline further as new technologies are developed and new resources are found (who would have predicted the abundance of shale gas 50 years ago?).

We may expect that in the 22nd century, one of the major challenges will be that of population decline and aging. It will be a challenge faced and solved by the humans of a hundred years hence and it may or may not be a problem. I have no idea of what genetic and medical advances may bring or of how societies will develop and of the value systems that may prevail then. To use today’s knowledge and technologies and values to address these presumed challenges of the future is both ineffective and wasteful. These challenges – if challenges – will be faced by our children’s children using the knowledge and technology that will have become available to them.

It would have been ridiculous for my parents or my grandparents to have given up advances in their own well-being or their careers or their world – as they saw them then – for the sake of  some unknown problem that would be faced by their children’s children.

And so I am deeply suspicious of any politician or environmentalist who wants me to do something  – or not do something – against my current best interests as I see them – for the sake of my children’s children.

Our grandchildren will always be better placed to define their challenges than we can possibly forecast. They will be better equipped to solve the problems of their age with the tools and knowledge and technologies of their age. And they too would be stupid if they gave up their own well-being in order to solve a problem they choose to forecast for their children’s children.

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