“For our children’s children …” is not to be trusted

I never met either of my grandfathers or my paternal grandmother, who all died before I was born. However I did “know” my maternal grandmother and even my maternal great-grandmother. It is a bit of a stretch to actually claim to have “known” them. I met them as a child when they were already past their primes. But I was too young and our interactions too infrequent, that I ever built up any kind of an opinion of them or of their values or their politics or their characters.

Did they, I wonder, ever do anything “for their children’s children”? They may have taken some life-decisions which they rationalised as being “for their children’s children”. But there is nothing in my life now that I either thank them for or criticise them for. Whatever they did or did not do are no longer of any relevance as an excuse or a reason for the state of my life or the state of the world I live in.

“For our children’s children” is invariably used to excuse or justify actions which have no immediate benefit. Doing things, now, “for our children’s children” is meaningless and, I would claim, an invalid reason for actions which are not of any apparent benefit. It is also invalid to claim that, unknown to us, decisions made, “for their children’s children”, by our grandparents or earlier ancestors have actually achieved their visionary aims. My parents (both deceased) could not have foreseen the world I live in today, but their decisions have surely made me whatever I am. They made their decisions about my education and upbringing to fit the world they knew of, not of the world as it was going to be. My grandparents surely did the same for my parents but they too, could not have imagined the world my parents lived in at the end of their lives. We have made decisions for the upbringing and education of our children, and no doubt we have influenced their opportunities and their lives, but I don’t think we have ever taken any actions, against our interests or the interests of our children, “for the sake of our children’s children”.

The one purpose of life that most can probably agree on is “to make a difference”. No doubt, in our own little ways, and no matter how small, we all do. No doubt also that the human race is where it is because of what our ancestors did or did not do. The Germans of today are where they are because of what Hitler did but not because of what Hitler did “for his children’s children”. Henry VIII’s actions certainly impacted his daughter but not because his decisions were ever against his own interests first. Genghis Khan may have done some things for the “sake of his descendants”, but they had lost their intended effects already with his grandson and certainly after Kublai Khan. The Khans surely made a difference. But neither Genghis Khan or Kublai Khan ever took any decisions “for their children’s children” which did not have tangible, realisable benefits or was against their own interests.

It would be unthinkable, and quite unacceptable, to blame our grandparents for the state of the world today or for the people in it. In some societies, but only in some general way, we do thank our ancestors for what we have today. But this gratitude is only felt by those who are in a position of some privilege. Whoever heard of ancestor worship for the purpose of blaming them for current misfortune. You can use your parents as an excuse for a deprived or depraved childhood and even as a defence in a court of law, but you would get short shrift if you blamed your grandparents for your condition or your sins. The Nazis could not, and cannot, pass off their acts as being due to the faults of their ancestors.

So what’s the point of all this? It is individuals who act. Any individual in any generation acts, and must act, for the interests and benefits of that generation. “For our children’s children” is not just an empty phrase. it is a part of a deception. It is just a last-resort excuse for actions which have no demonstrable benefits, cannot otherwise be justified and probably should not be taken. It is a phrase not to be trusted. Actions against your interest, “for the sake of your children’s children”, are a mirage.

So when a politician, or an environmentalist, or a social “scientist” or a priest makes a proposal for the sake of your children’s children, be very suspicious. Don’t listen.

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