Thinking Long-Term: The Importance of Empathy for Future Generations

One aspect of long term-thinking is about not turning a blind eye to the consequences of our actions. When making decisions, if we don’t consider the long-term effects, we may be missing an important part of the picture.

In The SALT Summaries (Seminars About Long-term Thinking), Steward Brands summarizes a talk given by Brian Eno at The Long Now Foundation almost 10 years ago.

Eno argues that while we have become an interconnected world, food has transcended frontiers, we have access to global, instant news and information from anywhere, and we no longer live in isolation, our empathy is still short-sighted. We may have expanded empathy to embrace more people in the present, but we seldom consider empathy with future generations. We have a hard time thinking about the effects of our actions in the long-term future.

Eno synthesized this by saying that while we had moved from the small-here to the big-here, we were still living in the short-now instead of in the long-now.

As an example, he mentions that people check out goods like clothes in local stores, but then order the same goods online looking for killer discounts. You go to your local bookstore to flip through the pages of a book, only to buy it later from Amazon at a lower price. This is convenient for shoppers, but in the long-term terrible for the local shops and the local community. Hence the precept: “buy where you shop.”

The consequence of lots of local, short-term advantage-taking is large-scale, long-term harm.

As with any general law, the idea of buying where you shop is not to do it blindly or without context. It’s not about paying whatever local shops ask as if local shops were always on the good side of humanity. It’s about considering the long-term of our daily actions.

Photo by Lukas Tennie on Unsplash
long-term thinking future thinking the long now Steward Brand Brian Eno Tim O'Reilly

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