Living in the now puts future generations at risk
People of today are thoroughly modern; we are compelled by the new and toss the old into oblivion to make room for the new. Anti-historical or at least ahistorical, we often ignore the past or we revise it to fit our vision of the future. The immediate danger is that in the worship of the new, we might just eliminate our personal, as well as our collective, pasts. And it is true, at least in our personal lives, rejecting the future can predispose one to depression as the depressive asks: “Is this all there is?”
We do seem to have great affection for the “now” as well as for the new. Hourly, we wait to be up-dated regarding the latest news, often mistaking such news “bytes” for systematic analyses, and answers to eternal questions.
Some of this obsession with the new is understandable. We are a young nation, part of the New World, the new frontier. And that we are contemporaries, just might give comfort to our collective lives.
We are among the few animals, maybe the only animals, who can think in time. With our memories we nostalgically bring back the past and our language allows us to pass on the past, through our history, poetry, songs, oral and written narratives.
And while the past is reachable, we have the gifts of our imaginations, allowing us to imagine the future. When we speak of politicians and national leaders with vision, we hope they are capable of bringing the future to their minds and reconfiguring the present in terms of this vision of the future. And as we bring to mind our own personal plans for the future, we alter the present, bringing our dreams in line with our vision of the future.
In his poem “At a Country Funeral,” Wendell Berry reminds us of an important truth: “We owe the future the past, that long knowledge that is the potency of time to come.”
The late Robert Bellah and his colleagues (“Habits of the Heart”) suggest that the most effective communities are communities of memory and hope. Communities of memory recall the past and celebrate the tribal traditions, rituals, and connectedness, all of which have implications for the future. Our elders used the wisdom of the past to forge a future full of promise.
The fate of current generations critically depends on the willingness of people of the present to make those necessary sacrifices, which cannot be reciprocated by those of the future. Could it be that we don’t care enough about our young, except perhaps to announce to those who may not even care. “Caution – Baby On Board” or the bumper sticker “I am spending my children’s inheritance”, or even more cynically: “What has the future ever done for me?”
The question should be: “What can we of the present do for our future generations?” And the answer lies in enlarging our imaginations, ridding ourselves of our myopia focusing on short-term goals. We must develop mentors and officials who would be willing to represent not only our immediate needs and special interests, but the common good, the general welfare of all people, present and absent.
In our own daily lives, we might indulge ourselves just a little less, and re-commit ourselves to caring for all creation. “World without end” can become a living reality with its many obvious implications as we live today for tomorrow.