Survival of our species/Long-term thinking

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Long-term thinking is hugely important because the short-term easy choice often has a negative impact in a longer time-frame. Long-term thinking helps us see the bigger picture. Sometimes to avoid much larger problems further in the future it is necessary to change behaviour and make decisions in the present that might feel tough.

There is the story of the man who had a goose that laid a golden egg every day. Every morning he would check the goose's bedding and find another golden egg there, which he would then take to the market to sell. Eventually he thought to himself, "This goose's insides must be full of gold! Why settle for one single egg when I can open up the goose and take it all!" So he took a long knife to the belly of the goose and cut it open, thinking how clever he was to be getting all this extra gold.

Much of the thinking behind the way we run our society now is of the same calibre as the man in this story. For example, we are happy to deplete fertile farmland so that we can have bread for this year. Long-term thinking means improving our means of producing resources, rather than just snatching up the resources we need for now.

There seems to be many reasons that society tends to have a short-termist attitude:

  • We are naturally impatient and our immediate wants seem most significant. Longer-term issues can seem irrelevant and too far off.
  • We all lead more individualistic lives than in the past which causes a certain amount of self-centredness, so often one's decisions are made to satisfy oneself.
  • We do not all feel totally sure that pessimistic scenarios far in the future will ever happen, or at least will even happen in our lifetime. Life feels too short to consider things too far ahead.
  • The business world tends to be very short-termist, often only thinking about profits in the next two to five years and how it can be achieved. Because in business that is what matters - if you fail in the short term, the business will not survive, and this mentality rubs off on the people too.
  • Politics suffers similarly. If decisions are made by politicians for the long term but are felt to adversely affect people in the present then it may affect re-election prospects, and to most politicians staying in power is more important to them than implementing policies for the long term.

It is very hard to change the behaviour of large groups of people there is huge inertia to overcome.

So what is the big picture, what are we aiming for?

We need effective ways to help us all consider the longer time frame. It needs to be something that is explained to children in ways they can understand. We need illustrations of disastrous short-term thinking and the consequences.

What are the important long-term issues that we need to think about:

  • Preventing the extinction of species, including our own
  • The wider environment as a whole, such as altering the composition of the atmosphere
  • Protecting ourselves from other potential global disasters
  • Help steer modern society towards a more optimal future that gives everyone the opportunity to live more fulfilling lives
  • Building trust and understanding between cultures