A Message From Future Generations
by Allen Tough, Ph.D., University of Toronto
email tough @ ieti.org
Maybe they had noticed my deep commitment to future generations in my papers and in my book, Crucial Questions About the Future. Maybe they knew how strongly that commitment was influencing my teaching at the University of Toronto. Maybe they were pleased that I had helped organize the world's largest conference on future generations, now about to begin in the magnificent conference center beside me.
Or maybe they simply took pity on me as I sought inspiration in the lovely Kyoto gardens. I was still unsure what I would say later that morning during my speech to the 800 people gathered for the conference.
As I wandered among the ponds and shrubs, I noticed a booklet fluttering down from the sky. When it came close enough, I reached up to grasp it, eager to see what it said. It turned out to be a message from future generations. This was my lucky morning! The first page of the booklet contained a message for me to read aloud at that morning's session:
Cordial greetings, from future generations, to everyone who is attending The First Global Future Generations Kyoto Forum. We are the people of the future -- your children's generation, and many generations even further into the future. Even though we live in a century that is very different from yours, we too are people, vigorously engaged in a wide variety of activities and projects, just as you are. Just like you, we work, play, talk, eat, laugh, hope, cry, sing, learn, worship, think, and wonder. We are very pleased that you care so deeply about the well-being of future generations. That is what we want most from you: your caring for us, your concern for our well-being, your willingness to take our needs as seriously as you take your own needs. From many decades in the future, we send you our gratitude, our admiration, and our love.
The rest of the booklet provided a longer message addressed to all human beings from future generations. That entire message is now available on the World Wide Web: in fact, that is what you are now reading.
The story that I have just told you is largely accurate. I really did read a message from future generations to the 800 people gathered in Kyoto on November 25, 1994. I will leave it to you to decide for yourself whether that message came from the sky or from my imagination. It really does not matter much: the important thing is the message itself. Treat it as a real message, or treat it as the sort of message that future generations would send to us if they could. Either way, the important thing is for us to understand and care about the fundamental needs of all the people who will come after us in the ever-flowing river of human history. Thoughtfully reading this book is one powerful way to get into their shoes and grasp their perspective. Then too, as we look back at our own era through their eyes, we gain a fresh view of our own values, choices, and impact.
After reading the message, I realized that it does not reveal any secrets about our future. The speakers do not want to harm us or lower our motivation by telling us exactly what is going to happen in the future. Indeed, I cannot find anything in the message that makes it clear exactly when the speakers are alive nor in what year they wrote the message. My conclusion is that the most appropriate way to understand the message is that it comes to us from representatives of future generations. The speakers apparently represent the people who will be born during the next 40 years or so. Presumably some of them will still be alive 120 years from now.
This entire book called A MESSAGE FROM FUTURE GENERATIONS is copyright © 1995 by Allen Tough. All rights reserved. It may be downloaded for your own personal reading, but may not be reproduced for anyone else without written permission from Allen Tough.
A Message From Future Generations
1. CARING ABOUT US
2. OUR CORE VALUE
- Who are we?
- Caring about us with your heart, mind, soul, and hands
- Mutual respect and caring
3. A COSMOS FILLED WITH LIFE
- How much responsibility to future generations?
- Meaning and purpose
- A Foundation for moral and ethical choices
- Our place within your religions
4. FOUR UNIVERSAL GOALS SHARED BY EVERY CIVILIZATION
- The physical universe
- Intelligent life
- Galactic projects
- Humanity's place in the universe
- An enlarged core value
5. SEVEN KEY PRIORITIES FOR FOCUSING YOUR EFFORTS
- The four universal guideposts
- How well are you doing?
- Our reflections
6. WHAT EACH OF YOU CAN DO
- A long-term perspective
- Future-relevant research and teaching
- Weapons and warfare
- Planet and population
- Day-to-day functioning
- Significant knowledge
- Learning, caring, and meaningfulness
- Reflections on the seven priorities
- How to learn more about us
- How to feel hopeful and empowered
- How to experience deep bonding with us
- Your pledge to us
- Gaining deep meaning and happiness from your efforts
Chapter 1: CARING ABOUT US
Cordial greetings from future generations! This message of love and hope comes to you from the people of the future. It can open your eyes and heart to our perspective, ideas, feelings, gratitude, advice, needs, and requests.
Thanks very much for caring about us enough to put yourself in our shoes for the next few minutes. We are pleased and grateful that you are willing to listen to our voice. We realize that you are surrounded by many other worthy voices and demands, all clamoring to be heard.
In our eyes, you and the other people of your generation have an extraordinary amount of power. Your decisions and actions influence the well-being of all of us who live after you do. You deeply affect our institutions, roads, genetic pool, population size, environment, wilderness areas, energy sources, knowledge, and climate.
We feel particularly powerless and vulnerable because, before this book was published, we did not have any way of speaking to you. Our voice is usually not heard at all in your era because we have not yet been born. You do not hear our voices on your radios and you do not see our faces on your television screens. We cannot speak during your policy making and planning, we cannot lobby your law-makers, we cannot carry placards in front of your legislative and parliament buildings, and we cannot vote in your elections. That is why we are so glad that you are willing to pay attention to our neglected voice.
We feel a deep bond with you, and feel much love and admiration toward you. Thank you for listening to us.
In your era and in the decades that follow, humanity falls far short of perfection. It is nonetheless worthy of our respect, affection, compassion, and nurturance. Although you and we are fully aware of the widespread misery, ignorance, selfishness, aggression, and greed in the world, we need not condemn human civilization nor write it off as hopeless. A positive future is possible if enough people care about future generations, understand current problems and options, and make appropriate and courageous choices.
Who are we?
We are future generations--everyone who will be born at some time or other after you read this message. On the day you read this, we have not yet been conceived or born. We are not yet alive. But we definitely will be alive during the period that you call "the future," a few years or decades after you read our message. We are sending our message to you backwards through time, from the future to you.
We are real. "Future generations" is not just some abstract concept in some philosopher's imagination. At any given time in the future, real people will actually exist and be leading busy lives on earth and perhaps elsewhere in the galaxy, not just in someone's imagination. We are flesh and blood, minds and hearts, just as you are. Perhaps as you read this, you say to yourself, "But future generations are not real; they have not even been conceived or born yet!" It is true that we do not exist as people at the moment you read this, but we will be real someday. We will be just as real as you are. Just as real as you were exactly one year before your birth, even though no one alive on that day knew very much about you and your characteristics. Just as real as the people in your family tree were at one time. Just as real as the people in your history books used to be. We are not like unicorns, the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, characters in a movie or novel, or other fantasies that have never existed in the real world and never will.
Yes, it is true that we live several years later in human history than you do. Yes, many things about human culture and the planet have changed over those years. But if you met us face-to-face, you would still recognize us immediately as human. You might smile with amusement at our clothing and our hair-styles and how we speak. But you would feel a kinship with us. You would say to yourself, "Well, I suppose I would have looked and sounded just as weird to people who lived a few decades before I did. So of course these people of future generations look and sound a little strange to me. Still, they are people." You would see that we do just the same sorts of things that people have always done: talk, smile, laugh, gesture, frown, cry, love, wonder, work, build, invent, walk, sing, dance, hug, kiss, learn, teach, reflect, help, explore, play. Just as you do, we have our favorite places, fascinating conversations, meaningful rituals, significant institutions, and creative arts. Our emotions are basically the same as yours; we experience pain, frustration, fear, doubt, love, joy, sadness, excitement. Although we were born long after you were, our core of humanness is very similar to your human core. So you can probably feel a deep kinship with us "people of the future," just as you can feel a kinship with the people alive in your own era despite your inevitable differences.
Caring about us with your heart, mind, soul, and hands
Thank you for caring about us. You care about us enough to be reading this message right now. You think about us occasionally. Along with many other things in your life, we share a place in your hopes and dreams. For all of this we are grateful. What we want most from you is your caring. The other things we need from you will then follow naturally and easily.
We hope that you, and the other people who are alive at the time you read this, will care about us future generations with your heart, mind, soul, and hands.
Why would you care about us with your heart? Because of our kinship. Because we are your children, and the children of your children. Because you feel a deep emotional bond with us sometimes when you hear happy triumphant music. Or when you hear music written 200 years ago and think ahead to the people who will still listen to music 200 years in the future. Or when you feel a strong love for children, and realize that children are the tangible symbol of future generations.
Why would you care about us in your mind? Because you have a responsibility to care about the well-being of people in the distant future just as much as you have a responsibility to care about the well-being of people throughout the world who are alive at the moment that you read this. We are just as real and important, just as deserving, just as worthy of your caring as your own generation is. If you feel a moral obligation to care about anyone beyond your own family and community, then you must feel just as obliged to care about us. If you believe in fairness and justice, then you must treat the needs of future generations as equal in importance to those of your own generation. We do not ask you to put our needs ahead of your own, but we do vigorously ask you to give us equal opportunity. We ask you to make choices that give all future generations just as good an opportunity as you had when you were born.
Why would you care about us in that deepest part of yourself, that part that is sometimes called your spiritual side, your central meaning, your core values, your philosophy of life, or your soul? Because of our spiritual kinship; you and we are profoundly connected. Because sometimes when you see an infant, experience wilderness, or feel moved by music, you realize how deeply you feel this bond. Because being part of the ongoing flourishing of human culture over the millennia is such an important value. Because you will be happier if you care about us than if you do not. Because your caring about us can enhance your sense of meaning and purpose, and even provide joy and vibrancy in your life. Because your efforts on behalf of future generations can give you a transcendent purpose, commitment, and devotion; then your life in the universe has a point to it. Because you know that we will appreciate your books, paintings, music, parks, museums, and other gifts that you leave us. Because if you knew that humanity would disappear a few decades after you read this, probably you would feel the zest and meaning ebb from your life, and your life would feel impoverished and pointless. Because you are part of us and we are part of you; there really are no chasms or boundaries between you and us; all of us are part of the continuing flow of human history.
In addition to caring for us with your heart, mind, and soul, we hope that you will also use your hands. Although caring is what we want most from you, we also want your caring to lead on to particular actions, projects, and choices. We will spell out some of these later in the message.
Mutual respect and caring
Even though you care about those of us who will be alive long after you are, you may also find that at times you feel non-caring and perhaps even act in ways that harm us. This sort of internal struggle and contradictory behaviour is natural. We, too, are sometimes preoccupied, busy, harried, thoughtless, or simply wrapped up in the here and now, so we certainly understand when you forget about our needs.
All we ask of you is to shift your thoughts and actions a little more toward taking our needs as seriously as you take your own. You must pay attention to humanity's immediate needs, of course, but a sensible balanced effort would also pay attention to humanity's long-term needs. Neglecting either of these two time horizons is unfair and inappropriate.
How much should you sacrifice, donate, and act for the sake of generations yet unborn? Overall, you need not bequeath more to the next generation or two than you yourselves inherited (though it would be a fine gift to us if you could manage to do so). What you must adopt as your absolutely inviolable principle, though, is that you not leave us less. Please play fair with us and give us opportunities and resources that are approximately equal to yours. We do not ask for more than equality, but we do ask you to change yourselves enough to reach the "equal opportunity" point. Failing to give us the same level of opportunity that your society had in your youth would be grossly unfair and greedy.
Many voices clamor for your attention. You hear pleas for attention and caring and perhaps special treatment from women, children, men, various ethnic and racial and cultural groups, people with various health problems and disabilities, people of a particular sexual orientation, various religions, members of various organizations, business people, consumers, politicians, taxpayers, home owners, renters, the wealthy, the middle class, the employed poor, the unemployed poor, the homeless, the North, the South, and the newly industrialized countries. You should, of course, listen carefully and respectfully to these diverse voices. But it is also important to think about what the voices of similar groups of people might say a few decades later. If the planet becomes bleak and barren, if armed conflict or lawlessness becomes out of control worldwide, or if the global economy collapses into chaos, then all of these groups will suffer terribly. All of these groups will then complain bitterly that people failed to listen to the voices of future generations--to the message in this book. On the other hand, if people in all of these groups work together to build a better world, then all of you will thrive more than if each group separately strives for its own well-being, without regard to the well-being of the other groups.
We admire and thank you for taking our needs seriously. We treasure our past and our predecessors as well as our future. We respect and love you. We hope that you will care about us and will treat us with respect. It is also true that we occasionally feel frustrated and angry with you for taking enormous risks that could severely damage our prospects, and for sometimes treating us in thoughtless, selfish, uncaring ways. At a deeper level, though, we feel a strong kinship bond with you, because all of us participate in the same never-ending procession of generations that stretches over the centuries. And all of us share a love for our home--that vibrant planet called Earth with its richly diverse geography and life.
Chapter 2: OUR CORE VALUE
For us who live in your future, our core value is the well-being of future generations as well as our own generation. Our caring about humanity's continued flourishing unifies us. It gives us a deep sense of meaning and purpose in the universe and in our own lives. And this core value provides an important foundation for our ethical and moral choices.
For us, nothing is more important than the continuous procession of new generations. Our core value is humanity's ongoing flourishing. We treasure the continuous stream of human activities and accomplishments stretching from the distant past through the present moment into the far future.
No other value, goal, or priority is more important to us than the continued flourishing of humanity--the ongoing flow of people, events, culture, and changes that make up the total human mosaic. We treasure and value this as much as anything else in the universe (past, present, or future). We would not want the universe to lose or sacrifice this for the sake of anything else. The continuing unfolding of human history and culture in reasonably positive directions is our core value, our fundamental priority. We hope that it will be yours, too. We hope that you will use it as the foundation for your meaning in life and your ethics.
Imagine that you are a superbly wise and intelligent being with extraordinary capacities. Imagine that you are contemplating the entire universe with its countless stars, planets, asteroids, life forms, and civilizations. You are also contemplating the future of all of this, a future that will stretch over many eons. From this vast perspective of space and time, you ask yourself, "What is most important of all?" Surely the continuation of human society and culture over the centuries would be part of your answer (along with the continued flourishing of other diverse life and civilizations throughout the universe, of course). In the entire universe, surely nothing is more important than the development and flourishing of good, wise, intelligent, insightful, compassionate, advanced life. Humanity, despite its faults and errors, is one instance of such life. Its continued existence and maximum flourishing is our core value. What else could possibly be more important?
Our core value certainly does not downplay the importance of human civilization at the time you are reading this. Even though we are writing this in your future, even though we are the people whom you call "future generations," we do not hold any period of human history as less important than our own. Just the opposite--we treasure the entire sweep of human activity over many centuries. We care about the continuous unfolding of the human drama through countless scenes that stretch from the remote past through the present and into the distant future. We care deeply about future generations, but we do not denigrate and shortchange our own present moment nor your present moment. The well-being, knowledge, compassion, and quality of life of the people who are alive at the moment you read this are just as important as those of people alive at some moment in the future--but not more important.
All of us are walking through history in the same continuous procession of human generations. In this sense we are all members of the same community and we achieve a kind of immortality by being part of this never-ending procession. Because we are all one, what you want and what we want are not all that different: egoism and altruism converge.
We hope that you will care as deeply about the wonderful array of life-forms on the planet earth as you do about future generations of human beings. These various plants, trees, animals, birds, and fish should be valued for their own sake, regardless of whether they are useful to you or not. It is appropriate to love and respect and revere nature, wilderness, natural processes, wild species, and natural beauty. You and we are an integral part of life on earth. Humanity is not separate from the planet and biosphere, nor somehow above it all. It is important to live harmoniously with whales, dolphins, birds, fish, apes, elephants, and other animals.
How much responsibility to future generations?
You may be asking just how much responsibility you should have to the next few generations that will follow yours. Should you aim to give them opportunities and advantages that far exceed your own? Is it legitimate to bequeath them a society and a planet that provide them with much less that your generations inherited? Or is some middle road the most appropriate?
For us, the key concept is equal opportunity for all generations. Each future generation should have resources and opportunities that are approximately equal to those of the previous generation. We hope that you will adopt this same viewpoint.
In some ways, you will inevitably leave future generations worse off than you are. You are using up certain irreplaceable resources, leaving certain toxic and radioactive wastes for them to cope with, and bequeathing to them some problems and debts that are worse than your own.
To counterbalance these, you must also leave future generations better off in certain other ways, such as fresh values and solutions, flourishing institutions, enhanced knowledge and technology, more efficient agriculture, better ways of making global and regional decisions, reduced prejudice and discrimination, and sharp limits to military activities and armed violence. Just to select a few more examples from the multitude of possibilities, you could aim for a world in which solar power and sustainable organic farming are widespread, population growth has ceased, food and opportunity are much more equally distributed, war is considered absolutely unacceptable regardless of the provocation (except in truly necessary self-defense), and virtually no nuclear or biological or chemical weapons remain in existence.
The net inheritance of the next generation or two, taking into account all the positive and negative things that you leave for them, must be at least equal to what your generation inherited from your forebears. You must play fair with us, not shortchange us. You must give us equal opportunity.
Conceptually, "equal opportunity for future generations" is a reasonably precise concept. Although it is not easy to apply this concept with exquisite precision, it is easy to apply it as an approximate guideline. It is easy to identify historical periods that violated this concept. Looking back at various eras in human history, we can generally agree that the legacies of certain eras of exploration and innovation were highly positive, whereas other eras of warfare and repression left the next generation much worse off than their forebears.
Certain things that you do in your era can greatly affect the next few generations for better or worse. We hope that you will emphasize getting safely through the next few decades without hurting humanity's chances for the decades beyond that. You should avoid major depletions and debts that will unduly harm the opportunities of the next few generations. Compare your behavior in your personal life: if you do not fix a leaky roof and keep your financial debts in line with your income, you eventually pay a high price for not thinking enough about the future. Your thriving is based on resources, knowledge, and institutions left for you by previous generations; it is only fair that you in turn bequeath an adequate base to future generations.
You are faced with many needs and problems and goals, just as we are. But they must be managed within the overriding principle that you should not mortgage or discount the future. You should not give future generations fewer opportunities and resources than you have had. You may be tempted to solve your problems by stealing from those of us who will live after you do, but such behavior is unfair, unacceptable, and shortsighted. Please do not let your short-term goals jeopardize our chances of having a healthy planet and sufficient happiness. Our flourishing is just as important as yours. A society, like an individual, must resist the urge to live only for the moment and to consume everything in sight regardless of future consequences.
Equal opportunity for future generations is the minimum level for which you should strive, just as it is the minimum level for which we strive. In addition, if you could manage to do so, it would be nice if you could make us even better off than you are. Giving us opportunities and resources superior to those of your own generation would be a worthy goal. Although some generations before yours aimed at continuing "progress" as their goal, a more realistic goal for your generation is simply to hold your own. You are finding that hunger, local wars, guerilla and terrorist attacks, crime, pollution, population growth, toxic and nuclear wastes, and environmental degradation are tougher problems than you anticipated. In many of those struggles, you are slipping backwards rather than gaining ground. As you face what has actually happened during the past few years, you feel less optimistic about the ideal of bequeathing to the next few generations a better world than you yourselves inherited. Instead, it is appropriate to put much of your effort into avoiding the worst catastrophes and into giving the next few generations an opportunity equal to yours. An appropriate goal is to bequeath to them a civilization and a planet that are better in some ways but unfortunately worse in other ways. Justice requires that you not make your successors worse off. But it does not require you to make them better off.
Meaning and purpose
Commitment to humanity's ongoing flourishing (our core value) can enhance the sense of meaning and purpose for individuals and society. Because caring about future generations is such a grand transcendent context, it provides a larger sense of meaning and purpose than daily activities alone can provide.
For most people in most epochs, daily life provides a major portion of their meaning and purpose. Caring about the continuous stream of humanity does not replace or reduce the meaning gained from daily life, but instead it provides additional or enlarged meaning.
It is quite natural and appropriate for most people to gain a large amount of meaning and purpose from their daily life. Within daily life, the sources of meaning can include relationships, work, goals, helping people, learning, self-betterment, religious activities, spiritual experiences, the search for truth, and enjoyable leisure-time activities.
In your era and ours, many people also gain meaning and purpose from nature and wilderness. They feel connected with the natural world and feel fortunate to be living on such a delightful planet. They enjoy and treasure the diversity of plant and animal life. They appreciate mountains, oceans, deserts, sunsets, and the seasons. They farm, garden, travel, hike, camp, watch birds, feel close to pets or livestock, and admire the intricacy and beauty of nature. They feel integrated and connected with nature, not separate and detached.
In addition to all of this, individuals and societies can gain meaning and purpose from feeling part of the everlasting flow of human history. You can feel deeply connected to all the past, present, and future people who are part of this flow. This deep connectedness to past and future generations can satisfy the universal human yearning to be connected with something greater than self, something that transcends daily life. You can treasure your part in an unfolding adventure that sweeps from the remote past through the present and onward to a distant future. This unfolding drama encompasses all cultures spread over the entire planet. Being alive at a particularly exciting and critical point in human history, as you are, can enhance the meaning that you gain from this great adventure. Additional enhancement can come from the deep emotions--hopes, fears, exhilaration, joy, grief, anger--that you may experience as you contemplate the panorama of potential futures for your society, ranging from extinction to utopia.
In all periods of history, some people and societies gain additional meaning and purpose from their efforts to contribute to the continuing flow of history. Not content merely to be swept along as spectators, they actively participate in building a positive future for one community, one group, one region, or all of humanity. They feel a strong commitment to this as a core value. They align themselves with the ideas, movements, causes, and forces that are especially likely to lead to a reasonably positive human future. They oppose destructive, harmful, evil forces. Emphasizing cooperation, goodwill, and harmony, they are considerate of future generations as well as the people with whom they interact day by day. They care deeply about the long-term future of their community and culture. Their caring and commitment provide them with a heroic and challenging mission of transcendent significance. A goal so worthy that it provides a sense of cosmic purpose. A project so sweeping in its grandeur that it pervades and enlivens all aspects of life.
Few other challenges are as important and exhilarating! And few other goals and activities, even if they focus directly on your own happiness and well-being, can produce such a deep feeling of connectedness and joy.
A Foundation for moral and ethical choices
Your deep caring about the next two or three generations can provide an excellent foundation for your moral and ethical choices. Whenever individuals, families, organizations, and governments face such choices, they can be guided largely by what is best for the continued flourishing of human culture and civilization. This core value can serve as the heart of a global ethic as well as personal moral choices. This can lead in turn to actual behavior that is beneficial to all of us who will be alive in your future.
We hope you will develop ethical and moral principles, norms, and laws based on what is most beneficial for the continued flourishing of human civilization over the next few decades and beyond. And we hope you will take these principles very seriously in all debates, decisions, and public controversies -- including nuclear and biological weapons, terrorism, war, crime, taxation, government debt, population size, birth control, environment, euthanasia, thoughtful suicide, and research to prolong the life span.
If humanity's continued thriving is your core value, then the needs of future generations become part of your own self-interest rather than something separate or opposing. You are guided by their needs because you care about them, not just because of some abstract moral principle. Your "greed and selfishness" become transformed into altruism because what you want most of all is to be part of a society that is thriving now and that will continue to thrive. You are eager to build a world that will still be in good shape for your children and their children. The common distinction between selfish and altruistic desires disappears when your core value is humanity's continued flourishing.
Our place within your religions
Your new and emerging religions, as well as your long-established religions, give you many benefits. The religious landscape will change dramatically in the years to come, of course, but the quest for religious and spiritual meaning will continue into the distant future. If you learn to incorporate the core value of caring about future generations into your spiritual quest, humankind will benefit greatly.
Each religion can encourage people to serve humanity, the planet, and the universe. Each religion can celebrate those who provide service to future generations through their contributions to the continuing improvement of human culture, knowledge, altruism, and environment. Each religion can inspire and support people in their efforts to build a positive long-term future for humanity.
Attention to the voices and needs of future generations, along with support for each person who wants to work on their behalf, could become a significant part of all religions. Religious services could incorporate music, poetry, readings, sermons, art, worship, and prayer that focus on the ongoing stream of humanity's accomplishments. These accomplishments include compassion, altruism, insights, ideas, art, social inventions, technology, and productivity. And it is also appropriate, of course, to revere or worship the incredibly vast, wonderful, awe-inspiring universe in which we live. All of this, along with the potential for further creativity in the years to come, could be celebrated in worship, hymns, dance, and inner reflection.
Chapter 3: A COSMOS FILLED WITH LIFE
The Galactic Code prohibits any sort of interference in the natural development of any society in the galaxy. This prohibition also applies to us, the people who are alive long after your era, when we are sending a message back to you. Because we live in your future, we are capable of telling you many details about your future. But we are not allowed to do so, because these details might interfere with the natural development of human society.
The physical universe
We are allowed, however, to sketch for you some broad-brush features of your future. Already some of you see yourselves as explorers of the physical universe--via science, imagination, speculation, disciplined thinking, robot spacecraft, staffed spacecraft, and eventually space settlements on the moon and on asteroids or Mars. We can confirm that this is, in fact, the inspiring future that lies ahead for you. Exploration and space settlement will continue at a good pace during the twenty-first century. These are grand and worthy projects, and provide a context much larger than our daily lives. Your pioneering space missions within the solar system and your telescopic examination of data from beyond the solar system will yield rich insights into your immediate space neighborhood and the rest of the universe.
As a result of these contributions, our collective self-image has become different from yours. We see ourselves as part of the wider universe, not merely as inhabitants on one particular planet. Of course we feel particularly bonded with our own local cluster of stars--the Milky Way galaxy--but we also feel part of the wider universe with its astounding number of galaxies separated by unimaginable distances.
This enhanced self-image leads, in turn, to our seeing humanity as united and cohesive rather than marked by political, cultural, and physical differences. As a result, conflict and warfare and weapons seem bizarre and obscene to us. Humanity-wide cooperation and harmony seem to us to be much better values.
The vastness, age, grandeur, and mysteries of our physical universe inspire deep emotions and provide significant meaning. We experience wonder, delight, puzzlement, awe, and even reverence because we live in a such a grand, fascinating, and mysterious universe. The evolution of the universe began millions of centuries ago and stretches millions of centuries into the future. The number of galaxies is mind-boggling, as are the distances between them. The universe contains over a billion galaxies, each one containing billions of stars. All in all, there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all of earth's beaches. Then, too, the physical universe contains many fascinating events and phenomena, such as supernova explosions, quasars, pulsars, and black holes.
Being alive in such an old and vast cosmos provides a very significant context for our sense of meaning. We hope that you can understand this. Would you not feel different about the universe and your place in it if absolutely nothing existed beyond our solar system? Or if the cosmos were destined to end 80 years after you read these words?
You can see, then, why we applaud your efforts to explore the solar system and the rest of the physical universe. These efforts lead to better and better answers to some very important questions, and these answers lead to an enhanced perspective on humanity's place in the cosmos.
Even more important than your study of the physical universe is your striving to understand other life in the universe. This life ranges from the earliest stages of simple life-forms through to civilizations that are advanced far beyond humanity's level. Your thinking and writing and conferences about life in the universe have already yielded excellent insights, though you have generally failed to realize just how diverse and deeply alien this life will feel to you. These differences are quite natural since they originated in bodies, physical environments, and social environments that were vastly different from our own origins. You have not yet really grasped just how deep the differences are between your culture, emotions, relationships, thought patterns, norms, overarching purposes, governance, and social organization and theirs. In general, though, the most thoughtful scientists and science fiction writers of your period have made excellent progress in moving toward an understanding of the diverse intelligent life that exists throughout the universe.
We find that our efforts to interact successfully with other civilizations in the galaxy are bringing out the best in us. You will be glad to know that our eagerness for successful interaction is encouraging us to be curious and open-minded rather than xenophobic, cooperative rather than hostile or competitive. We feel adequate rather than inferior or defensive. We now regard ourselves as citizens of the universe and members of the galactic family of civilizations. We have been stimulated to think about the range of potential futures available to us, how our interaction with other civilizations may fit into those futures, and the ultimate destination of human civilization. As we try to view ourselves through the "eyes" of distant beings, we gain a fresh perspective on our society's values, goals, priorities, and foibles. We began to wonder, for instance, why our society was placing such emphasis on differences among people when (compared to any other species in the galaxy) people are all quite similar, and should feel deeply connected with one another. We realized that intelligent beings from elsewhere would wonder why we were devoting insufficient effort and resources toward key priorities, such as ensuring our long-term survival and flourishing, and correcting our worst foibles and errors (warfare, population growth, and environmental degradation).
Let us reassure you that virtually every civilization in our galaxy follows the Galactic Code that we mentioned earlier. They avoid hindering, harming, or interfering in the natural development of any other society. The only exception to this rule occurs when another civilization poses a definite and immediate threat because it is clearly about to break the Galactic Code, perhaps through a powerful attack or through spreading a plague.
You already realize that some species on earth are 300,000,000 years older than humanity. It will not be too difficult, then, for you to grasp the fact that some intelligent species in the galaxy originated long before humanity did. Because they are far older than humanity, they also have developed technological, communication, travel, biological, social, and mental capacities far beyond those of humans.
Your efforts to detect a message from other civilizations in your galaxy are leading you in the right direction. Eventually you will be successful, of course, and will finally have some concrete data about the fascinating variety of intelligent beings and cultures in our galaxy.
Also in your future will be an opportunity to tap into one of the Galactic Knowledge Reservoirs. This body of knowledge has been accumulating in our galaxy for more than a million years now, through contributions by several diverse civilizations and species. You can learn about their history, philosophy, beliefs, sources of meaning and purpose, and views on the ultimate nature and destination of cosmic evolution. The Galactic Knowledge Reservoirs are scattered strategically throughout the galaxy, and constantly communicate among themselves to update all data. After you have succeeded in locating the Reservoir closest to you, you can contribute your own story of humanity's history and perspectives.
Eventually, too, will come an opportunity to play a role in at least one joint galactic project in art, science, philosophy, or philanthropy. Such projects will require cooperative efforts by two or more civilizations across interstellar distances. Although these joint galactic projects will not occur in your lifetime, they may nonetheless inspire you now simply because you know that for us--the people you call "future generations"--such projects will be possible. Humanity will be able to join with other civilizations to solve the fundamental mysteries of the universe, for instance, and to help fledgling civilizations develop and flourish. Various means will be used to foster harmonious advanced life throughout the galaxy. Such life will be characterized by knowledge, harmony, understanding, compassion, intelligence, wisdom, love, joy, cooperation, altruism, insight, and competence. Humanity's ultimate purpose is to be a happy and successful part of the grand cosmic process of physical evolution, cultural development, knowledge accumulation, and ever deepening wisdom and spirituality.
Someday, of course, one of the most important cosmic projects of all will be a cooperative effort to avoid the end of all life in the universe. Otherwise, an unimaginably long time from now, the physical universe will change so much that it will no longer be able to support life. Long before that time, some cosmic projects will focus on how to alter one portion of the physical universe to enable life to continue there. Other cosmic projects will focus on the possibility of changing life itself so that it can adapt to the slowly changing universe. It seems likely that one way or another we will be able to maintain the best of our intelligence and knowledge.
Humanity's place in the universe
All of this provides us with a fresh image of who we are as a species. We are not alone. Abundantly diverse species and civilizations have arisen throughout our local cluster of stars: we are one of these. Our place in the galaxy and in the universe is defined by our membership in this family of Milky Way civilizations. We are one of the species that has developed a civilization marked by curiosity, disciplined inquiry, and a sense of meaning and purpose. We feel part of the cosmic family; we feel a kinship bond with others.
Without thinking much about this matter, it is easy to slip into viewing humanity as the only civilization in the universe. It is easy to forget that we are part of a galactic family of civilizations, most of them much older than we are. Human civilization is unique, just as each person and snowflake is unique, but we are one of billions of intelligent species in the universe, just as each unique person and snowflake is one of billions. Our self-image is inaccurate when we fail to see ourselves as part of universal life. We are part of intelligent life and evolving culture throughout the cosmos. Our human history is part of cosmic history. We are children of the cosmos, not just children of the earth.
An enlarged core value
We spoke earlier about our core value, which we described as the continued flourishing of human civilization over the next few generations. This core value makes a significant contribution to our sense of meaning and purpose.
In fact, though, our core value is somewhat larger than we have stated previously. We had to complete our discussion of life in the universe before we could tell you about this enlarged core value.
Our enlarged core value is the ongoing existence and flourishing of humanity and of all the other civilizations and intelligent species in the universe, particularly in our own galaxy. We do not consider the well being of those other civilizations as more important than our own well being over the centuries, but we do consider it almost as important. After all, we are part of this cosmic family of intelligent beings; it is only natural that we would want this family to flourish throughout our galaxy and even beyond.
When we speak of a "core value" we mean that nothing in the entire universe is of greater value, importance, or significance than intelligent species and advanced civilizations--including our own, of course. Widespread diverse life is the most valuable thing in the universe. This core value is treasured by many future generations of human beings, not just one generation or one century. And this core value is also treasured by most of the advanced extraterrestrials in our galaxy.
If you worship God, Yahweh, Allah, Brahma, or some other deity, there is no conflict with valuing advanced life as the most important thing in the universe. On the contrary, you can embrace and treasure diverse life throughout the universe as further evidence of God's infinite greatness. It makes sense for the magnificent and all-powerful creator and ruler of the universe to create and nourish a diversity of life throughout the universe. Why would God choose to leave a vast universe empty and sterile except for one planet called Earth? Instead, a universe filled with diverse, intelligent, compassionate, altruistic, loving, flourishing life may well be God's own core value. What else could God consider more valuable in the universe?
This enlarged core value -- the flourishing of future human generations and other intelligent species throughout the cosmos -- also provides us with an enlarged sense of meaning and purpose. We find it inspiring, uplifting, noble, exhilarating, and exciting to be part of such a magnificent far-flung family of civilizations. We find our sense of meaning and purpose stronger and keener than if we think only of our own human civilization. Both as a society and as individuals, our meaning and purpose are enhanced by viewing ourselves as one significant manifestation of a cosmos-wide phenomenon: conscious, aware, intelligent, inquiring, altruistic life.
Viewed from the time perspective of 150,000,000 centuries, the universe has clearly been evolving. This cosmic evolution will presumably continue for at least that many centuries into the future. Particular individuals, species, stars, and civilizations fade and disappear, but the physical universe will continue for an unimaginable length of time, as will the evolution of intelligent life. This eternal unfolding provides significant meaning and purpose for many people in our era. Indeed, the continuing evolution of higher forms of being and civilizations (and whatever comes after civilizations, as they evolve even further) provides a core meaning and ultimate purpose in the universe itself. What else could possibly be more important? Humanity's ultimate purpose, then, is to be a happy, successful, advanced, flourishing, ever-evolving part of the grand cosmic process of physical and cultural evolution.
Within this perspective of ever-evolving life throughout the cosmos, we can easily see the importance of our own civilization continuing to flourish and evolve far into the future, along with the many other civilizations in our own galaxy and beyond. This perspective can motivate people to care deeply about the long-term future of human culture and to work hard to enhance our prospects. Both as individuals and as a society, we can see how important it is for our civilization to survive and flourish for thousands of years into the future. This perspective can inspire each of us to put our best efforts into building a positive long-term future for humanity.
The changes in perspective that we are describing add up to an extraordinary shift in human consciousness. This new perspective has the potential to be the next major evolutionary step in the psychological and spiritual side of human life.
People in your era sometimes ask, "Where in this vast universe can I find a source of meaning for my own life and for the existence of humankind with all its flaws? How can I gain a stronger personal sense of meaning and purpose in life?" Feeling part of the cosmic family of intelligent species and their diverse civilizations can provide an excellent answer to both questions. Putting one's best efforts into contributing to the long-term flourishing of human civilization and other civilizations provides an even stronger answer. As we will discuss more thoroughly at the end of this message, there is no adventure that is more exhilarating. There is no challenge that provides a greater sense of meaning and purpose for one's life.
Chapter 4: FOUR UNIVERSAL GOALS SHARED BY EVERY CIVILIZATION
Because the civilizations in our galaxy are so diverse, they naturally pursue a wide variety of visions and goals and projects. Underlying this diversity, however, is a set of four universal goals shared by virtually all civilizations.
We hope that you will find these four goals very helpful. They provide a broad long-term vision toward which your society can aim. That broad vision can, in turn, lead you to re-think your concrete priorities and projects in order to focus your efforts and resources more appropriately. In addition, the four universal goals provide a basis for assessing your civilization's current status--its strengths and accomplishments along with its weaknesses and failures. In short, they can be used to give you a report card showing your current status.
As you look at the four goals, you will probably agree that these four guideposts are universal in the sense that they are applicable to virtually all civilizations in our galaxy--and presumably the rest of the universe, too. Although the set of four goals applies to a wide range of civilizations and cultures, there are a few that have evolved in such a unique direction that these goals do not fit very well. In general, though, you can see that these goals are useful for almost every civilization in our galaxy.
The four universal guideposts
1. Effective day-to-day functioning. How effectively is this civilization managing its day-to-day affairs? Over the very short term, perhaps just a few days, how well are things going compared to how well they could go if this society was achieving its full potential? At the top of the scale are civilizations whose short-term day-to-day functioning is effective, intelligent, cooperative, peaceful, and harmonious. At the other end of the scale are civilizations whose day-to-day functioning is ineffective, dysfunctional, paralyzed, destructive, or violent. Their efforts and resources are squandered on trivial benefits or bitter wrangling, not on the goals shared by most members of the society.
2. Bright prospects for the long-term future. From the long-term perspective, is this civilization evolving in a positive direction, barely holding its own, gradually deteriorating, or heading for a catastrophe? Are the present actions of the civilization moving it in a direction that is generally positive and appropriate, or generally harmful and negative? Has it identified and counteracted all future catastrophes that might eliminate its culture or cause it to regress enormously? In short, are its prospects for the long-term future bright or bleak?
3. Profound knowledge of the world. How accurate, profound, and advanced is this civilization's storehouse of knowledge? Its storehouse includes its accumulated insight, understanding, and wisdom regarding its own species and culture, its total environment, cosmic evolution, intelligent life in the universe, and all other aspects of the universe. A successful storehouse includes profound accurate knowledge about the most fundamental big-picture questions of all, about any transcendent and spiritual dimensions that actually exist, about any religious and psychic phenomena that actually exist, and about any other genuine sources of awe, reverence, meaning, and purpose. Virtually all effective ways of gaining accurate knowledge and deep wisdom are accepted.
How well does this civilization protect its storehouse of knowledge from the worst imaginable catastrophes? Even if that civilization dies out, the remains of its culture and knowledge might eventually be discovered by a few survivors or by some other intelligent species that develops later on that planet. Or it might be discovered by some other civilization through spacecraft or automated probes. They might then preserve this knowledge in their equivalent of museums and archives--and add it to the galactic storehouse of knowledge.
4. Mutually beneficial interaction with other civilizations in the galaxy. How extensive and advanced is this civilization's interaction with other civilizations in the galaxy? At one end of the scale would be a civilization that has no interest in other life in the universe; they perceive themselves as isolated and alone. Somewhere in the middle of the scale would be a society that feels connected to life in the universe, and gains some of their meaning and purpose from this collective self-image and from their vigorous efforts to make contact, even though these efforts have not yet been successful. At the top of the scale would be societies that have become full-fledged interactive members of the galactic community, interacting with other civilizations in a manner that is peaceful and cooperative, even altruistic, rather than quarrelsome and pugnacious. Interaction could range all the way from simply exchanging information (by radio, laser, or probes, for instance) right up to mutual assistance, joint projects, tourism, and trade.
How well are you doing?
At any stage in its history, humanity can use these four universal goals or guideposts to assess its current level--its strengths and accomplishments along with its weaknesses and failures.
This report card can also highlight the areas in which your civilization is making progress, and those in which it is declining. It is not particularly useful to ask whether the totality of your culture is demonstrating progress or not, seeking a simple yes or no answer for the whole, without differentiating the four goals. And even within some of the goals, you may see progress in some aspects and deterioration in others. The concept of progress makes much more sense within the four universal goals than it does as a single measure applied to the whole range of achievements and declines.
Here is the method that we have evolved for assessing how well our civilization is progressing on each of the universal goals. We are sending it backwards through time to you as a gift to use if you wish, but we realize you may prefer to adopt some method of your own.
For assessing each universal goal, we use a scale from 1 to 10. A "1" is the worst possible position that anyone can imagine for human civilization. Such a rating would mean that we had completely failed to achieve this goal, or even make any progress.
At the other end of the scale for each goal, a "10" is the best possible position that anyone can imagine. Such a rating would mean that humanity had achieved its maximum potential for success at this goal, given the length of its history. A "10" is the best that we could have achieved if we had made this a central goal for our society some time ago, and if we had then focused our efforts and resources on achieving it. In short, have we achieved this goal at the maximum level that could reasonably be expected of us at this stage in our development? Now, with the two ends of the 10-point scale defined, it can be used to assess humanity at any stage in its development. In particular, you might be interested in thoughtfully rating how well your own society has achieved each of the four goals at your present stage of history. In a moment, to stimulate your thinking, we will tell your our ratings for your era, but before you read these you might want to pause here to rate each of the four goals yourself.
Here is your report card -- a summary of our assessments of your era--before we proceed to a more detailed discussion of each one.
So there, in a nutshell, are our four assessments of how well you are doing. Now, in hopes that it will be useful for you, here is our detailed assessment of each goal in turn.
1. Effective day-to-day functioning. Your score is 6 (average). Your effectiveness in managing your day-to-day affairs is a mixture of positive and negative.
On the positive side, much of your short-term functioning is good spirited and intelligent and effective, and you are making excellent progress in several spheres of life on earth. Some good examples are communications, travel, information/learning technology, applied social sciences, practical knowledge of human health, creation of hiking trails and national parks, tolerance of diverse cultures and life styles, and intolerance of cruelty and war. Life for a large number of people is reasonably good: society is organized sufficiently well to enable them to pursue their major goals and projects. Many people demonstrate compassion, helpfulness, and altruism, at least within their local group. Many regions are characterized by peaceful cooperation and effective governance.
At the same time, in other spheres and regions, your day-to-day functioning is dysfunctional, petty, quarrelsome, and violent, with harmful outcomes. You have the capacity to do much better.
Within the short-term day-to-day perspective, your worst follies and weaknesses are violence, warfare, civil unrest and repression, terrorism, serious crimes, occasional or local breakdown of law and order, outmoded governance, environmental degradation, deep-seated selfishness, unwillingness to cooperate and work together harmoniously in order to solve current problems, inadequate food and water for many people, and widespread self-destructive use of drugs (including alcohol and nicotine as well as cocaine, crack, and heroin). Life for a large number of people is miserable or trivially shallow. We feel sad about your poignant failure to improve your handling of day-to-day affairs. Your performance is only barely satisfactory--far from achieving your excellent capacity for successful functioning.
The most worrisome aspect of your day-to-day functioning is its deterioration over time. You should feel pleased and proud about the aspects that have been improving, and simultaneously upset that your day-to-day functioning has been declining overall. Things have become increasingly difficult, disorderly, and ineffective, and are in serious danger of deteriorating much further. Obviously, for the sake of your own children as well as everyone else alive in the future, it is important to reverse this trend as soon as possible. It is natural for the day-to-day effectiveness of civilizations to rise and fall over grand sweeps of time, so do not feel disheartened by your recent downhill slide. If enough people feel strongly committed to reversing that slide, for the sake of future generations, there is no insurmountable obstacle to succeeding.
Perhaps our views on your performance in handling your day-to-day affairs seem rather pessimistic to you. And of course you get a depressing picture of your short-term functioning from your newspapers and news broadcasts. Let us cheer you up a little by pointing out that the effective functioning of your daily life around the world generally overshadows the ineffective, except in a few badly governed or war-torn regions. That is why we rate you as "6" rather than "2" or "3." You have the capacity of achieving a "10" if you make the effort. So there is no need to feel pessimistic or depressed: cautious hopefulness is a better response to our assessment.
2. Bright prospects for the long-term future. Your score of 3 is very poor. It is your lowest score--clearly your weakest area. You do not take the long-term future into account nearly enough in your public and private decision-making. As a result, your prospects for the next few decades are not very happy. You have very little chance of achieving a future that is dramatically better than the present. Your chances of a negative future are alarmingly high -- a matter of grave concern to those of us who are members of the generations after yours. We inherit the outcomes of your choices and neglect.
A few years ago, your futurists contemplated only positive futures and discussed which of these utopian options to choose. Now they have had to lower their aim; instead of a utopia, they now hope that you can simply hold your own instead of slipping backwards. "Holding your own" means that, over the next few decades, you maintain approximately the same net balance of positive and negative, happiness and suffering, improvements and deterioration, helpfulness and cruelty, love and revenge, effectiveness and breakdown, functioning and disruption, peace and warfare.
It is appropriate to strive for a future that is even better than the present; we would be delighted to receive such a wonderful gift from you. But it is also appropriate to strive to hold your own--to retain the good features of the present, halt most of the deteriorating trends, and avoid the worst catastrophes of all. Without such efforts, you run the risk of creating a future beyond your worst nightmares.
Here are some of the particular behaviors that harm and alarm us the most. You continue to invent, manufacture, and stockpile weapons that are capable of severely harming or even ending human civilization. You make little effort to implement alternative ways of handling violent conflict, terrorism, and serious crime. Your environmental efforts to "save the planet" and to halt population growth are so feeble and ineffective that they would be a cosmic joke if the consequences were not going to be so devastating for so many people. Because you are so heavily focused on very short-term profits and benefits, you ignore long-term costs and needs. For instance, you fail to plan and build roads, bridges, railways, ports, water supplies, educational opportunities, and wilderness parks for the next generation or two. You are bequeathing us enormous public debts and outmoded forms of governance. You make very little effort to foresee and forestall various catastrophes that could severely damage human civilization sometime in the next few decades. Child poverty, hunger, and neglect stunt the healthy physical, cognitive, and emotional development of the next generation or two.
We suffer because your choices affect humanity for many decades into the future. We sometimes reflect on the quite different choices that you might have made, and we weep.
Well, let's turn to a happier topic: the third universal goal.
3. Profound knowledge of the world. Your score is 8, which is very good. Your knowledge is extensive and your recent progress is excellent.
We do have one criticism, however. You unduly neglect your capacity for thoughtful, disciplined inquiry into the biggest, deepest, most significant questions of all.
4. Mutually beneficial interaction with other civilizations in the galaxy. Your score is 4 (poor). On the positive side, the proportion of people who are interested in life in the universe is increasing rapidly, and you have made a good beginning in your efforts toward making contact.
But your efforts toward this goal are far too stingy compared to its extraordinary significance. The resources devoted to achieving interaction with other civilizations are only about one-fifth of what they should be. You are so tantalizingly close to a breakthrough, yet you putter along and devote only minimal resources.
Our vantage point as representatives of future generations gives us an especially useful perspective for assessing how well you are doing. We find that the four universal guideposts, applicable to all civilizations, are very useful for this purpose. Here is a review of how we see your performance.
(1) Your day-to-day functioning as a society is a mixture of successful and unsuccessful aspects. Your overall score is about average, about halfway between complete failure and your maximum positive potential. We appreciate the positive portions of the foundation that you have left for us to build on. Your effectiveness has been losing ground over the past few years, however, and you should vigorously try to reverse this trend.
(2) Your worst performance of all is your attitude and behaviour toward the long-term future. Your score is only a 3, which is rather close to the bottom of the scale. You risk the health, happiness, long-term flourishing, economic well-being, and environment of all of us who live in some future era--just so that you can have a little more luxury, a few more weapons, an insular unconcerned life, or a false reassurance that all is well with the world. Your awareness of the long-term future is increasing rapidly, but your actions lag far behind.
(3) You are doing quite well at accumulating knowledge, and have achieved a score of 8, which is close to the top of the scale. We appreciate the excellent foundation that we inherited from you as the basis for our own knowledge-building. We would all benefit greatly, however, if you devoted more attention and resources to the most important questions and phenomena of all.
(4) You are taking appropriate steps toward understanding and interacting with other civilizations in the galaxy, and we appreciate your initiatives. But you have not been devoting nearly enough resources to such an important and worthy goal. As a result, your score is only 4, which is poor.
We join you in celebrating your successes and accomplishments. But we also hope you will take our views very seriously, and will choose fundamental changes to increase your long-term perspective and halt the decline in your day-to-day functioning. Shift much of your attention and effort toward the long-term perspective, and lesser amounts to the other three goals.
The four universal goals are four guideposts for comparing your level of flourishing with the likely opportunities and well-being of future generations. They help you check whether you are shortchanging us by providing us with opportunities that are much less than your own opportunities.
We feel sad and a little angry that you are so wrapped up in your own problems and well-being that you are neglecting the needs of all of us who will be alive in future decades. When you pass from the world stage, you will leave us some superb knowledge and technology and music and ideas, yes. But you will also leave us enormous debts, a rapidly deteriorating natural environment, harmful population growth, plus a widespread spirit of apathy and angry belligerence instead of harmonious cooperation. We treasure your achievements in two of the universal goals (accumulating profound knowledge and managing your day-to-day affairs) and your good beginning toward contact with other civilizations. But we desperately wish you would transform your behaviour toward the long-term future. We hope you will become much more caring about our needs--the needs of your children and grandchildren, and all the other people who are going to live after you read these words.
Chapter 5: SEVEN KEY PRIORITIES FOR FOCUSING YOUR EFFORTS
You are alive at a pivotal moment in the unfolding of humanity's story. You are making some of the most important choices in human history. Your era is marked by positive and negative potentials of such newness and magnitude that you can hardly understand them. Through your public policies and daily lives, the people of your era have tremendous power to influence the future course of humanity's story. We strongly care about your choices, of course, since we benefit or suffer from them quite directly. We live downstream from you in time; whatever you put into the stream flows on to our era.
In this message from us--this message from future generations to you--we have already covered many ideas. Caring with mind, heart, soul, and hands. A core value. Responsibility. Meaning and purpose. Moral and ethical choices. Life in the universe. Humanity's place within that cosmos filled with life. Four universal goals for civilizations. Our assessment of how well you are doing.
After reflecting on all of these ideas, we have concluded that seven priorities are particularly important for your attention and efforts. By focusing on these seven specific areas of society, you can contribute greatly to our opportunities and deep happiness. And your improvements in these seven areas will have major benefits for you, too.
Here is a preview list of the seven areas--the seven priorities that seem to us most important for you to emphasize over the next few years:
We will be very grateful if you devote your best efforts to these seven priorities, even if you have to reduce your efforts on other priorities. These are the seven things that we need most from you. From our long-term perspective on your particular period in history, these are the priorities that we believe deserve your strongest efforts. These are the seven key things that you can do for us, if you care about our well-being. Please re-direct your efforts. Shift your attention as much as you can toward these seven societal priorities.
We know how eager you are to find a path to a positive future, to change the course of human history for the better. Your best prospects lie in these seven directions. You are surrounded by an array of issues, opportunities, and organizations clamoring for your attention. Please make sure that you do not neglect the seven key priorities amidst the clamor of competing items for your society's agenda. You need a dramatic shift of public attention, commitment, and resources to these key priorities--and away from any luxuries, habits, beliefs, old structures, and narrow interests that interfere with them. You cannot accomplish all the worthy changes that you desire, but you certainly can accomplish these seven key changes if you focus your efforts on them.
Our unique position as the people who inherit the consequences of your choices gives us a fresh perspective from which to view your most appropriate societal priorities. Also, because we are seeing you from the future and are therefore not as wrapped up in the details of your daily life as you are, we can see your strengths and foibles with a keen dispassionate gaze. We hope that you find our suggestions useful, and we appreciate your willingness to consider them seriously.
Even though our world and our lives are somewhat different from yours, we too are people, vigorously engaged in a wide variety of activities and projects, just as you are. We want to have opportunities and resources that are equal to yours. As you make choices in the face of competing voices and demands, please shift toward a fair and appropriate balance between your well-being and ours. We appreciate the efforts that you have already made, but we also note that even deeper and faster changes are required.
It is important for you to realize just how deep and pervasive these changes must be in order to give us equal opportunities. Individual behavior, social structures, economic assumptions, even paradigms and world views must all change. We know that these changes are not shallow or easy. But if you do not change vigorously and successfully, we will be much worse off than you are.
The costs of the deterioration and losses will be far larger than the costs of making the changes in the first place would have been. If you continue your shortsighted selfishness, the consequences will be catastrophic, perhaps even beyond the stretch of your imagination. From our long-term perspective, we see how foolish, and unfair you will be if you fail to make the required changes soon. How would you react to a bus driver who knew the brakes would give out soon but did not bother to get them fixed promptly? If you do make the changes, the benefits to ongoing humanity will be much greater than the costs of making the changes.
We desperately want you to understand what your present behavior is going to cost us who are alive several decades later, even if your behavior improves to the extent that you now consider practical, feasible, and realistic. You may see the required changes as unrealistic, as not feasible, but how realistic and feasible is it to expect us to feed two or even three times as many people as you feed? How realistic is it to believe that your arsenal of nuclear and biological weapons will never be used during the next few decades? The costs and inconvenience of changing are very unpleasant, but the poignant costs of not changing are far worse. If you truly care about the well-being of us members of future generations, you will find a way to make the required changes. You are already making rapid progress in some spheres, and are clearly capable of making the other required changes if you choose to. We appreciate your courage in facing reality and in considering vigorous changes.
All seven priorities are intricately connected, of course, but it is useful to focus on each of them separately as well. We have avoided suggesting implementation details for these seven broad priorities: you are closer to the situation than we are, and you are certainly capable of planning specific strategies and projects to achieve these key priorities. For each of these priorities, your books and periodicals already contain plenty of ideas for particular steps and solutions. Once you choose to move ahead with each priority, you will readily find useful strategies and organizations close at hand. Fortunately, too, many inspiring success stories have already occurred. What is needed most is widespread public commitment to each priority. Accomplishing them will then turn out to be relatively easy.
People and societies cannot accomplish everything that they want to accomplish. They sometimes have to make painfully difficult choices. In order to focus enough of your attention, effort, and resources on these seven key priorities, you will probably have to lower your hopes and efforts in certain other areas. You need a fresh deep re-ranking of your societal priorities. You will have to rethink and reorder your priorities in ways that will hurt or displease certain groups and certain individuals. But if you fail to shift fundamentally toward the seven key priorities--if you continue to scatter your efforts widely and to neglect these seven areas--you will hurt and displease us even more. The solution is to find a fair balance between the needs of the people who are alive as you read this, and the people who will be alive over the next few decades and beyond.
A long-term perspective
In all of your major decisions and actions, please consider our perspective and well-being along with your own. Take our needs as seriously as your own. Care about our welfare as well as your own. Our needs and rights are not inferior to yours. Please regard your generation and ours as equals. This is the principle of intergenerational equity -- equal opportunities across the generations.
Reflect on your unique place in human history. You face the historic challenge of making the shift from a narrow, self-centered, short-term focus to a long-term global focus that takes into account our needs as well as your own. If you succeed in making this deep-seated shift toward a long-term perspective, your era will be remembered saving human civilization and its planet from catastrophe and disintegration, and for building the foundation for a more positive world.
As your decision-making moves toward a longer-term perspective, a very large number of practical implications and concrete actions will flow naturally from this new perspective. These are not listed here because they are so numerous that they could fill several books, but a few of them are scattered throughout these pages. Many others will become obvious to you as you shift toward a longer-term perspective in all that you do.
Please note that when we urge you to adopt a long-term perspective in your decision-making and in your various activities, we do not urge you to develop a specific total vision to aim for. We do not urge you to develop a comprehensive blueprint that spells out every detail of your desired future. It is fine to have some specific visions of certain positive components to aim for and certain catastrophes to avoid, as we will do in the next few pages, but much of the positive side of your future will emerge as you go along. Your prospects for a positive future will be greatly enhanced as you adopt a long-term perspective and the other priorities that we are recommending. The tiny details of that future will emerge over time, however, and cannot readily be foreseen or chosen during your era.
As members of future generations, we are particularly eager for you to designate a spokesperson for our needs in your various policy-making forums, planning processes, legislatures, parliaments, houses of representatives, senates, and so on. Because we are not yet alive in your era, we are unable to lobby or vote. We have no voice. We seem unreal and unimportant to many of your politicians because we have not yet been born. Our perspective and interests are rarely noted in any depth. This is why we are very enthusiastic about your era's diverse proposals for incorporating the views and needs of future generations into your legislative and policy-making processes. On the global level, we are pleased with your proposals for designated advocates and an international tribunal for future generations. We are also pleased with your additional proposals for particular nations. We now urge you to move on from words and proposals to practical innovative experiments. As you experiment, you will gain greater insights and skills and thus be able to develop even better ways of incorporating our views into your public decision-making. Please experiment with a spokesperson for future generations in the decision-making processes of the United Nations and its agencies, other international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, each religion, various levels of government, and all other major organizations. As you proceed with your experiments, we hope that this book from us will help all of the participants grasp our perspective and our specific needs. As you see what works, what does not, and why, you will be able to move ahead with wider use of spokespersons for those not yet born. Our ultimate hope, of course, is that all participants in public and corporate decision making will eventually adopt the perspective of future generations, and will serve as spokespersons and guardians for our interests.
The overriding importance of avoiding the worst catastrophes of all will become obvious to you as you make progress in adopting a long-term perspective. Please begin now. Detect and study the entire range of potential catastrophes or trends that could eliminate or severely harm human civilization. Avoid losing the foundation that the previous hundred generations have built up for you and us. Take particularly vigorous and creative steps to avoid a severe world war. Equally important, halt population growth and the rapid deterioration of the planet. These two potential catastrophes--warfare and environment--are so probable and have such far-reaching consequences that they are included separately in our list of priorities for you. In addition to these two key items, other potential catastrophes include a runaway epidemic, a biological experiment gone awry, and the impact of a large asteroid or comet. Please take all necessary precautions to avoid the worst catastrophes of all. We do not want to inherit an incredibly bleak and hostile world! You should also consider self-sufficient space settlements as a means of ensuring the survival of a few hundred people from various cultures despite any terrestrial catastrophe.
Adopting a thoughtful long-term perspective is also important with your emerging technologies, such as molecular engineering, genetic engineering, biotechnology, intelligent robots, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and space settlement. With each of these new areas of technology, clarify your long-term goals and hopes as well as any major disasters or negative side effects that could occur. Then proactively and vigorously guide these technologies in directions that will be highly beneficial to future generations.
Future-relevant research and teaching
This key priority can usefully be divided into its two components: (a) future-relevant research and (b) future-relevant teaching.
Future-relevant research. In order to achieve a satisfactory future, you need to rapidly expand your efforts to develop future-oriented knowledge, ideas, insights, understanding, visions, and wisdom. You need to know far more about world problems, social change, potential futures, the effectiveness of various possible paths, individual change,the personal foundations of caring about future generations, and several other future relevant topics. This future-oriented inquiry can include not only research and development projects, but also creative visioning, speculative brainstorming, disciplined thinking, synthesis, conceptual frameworks, theory-building, and wide-ranging dialogue.
Move toward a body of concepts, ideas, and knowledge that is profound, powerful, and well organized. Carefully examine your conceptual frameworks and paradigms. Organize your existing knowledge base more rigorously; don't be conceptually sloppy or lazy. Critique and build on the ideas and frameworks of others, instead of operating in intellectual isolation. Try to attract people with especially penetrating minds and thoughtful approaches, and then generously support their intellectual work.
The amount of effort going into creating knowledge that is profoundly significant to the long-term future is only about one-third of what it should be. The gap between the optimum effort and your current level is foolish and poignant. Your aim should be to multiply your future oriented inquiry threefold over the next few years. The long-term benefits will far outweigh the costs.
For success, you need to increase your knowledge of world problems and social change much faster than the problems themselves increase. At present, the problems are outstripping your knowledge of how to deal with them. You are going to have to run much faster than now simply to catch up to all the major problems. Then you may find that the negative forces are running faster and faster, becoming more and more challenging. To develop the knowledge to outrun all these tendencies for civilization to deteriorate, you will need to increase your efforts even further. You certainly have the potential to win the race, but not by coasting along at your present level of future-oriented research.
You are to be congratulated on the useful ideas and insights that you have already produced in fields devoted to studying the future, the environment, policy, risk, future generations, and sustainability. At the same time it is important to realize that many more ideas and insights remain to be discovered. We are particularly pleased, of course, that several of your organizations and projects are specifically devoted to future generations. Although getting through the next 40 years safely and successfully should be the central goal in your future-relevant research, a small portion of your inquiry should look even further ahead to the endless procession of future generations.
Future-relevant teaching. Learning and teaching about the future provide an essential foundation for building a better world. You cannot achieve a positive future without far-reaching learning and changes by individuals around the world. These individuals include all of you, not just political leaders, government officials, policy experts, or business leaders. You no doubt recall the prescient words of one of your early futurists, H. G. Wells: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." You can successfully navigate through the next few decades only if a large proportion of the world's population understands global problems and potential futures, cares about future generations, accepts the need for change, and takes a cooperative and constructive approach to dealing with hard choices. Once enough people care about future generations, implementing these seven key priorities will become much easier.
Any path to a positive future will require deep changes in individual perspectives, values, and behavior. From early childhood to late adulthood, learning opportunities should be widespread. In every city on earth, at least some schools, colleges, adult education programs, and libraries should provide a wide array of methods for people to learn about the future prospects of their civilization and their region. In addition to various educational programs and institutions, these opportunities can include libraries, discussion groups, informal education, workshops, support groups, television, printed materials, electronic sources and hardware, and self-planned learning projects. This range of learning opportunities should help people of all ages understand global issues, think skeptically and critically when appropriate, treasure all life on earth, feel concern for other people, grasp the importance of caring about us future generations, grasp our perspective and our message to them as reflected in this book, feel committed to necessary changes, tolerate diverse cultures and views, cooperate for the common good, and pursue meaningful non material goals.
Educational institutions should provide courses in futures studies, with some emphasis on the perspective of future generations, using approaches that affect the head, heart, soul, and hands of people of all ages. Your education about the future could be greatly enhanced if you develop a better knowledge base about potential futures, conduct research on the processes of learning and teaching about the future, and experiment with innovative and profound approaches to such learning and teaching.
In addition, we urge you to consider a worldwide campaign to increase caring for future generations. This campaign could use various approaches, including:
All of your educational efforts could promote a widespread desire to cooperate and contribute. A caring nurturing attitude toward other people and the environment. Widespread kindness, goodwill, compassion, and altruism. Fewer people who intentionally take far more from the world than they contribute. More people eager to contribute to their world and to future generations. Much more hopefulness than cynicism in the world. A dramatic reduction in hostility, hatred, revenge, and destructiveness. Instead, a pervasive attitude of cooperating and contributing.
Weapons and warfare
Please reduce warfare and violent civil unrest by fostering non military methods and institutions for dealing with disputes, greed, ambition, anger, and the urge for revenge. Firmly establish the norm that any sort of armed violence is illegitimate and out of the question. Foster widespread human rights and political participation. Foster a spirit of tolerance and cooperation among various religious and ethnic groups. Find ways to prevent national governments from killing large numbers of their own people.
Cut your military forces and budgets by at least 50%, preferably 75%, thus freeing up resources for the seven key priorities. Virtually everyone will be better off if worldwide peace enables human energy to be devoted to building a satisfactory future.
As we survey everything that is happening on earth in your era, the thing we worry about most is your nuclear weapons. Poised to strike on very short notice, they are the severest threat to our inheriting your knowledge and culture intact--and even to our existence. Wars can occur with startling suddenness and follow an unpredictable course. Several countries possess nuclear and biological weapons, and would not hesitate to use them in certain circumstances. You seem oblivious to the likelihood and impact of their use. In just one day you could destroy the major portion of human civilization. The next few months of nuclear winter would be marked by cold and darkness, by the lack of safe food and water, and by illness and suffering. Within a year almost everyone in the world would be dead or very sick. Because of your moment of anger or greed or belligerence, you would have destroyed human civilization forever. Surely you can see that this is a totally unacceptable risk that worries us deeply.
Do not dismiss the possibility that your nuclear weapons could eliminate the human species entirely. Just a portion of your current arsenal could leave the planet without a single living human being. No one left to play music; no one left to listen. No one to watch the ocean waves, reflect on the stars, walk on the streets. No talking, no writing, no hopes, no thoughts, no dreams, no painting, no sports, no laughter, no births, no children. No one to even remember these things. No one at all.
You are remarkably casual about the high risk of human civilization dying out completely. There is a terribly high probability that someone will eventually begin using nuclear weapons if you continue along your present path for much longer. Humankind could become extinct without anyone actually intending it. For reasons that may seem to you sensible in the short run, you have moved into a situation that is extraordinarily risky in the long run. The chances of surviving risky behavior for a few more years are good, but they become extremely poor if you continue the risky behavior for several decades.
Everyone feels sad when a healthy thriving teenager dies. Human civilization is, in a sense, still in its adolescence or teen years. It has not yet had time to reach its maximum potential in organizing society effectively, in developing the extraordinary powers of the individual, and in exploring and understanding the universe. It is certainly premature for civilization to die out now, while still in its adolescence. So much potential lies ahead over the next few centuries!
Give us a chance to be born: eliminate most of your nuclear and biological weapons. Please put humanity's survival ahead of your own individual, national, and corporate goals. Everyone needs to speak up for humankind. Whenever any government, corporation, intelligence agency, military leader, or organization considers any goal or path that could lead to warfare and extinction, all of you need to say no. No other human goals are more important than your long-term survival. Ironically, if you pursue other priorities and neglect humanity's survival, you may end up watching all of your goals and priorities go down the drain along with your civilization.
If you found yourself in a situation that threatened you or your children with a severe illness or fatal accident, you would react vigorously to reduce the risk. Now all of you find yourselves in such a situation, and it threatens your entire civilization, not just your bodies. Please explore the many options and solutions that have been proposed by thoughtful people, and vigorously act on the best ways to reduce the risk. You will feel very happy as a result, and so will we.
Planet and population
We, the people of the future, obviously require a planet capable of supporting life. We do not want to inherit from you a bleak and devastated planet that is even more crowded than in your day. We are alarmed at your rate of consumption: you are degrading your natural environment and using up the planet's resources very quickly. Yet five decades after you read this, if your present growth continues, there will be twice as many people depleting the planet. Hunger, poverty, and environmental deterioration will become worse and worse if you continue on your present path. It is essential that you move toward a sustainable society and an appropriate population size that do not exceed the earth's long-term carrying capacity. We will be very grateful if you soon achieve a sustainable relationship with the planet in agriculture, forestry, fish, wildlife, water, and energy. In order to accomplish this, you will have to take rapid, profound, effective, extraordinary measures worldwide (a) to halt or even reverse population growth, (b) to reduce luxurious and frivolous consumption, unduly high incomes, and undue concentrations of wealth throughout the world, (c) to live in balance and harmony with the interconnected web of life on earth, and (d) to minimize the most burdensome types of environmental deterioration, such as global warming, thinning of the ozone layer, scarcity of good drinking water, toxic and radioactive waste, soil erosion, and the loss of wilderness and wild species.
These various changes are difficult and costly, but not impossible. Already you have made excellent progress in environmental awareness, research, and learning. If you make the needed changes over the next few years, we will feel very fortunate and grateful. If you fail to change profoundly, then we will be much worse off than you are.
There is little point to arguing amongst yourselves about who is to blame for creating and exacerbating the deterioration in your environment and the rapid growth in your population. The important thing is for all nations and all people to take responsible actions for reversing the negative trends.
Population growth is one of your worst follies. It already hurts you in several ways, and will make poverty and environmental problems much more difficult to handle in the long run. Zero population growth will have to be achieved sooner or later: we will be far better off if you move rapidly toward it now instead of letting things become worse and worse.
We have a specific solution to suggest to you, but we also recognize that your creative minds may come up with an even better solution. Our proposed solution is a worldwide rule of only one child per woman. If this rule applies to everyone in every country, it is a fair way to stop population growth. It could enhance the status of women. It is a clear and simple rule: no woman is allowed to have more than one child. (In order to limit her pregnancies, she is free to choose whatever means she prefers. And if she and the father do not raise the child together, she has the choice of who will raise the child.) Such a proposal provides a good example of just how outrageous and unpalatable the solution must be in order to achieve a sustainable relationship with the planet. Perhaps you can create a solution that is more palatable than our proposal. As long as you halt population growth one way or another, we will be very grateful to you.
Humanity will sometime have to stop its rapid population growth and its degradation of the planet. Surely it is better to take vigorous action on all the needed changes immediately, rather than waiting till the situation becomes even more costly to change. Any sensible person can see that it is better to reverse the harmful trends during your era rather than later, when the damage and difficulties will be far worse. Some required changes (such as reducing births, conserving energy, and fostering alternatives to automobiles) will actually benefit your generation as well as us.
A society, like a person, must resist the urge to live only for the moment and to consume everything in sight, regardless of future consequences. It is fine to do some things because of an urge for immediate pleasure, but at times people look far ahead and give up some immediate benefits because of the greater benefits later on. Perhaps you have sometime in your life given up the pleasure of smoking, for instance, in order to be healthier in later life, or perhaps you once gave up a secure job in order to study. Within a long-term perspective, such farsighted decisions make sense for an individual or for society.
As we noted earlier, our assessment of how effectively you handle your day-to-day affairs rates you as average, compared to your potential. Unfortunately, your effectiveness has been declining over the past few years. It is obviously important to reverse this downward slide. Otherwise your short-term functioning could eventually slip into a catastrophic trough and be virtually impossible to reverse. We urge you to take vigorous action now to reverse the downward trend, instead of waiting until it becomes worse--and harder to correct.
Governance, policy-making, and public administration is a particularly important area for you to improve. In order to be successful, these processes need to be well-informed, well-intentioned, and future oriented. You need to sharply reduce the influence of narrow and short term pressures on all aspects of governance. With your current governance patterns, you cannot successfully cope with global and social problems. Please build an effective foundation for public priority-setting and decision-making at the local, regional, and global level.
In particular, you will find it very beneficial to emphasize the following:
Stop governments spending beyond their means: balance your budgets instead of leaving us with burdensome debts. Try to get ahead of your major problems instead of letting them outstrip your efforts. Please do not leave us with horrendous problems that could have been alleviated or solved far more easily in your era than in ours.
As we reflect on the entire panorama of your day-to-day functioning around the world, we find your treatment of many children particularly repugnant, to say nothing of economically shortsighted. We are glad that you are making progress in this area, but please do your best to reduce even further the amount of child poverty, hunger, neglect, and abuse. You create enormous costs to us if you physically, intellectually, or emotionally stunt their growth and development. Over the years they will cost society an extraordinary amount of money for extra education and social services, for instance, and in reduced worker productivity and employment. Try to provide children with adequate love, attention, and learning. Give them the opportunity to develop into effective, happy, cooperative adults. The competence and creative problem-solving of tomorrow's adult population depend on your success at raising children with good mental and physical health, adequate self-esteem, and excellent skills in thinking and learning.
We also urge you to aim for widespread freedom of speech, assembly, inquiry, and political opinion. On the one hand, of course, you may need some restrictions so that these freedoms do not unduly threaten social stability, law and order, the environment, or future generations. Apart from those restrictions, you could readily give most individuals and subcultures plenty of opportunity for liberty, choice, self-determination, creativity--and as little external restriction, control, and repression as possible. In particular, you could limit the powers and interventions of governments and rulers. And you could limit the efforts of religions and other organizations to control the lives and behavior of non-members and involuntary members. And you could eliminate discrimination based on non-merit factors, such as gender, ethnic background, or sexual preference. When your recent Parliament of the World's Religions developed a global ethic based on what is already common to all religions, they wisely included commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness.
We value humanity's accumulated body of knowledge and understanding as one of our most treasured possessions. Your era's contributions to that knowledge is one of the most valuable gifts that you can pass on to us. Please continue your efforts to improve your knowledge, ideas, insights, and wisdom, especially in directions that emphasize depth and synthesis. In order to maximize your contribution, it is important to keep your thinking open-minded yet skeptical, bold yet disciplined, fresh yet profound, wide-ranging yet penetrating.
In particular, we hope you will double your efforts to understand humanity's broad significant contexts--the biggest questions of all. Our place and significance in the universe, for instance, and our sources of meaning and purpose. Other civilizations that have developed in our galaxy, and how our future and theirs might be linked. Better ways of exploring whether God, spirits, Satan, psychic and spiritual phenomena, life after death, and reincarnation actually exist in the external world or are better understood as inner human experiences. Feasible paths for achieving a positive human future.
At your stage in the centuries-long accumulation of knowledge, the most important cutting edge of all is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Your current search efforts with radio and optical telescopes are quite appropriate, but support for them should be doubled or tripled. You should also explore any other methods and possibilities for discovering a detailed message. For example, search for small automated surveillance probes within the solar system, even on the earth itself, with the hope that at least one of them will be designed to yield information as well as collect it. Study the likely capacities, aims, helping projects, and activities of advanced extraterrestrials, and the implications for your scientific search. Build up the whole scientific field that focuses on life in the universe, including an annual global conference that focuses on fresh profound ideas, a wide-ranging refereed journal, and some interdisciplinary graduate programs. Prepare for the day when a message or other contact is confirmed.
In addition to enlarging the storehouse of significant knowledge, it is important to protect it from dictatorships and other potential catastrophes. Remember that various armies, rulers, and governments throughout history have tried to suppress and destroy existing knowledge. This could happen again. Please develop steps to ensure that the core of human culture, knowledge, literature, music, and art will survive any war and any repressive worldwide regime, whether military, political, or religious.
Learning, caring, and meaningfulness
Now we come to the final societal priority that we recommend for your era. This priority continues to be very important to us, so we hope it will soon become important to you, too.
In this final priority, we urge your society to focus plenty of attention and support on the deeper and softer aspects of individual lives. We refer specifically to three areas: (a) widespread individual learning about the most important questions of all, (b) caring based on deep connectedness to people, the planet, and future generations, (c) a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life. Although we will discuss these three areas separately, they are actually closely interrelated. And all three contribute to the individual's deeper and softer side.
(a) Your society could do much more toward widespread individual learning about the most important questions of all. You should encourage and help each individual to learn the accumulated knowledge on these questions, and also to think through their own best answers. Obviously they will be more successful in their quest if your society has fostered their ability to think clearly, flexibly, creatively, and skeptically about difficult and controversial questions. Here are some of the big questions that thoughtful individuals face:
(b) Your society should do much more to help people feel a deep bonding or connectedness with all of humankind, with the planet and its diverse forms of life, and with future generations. Explore the usefulness of music, hymns, songs, poetry, prose, laser light shows, art, hiking, cathedrals, inspirational services, children, mountains, observation towers, zoos, nature reserves, and scenic beauty for this purpose. As more and more people experience a deep connectedness, they will care strongly about humanity, future generations, and the planet--and will act on that deep love and caring. They will eagerly want to make a positive difference to humanity and the planet. They will be happy to experience a bond with something ageless, something transcendent, something much larger than their own life.
Creating inspirational groups dedicated to future generations could be particularly useful. The people in these groups would feel bonded together by their deep caring for future generations, and by their efforts to build a better world. Various methods could be used to inspire and strengthen each member's sense of connectedness to humanity and its positive future. Inspirational gatherings, oral readings, silent reflection, discussion, and songs of gratitude and joy could all play a part. Members could share their feelings about the long-term future, discuss what we are saying to you in this book, reflect on the implications of recent events, and discuss their most significant unanswered questions. Members could also discuss their current efforts to contribute, including their strategies, obstacles, triumphs, and failures. Many people want to make a positive difference to the world, but lack a sympathetic and inspirational support group. Such groups could be built on love and reverence for human civilization and other societies in our galaxy, awe concerning the mysteries of the universe, and commitment to service on behalf of future generations. By supporting various efforts to build a positive long-term future, these groups could provide people with an inspiriting and transcendent purpose in life.
These inspirational groups have the potential to develop into a powerful worldwide network. This inspirational movement might occur within established religions, and remain a vital part of these religions for many generations. Alternatively, the inspirational groups might eventually form a new religion of service to the cosmos, a global religion centered on humanity's positive future within a grand universe. As a third possibility, the inspirational movement might occur within a new secular organization that resembles a religion but that is silent on the nature and role of a deity, leaving people free to follow their own beliefs on that matter.
(c) Your society should also focus much more attention and support on the individual's desire for a sense of meaning and purpose in life. This theme runs throughout our message to you because it is such an important part of our era. A sense of meaning and purpose can easily pervade a society in which people share a sense of connectedness with the cosmos, with its diverse life, and with the continuous procession of generations. These foundations are quite real, of course; there is no need to adopt false beliefs or unrealistic expectations in order to feel a deep sense of meaning and purpose.
As your support for this societal priority increases, you will find that more and more lives are suffused with insight, wisdom, love, caring, altruism, meaning, and joy instead of ignorance, ill will, meaninglessness, and unhappiness. Some fears and pain and sorrow will remain, but will be more focused on future generations than on oneself. Over time, in fact, the distinction between oneself and future generations will blur. As the depth and strength of the connectedness increases, the boundaries between self and humanity become softer and less important. The dominant perception is a sense of oneness. People feel like affirming that "I am at one with future generations, and they provide a shining beacon in my life."
Reflections on the seven priorities
The seven changes that need to be made by individuals, organizations, governments, and society are startlingly large, deep, and far-reaching. But the alternative is for your grandchildren and the other members of their generation to spend much of their adult life in a social and physical environment that is bleak and nasty. The seven profound changes are necessary in order to avoid such a negative outcome. They provide the best path to a positive future.
Of the seven, the most important of all is a worldwide shift toward caring deeply about the well-being of all the people who will be alive over the next few decades, and the well-being of the planet. This perspective transformation or paradigm shift is necessary for citizens, policy-makers, business leaders, and key people throughout governments. As more and more of you change your inner perspective, there is an excellent chance that the necessary outer changes will also occur. People, goals, values, processes, structures, and projects must all shift toward supporting humanity's long-term flourishing. As a result, the ever-unfolding history of human civilization may alter course toward a positive future.
Perhaps you are feeling that our message to you is unrealistic and too ambitious. You wonder whether you can actually manage to implement the seven priorities that we are recommending. We believe that you can. Do not be too quick to dismiss our recommendations as farfetched or impossible. Human history provides other examples of dramatic paradigm shifts. The seven priorities can be achieved if enough people around the world become strongly motivated to do so. We have intentionally omitted dozens of other worthy priorities from the list in order to make it more feasible, because no one can achieve all of their hopes and dreams, no matter how worthy. We are grateful for the inner changes and outer efforts that are already under way. If you focus your attention and resources on these seven crucial priorities, you have a good chance of success. The costs and obstacles are daunting, but you are quite capable of overcoming them if you are strongly motivated.
Perhaps you are wondering whether a wide range of the people who inhabit your future agree with these seven priorities, or whether the list reflects the views of just some specific group or some particular segment of the population. In fact, most groups in our era do agree with each of the seven priorities. If you do not believe this, then think for a moment which priority would be deleted by which group. Virtually no thoughtful group would want to abandon any of the seven. Each group realizes that these seven priorities provide an essential path toward a future that will allow that particular group to flourish, along with a panorama of diverse groups. If these seven priorities fail, then all groups and all nations and all segments of the population will suffer. Of course, if they think only of their own self-interest for a few moments, any group could easily think of one or two priorities to add to the list. Of course, every individual would love to add some item to the list that would be special benefit to their own family, home, work, savings, or neighborhood. But when groups and individuals focus on the way to achieve a world in which they and their group can flourish, they support the list as it is.
As an aside, it is interesting to speculate about what changes, if any, would be made in the list by birds, trees, wild mammals, extraterrestrials, people looking back from the year 2300, or a council of wise people chosen from your own era. You will probably realize that all of them would strongly support the need for emphasizing these seven areas of change. They might put a stronger emphasis on the "planet and population" priority, they might make a few other minor modifications, but in general they would strongly support the importance for you to make these seven changes as early and as deeply as possible.
We worry that you will choose the tempting path that lies right in front of you, dissipating your efforts on alluring goals and priorities that will have little influence on long-term flourishing--squandering your time and energy not only on consumption, luxury, competition, quarrels, and violence, but also on the faddish projects and causes of the moment. Think of the pain and suffering that you will cause us--the bleak lives and barren planet, the harsh restrictions, the lost potential, the sense of malaise and futility. We cry when we think of what might come to pass. Perhaps you too will feel some tears as you think about what your era's lack of future-oriented caring and effort could inflict on us.
We will be very grateful if you focus your attention, caring, efforts, and resources on the seven essential priorities that we have spelled out for you. This is not a safe and easy path, though it is safer than any other path. But if you want to achieve a positive future, it is your optimum path.
Thank you very much for listening to our views so thoughtfully. We are cautiously hopeful that more and more of you will grasp our perspective, and that your society will treat our needs as equal in importance to your own. If enough people join the loosely knit worldwide effort to build a positive future, then a profound change in direction becomes possible. Working together, you can shift to a path that improves your prospects for a peaceful, caring, flourishing future. You can pass on to us a store of deeply relevant knowledge, a flourishing and peaceful culture, and a vibrantly healthy planet. You can steer human history toward a shining positive future.
Chapter 6: WHAT EACH OF YOU CAN DO
We appreciate your taking the time to read our message to you. Thank you very much for your patience and caring. It is probably a new experience for you to listen to a message from people who are not yet born at the time you read it, people who are alive many decades after you are. Now, after reading our message, you have a good sense of our perspective, needs, goals, and feelings. Now we probably seem more real to you.
At this stage you may be wondering how to learn even more about us. How to feel hopeful and empowered as you think about how much your era affects ours. How to feel even deeper bonding with us. How to help us in ways that will truly make a difference. What sort of affirmation and pledge might be useful in your life. We will do our best to explore each of these questions thoughtfully.
How to learn more about us
If you want to learn more about our perspective, there are several avenues that you can follow.
Experiential learning through imaging exercises is one excellent avenue. Such an exercise can help you "know" us in a more direct and immediate way than simply reading about us. In a quiet room, you can fantasize that you are one of us. Either just generally be someone in the future or choose a particular identity, such as a shopkeeper in Budapest living 70 years in the future. What does this person need and want from you? If she could send a message back to you and your era, what would she want to say to you? You might want to turn on a tape recorder before you begin this exercise, so that you can play back your experience and thoughts later on if you wish.
Reading is another excellent avenue for learning more about us. To help you choose particularly useful books and articles, we provide two lists of further reading suggestions for you.
We make that portion of our message very specific because, from our perspective in the future, we see just how valuable each of these books can be for you. Our first list presents the ten most useful books for understanding our perspective and needs. You can continue on to our second list if you want to read even further in order to gain the insights necessary for acting successfully for our well-being.
Joining a highly relevant organization or talking with other informed people is another good avenue. As you select from among the many voices and groups competing for your attention and money, ask yourself which one truly looks far enough ahead to understand our perspective. Which one takes our needs seriously, and pursues a path that will actually turn out to be helpful to us? From such people and groups you can learn a lot.
Other avenues, too, can be useful for learning about us. Occasionally a television program, radio program, or magazine article focuses on the long-term future of the planet and humanity. In-depth travel to various parts of the world can produce insights, understanding, and caring. Occasionally some other opportunity for learning will arise unexpectedly, if you are on the lookout.
At times you may find that learning about us will challenge your intellect to the limit, especially as you wrestle with just how your era can actually succeed in giving us equal opportunity. Some world problems are difficult to grasp in all their complexity, despite all that is written about their causes and potential solutions. As you learn about world problems and potential futures, you may find at times that you have to learn certain knowledge that is paradoxical, counterintuitive, highly conceptual or theoretical, technically or psychologically sophisticated, or deeply challenging to your current beliefs and world view.
How to feel hopeful and empowered
As you learn more about our perspective, you may find yourself experiencing a wide range of positive and negative emotions. On the positive side, you may feel eager, excited, challenged, exhilarated, hopeful, joyful, enthusiastic, empowered, and committed.
On the negative side, especially during the early or middle stages, you may experience fear, grief, horror, revulsion, frustration, anger, discouragement, hopelessness, despair, even depression. Sometimes you may want to run away from the whole appalling subject and retreat into disbelief, denial, defensiveness, cynicism, apathy, and paralysis. You may also find that your sense of meaning and purpose in the universe and in your own life is shaken at times. Learning what you are doing to us can produce an earthquake deep within you!
All of these emotional reactions are quite normal and natural as people face the wide array of potential long-term futures, ranging from some dreadfully bleak possibilities through to some glorious utopias. Our advice to you is simply to get in touch with your feelings fairly often during your learning process. Express them face-to-face to a supportive companion, or express them to yourself aloud or in writing. As you stay in touch with those feelings and continue expressing them with full force, they will gradually lose their power over you. There is no need to become stuck in negative emotions or hopelessness. Fully face the negative sides of the world and its potential futures, of course, but do not become paralyzed by feeling that the problems are too big, the forces against change are too entrenched, your actions are too slight, or the odds are too unfavourable.
After you have allowed yourself to experience and work through the negative emotions, you will probably find yourself ready to move on to feeling more hopeful and empowered. This transition can be aided by noting various positive options and projects and organizations. You might ask people about them, read about a few, or even visit one or two. It also helps to develop a clear vision of a positive future. You might do an imaging exercise in which you imagine yourself walking around in a future world without weapons or without hunger, for instance. You may also develop a strong sense of mission in life, a clear goal toward which you will devote your efforts.
You may be wondering whether pessimism or optimism is more appropriate when you think ahead to the likely world in which we future generations will live. Well, neither position is appropriate if it becomes rigidly entrenched. Absolute optimism keeps people from facing serious problems. Total pessimism is immobilizing. The actual future could be positive or negative or somewhere in between: there is simply no way for you to be completely certain what the future will be. Our advice to you is to adopt an attitude of hope, an attitude of cautious optimism. Face the deep-seated problems of the world, of course, but also retain plenty of hope, energy, and enthusiasm. Feel empowered rather than despondent. Remind yourself that you have a good chance of achieving a positive future if you devote enough effort and intelligence to it. There is no point in being permanently gloomy, discouraged, and paralyzed by the possibility of a disastrous future. Cynicism and hopelessness are not useful because they can produce the negative outcomes that they anticipate. The odds of a catastrophic future are worrisome, yes, but the odds of a more positive future are certainly encouraging. Although the outcome is in doubt, remember that great dangers and challenges sometimes elicit the best creative efforts in individuals and civilizations.
It is important to face and accept all the aspects of human civilization that will probably not improve much over the next century. Even if you achieve all seven of the key societal priorities, many other unpleasant, nasty, cruel, harsh, and dangerous aspects of human life will continue. Of course, we and you wish that human civilization could rapidly achieve a total utopia in which no one involuntarily suffers pain, hardship, hunger, illness, rejection, depression, injustice, or lack of freedom. In actual fact, though, we are not able to achieve such a utopia within the next century. It follows that you will be happier and more effective if you deeply accept the 80% or 90% of the human condition that is not going to improve. We are not suggesting that you condone or encourage this lack of improvement. Simply accept it, and put your efforts into changing the 10% or 20% that you can change.
How to experience deep bonding with us
Learning more about us will help you make a difference to our world and well-being. Working through your negative emotions and becoming more hopeful and empowered will also increase your usefulness.
But there is another level, too, a level that you may experience as even deeper than learning and emotions. This is the level of deep bonding or connectedness with us. This level may feel to you like a deep spiritual level or even a mystical experience--a melting of the boundaries between you and the earth, between you and humanity, between you and future generations. Such an experience can produce a very deep seamless caring for the planet and future generations.
Music is probably the most common path to this experience. You may find that symphonies, electronic music, songs and hymns about the future, triumphant celebrations, or rock music is best for you. Or one piece may produce tears of joy and beauty one day, and quite a different sort of music may have the same effect a year later.
You may also find that immersing yourself in nature can give you the experience of feeling deeply bonded with us. Or interacting with young children may do this. Or reading science fiction or other future-oriented fiction. Or watching movies and television stories that occur in the future.
You might also want to experience the effects of repeating an affirmation to future generations with a group or aloud on your own each day or each week. This works well if you repeat it yourself aloud, or if you do so with a group. You might want to write you own affirmation, based on your thoughts and feelings after reading our message. You might want to use the affirmation that we have prepared for you. Or you might want to produce a combination of the two by adding your own personal modifications to our affirmation.
TO FUTURE GENERATIONS--AN AFFIRMATION
Even though you live far in my future,
I know that you are real and human,
Not just an abstract concept in my imagination.
You laugh, dance, think, and talk.
You work, play, love, and care.
I feel connected with you
And with the planet that we share.
You and I are one species
I care deeply about you.
Your well-being is just as important as mine.
You are a shining beacon in my work and my life.
How to help us
Perhaps at this point you are reflecting on our core value and seven priorities, along with other values and demands that compete for your attention. As a result, perhaps you are asking yourself some of these personal questions:
So many tasks need to be done in order to build a better world for those of us who live in your future! If you are trying to choose your particular contributions, there is certainly no scarcity of possibilities.
You could begin by thinking about some of the obvious ones. Promote the long-term perspective in a letter to a political leader or newspaper. Try to reduce your impact on the environment. Discuss world problems with the people around you. Speak up for your own views. Join a group that shares your concerns. Offer to speak to a group or class.
You could also contribute money to organizations and projects that are particularly beneficial to future generations. Put yourself in our shoes and ask what projects we would be most likely to recommend to you. Be on the lookout for worthy projects that have not yet caught the public's attention.
Volunteer activities provide another path for helping us. Many organizations and projects need volunteer researchers, writers, office workers, and executive officers. Another useful option is to initiate some project on your own to meet one of our needs. Reflect on the unique ways in which you might contribute through writing, public speaking, teaching, mass media, art, music, politics, your present work, or a new job.
Your present work may be an excellent opportunity to contribute to humanity's future, especially if you emphasize the long-term perspective. Another possibility is to choose a new field or job with excellent scope for making a long-lasting contribution. In the extraordinary times in which you live, the choice of one's career or other work becomes a moral choice. Morality requires each individual to put service (building a better society) ahead of personal gains.
In choosing your own path for helping us, think carefully about it likely long-term contribution. In what ways will it help future generations? Think particularly about each of the societal priorities that we have suggested: what could you contribute to one of these?
Think too about your own inner qualities. What are your particular interests and strengths? Which tasks and challenges will arouse your energy and passion? What are your most cherished hopes for making a contribution, your half-hidden visions, your impossible dream? What does your deep inner self say to you? We hope you will get in touch with your inner dream--your altruistic, caring, ethical desire to make a positive difference to the world--and let yourself take the risk of striving for that dream.
At times you may feel powerless, doubtful that one person can make any difference. One way of breaking out of this helpless feeling is to think of yourself as part of a team of people with a similar goal, even though this group may be scattered geographically. Working together, a few courageous and dedicated people can sometimes begin a process that eventually results in saving a wilderness area, ending a senseless war, initiating a new field of study, or inventing a fresh social solution to a problem. Another way to feel empowered rather than paralyzed is to think of the many aspects of our heritage that were contributed by individuals. Examples of individual contributions include the ancient artwork in such places as Beijing's Forbidden City and Pompeii, the plays of Shakespeare, the Gettysburg address, and hundreds of poems, symphonies, and books.
Your pledge to us
We urge you to make a personal pledge to us. Your pledge can sharpen your commitment to us. It can help you find clarity amidst all the competing requests, demands, and options in your world and your life. It can help you maintain a sense of clear direction as you continue to learn about our perspective, our needs, and the impact of your era on us. By returning to your personal pledge whenever you feel confused by the range of problems and demands, you can re-focus your efforts.
A personal pledge brings the whole array of global issues and potential futures down to what one individual can do to contribute positively.
Your pledge can give you clear principles for living your life. A simple set of commitments to us. An answer to the perennial question, "What can I do?"
We have developed a pledge for each individual of your era to consider adopting. Some people will adopt it just as it is. Others will modify it somewhat to fit their own level of caring, their own style of commitment. Some people will prefer to develop their own unique pledge soon after they read these words.
Regardless of where your own particular pledge comes from, we feel deeply grateful to you for caring about us, and for committing yourself to live your life in harmony with that caring. We thank you with much enthusiasm and affection.
Gaining deep meaning and happiness from your efforts
Your efforts to build a positive future can benefit us, of course, but they can also benefit you personally. They can fill your life with zest, exhilaration, a deep sense of meaning and purpose, and a quiet contentment or happiness.
You can gain satisfaction and joy from helping other people, even if you never see them and even if they are not yet born. You can feel useful, helpful, loving, pleased, proud, happy, connected. Your self-respect, self image, and self-esteem will increase. You will like yourself better if you are contributing more than you consume. Other people may praise you, thank you, or feel more affection for you when they see your altruistic side. You may feel more deeply connected to the ongoing river of human life across the centuries.
Perhaps part of your motivation for building a positive future is your strong altruistic love for all of humankind, even unborn generations. Perhaps part of your motivation is simply that you take society's highest values quite seriously in your day-to-day life. You believe in taking action for the world, not just proclaiming certain values without acting. Perhaps another part of your motivation is your caring about the opportunities that your children and grandchildren will have throughout their adult lives. You want them to inherit a safe and pleasant world, not a bleak society noted for its wars, famines, chaos, and repression.
Your meaning and purpose in life can also be enhanced by your efforts on our behalf. For many people, the essence of their deep sense of meaning and purpose is their altruistic mission in life, their efforts for the noble cause of building a better future. Bringing your actions into alignment with your core values and beliefs can produce a deeply satisfying sense of harmony and rightness in your life. Human beings need far more than food, water, shelter, sex, self-esteem, and love. They also need to feel a part of something that is worthwhile and enduring. They need to work toward a transcendent goal that is worth dying for or at least living for. Working toward such a goal can overcome your desire for escape and aimless diversions. You may feel less rootless and unconnected. Instead of feeling empty and meaningless, your life can feel full of purpose, commitment, and zest.
You may find that your greatest happiness comes from devoting your life to future generations. A significant heroic challenge--such as building a positive future--can be exciting and exhilarating. Those who embrace the challenge feel fully alive, fully engaged with life. Such efforts can also be demanding and risky, but for some people these characteristics add to the attraction. All successful social transitions feel difficult and dangerous at certain stages.
And the outcomes will always be uncertain. You have no way of knowing in advance whether harmonious altruistic efforts for the future will triumph over such powerful forces as unmitigated ego and selfishness, narrow short-sightedness, ruthless exploitation, apathy, and the urge for violence and revenge. Because of their importance, challenge, and suspense, such efforts are the ultimate adventure available to human beings in your era.
For our own sake, of course, but also for your own happiness and deep meaning, we hope you will rise to this challenge and join the people around the world who are doing their best to make a positive difference in the future that we will inherit from you. We know that you and other people have the courage and capacity to change your thinking and behavior in the necessary ways. We want you to know how much we treasure and appreciate your efforts. To you we send our thanks, our warmest best wishes, and our love.
You have an opportunity to play a role in the greatest human drama that has ever been played on the world stage. You can join the most important struggle that has occurred in the past few centuries, a struggle whose outcome could enhance or impoverish human life for the next 100 years. You can vigorously join the worldwide effort to change the course of human history and to improve humanity's prospects for a safe, happy, flourishing future.
You can choose this effort as your highest purpose in life. Your supreme challenge. Your exhilarating mission in life. And your opportunity to participate in the ultimate human adventure!
These two web pages form an integral part of A Message From Future Generations:
Copyright © 1995 and 1998 Allen Tough. All rights reserved.
Based upon a presentation to the First Global Future Generations Kyoto Forum, Kyoto, Japan, November 25, 1994
Copyright © Allen Tough. Designed and maintained by Microcomm
Galaxy painting courtesy of Jon Lomberg
This page last updated 21 April 2006
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