Whenever I think about my past self, I feel mortified by how stupid I used to be. But I remind myself to be grateful for this feeling, because shame is better than the alternative: who wants to realize that they haven’t changed at all, or, even worse, that they peaked years ago and are now shadows of their former selves? We should always try to become better, to understand more, to be stronger.
Because there’s so much at stake! Not just personally, but for our species and our planet. It’s when we’re most powerful that we have the most to gain or lose. As children, the most that could happen to us was win or lose the approval of our parents or peers, get a good grade or a bad one. Now as adults we can invent new technologies, affect political thought, claim responsibility for our communities and the lives of people across the globe. Similarly, pre-industrial revolution we could sail the ocean and master animals, but this was child’s play compared to what we can do now- go to other planets, genetically modify ourselves and our foods, manipulate atoms.
We have to commit as a species to continue this upward trajectory and acknowledge that it’d be shameful if our descendants would rather live in our time than theirs. I can’t imagine surviving in my parents’ time, not only because they didn’t even have the internet (how did anyone know anything back then? Answer: They didn’t! They just contented themselves with giving each other verbal, imprecise directions to places and endlessly arguing over the correct song lyrics), but because they died of stuff we simply vaccinate for now, and because I would’ve been breathlessly bound up in corsets puzzling over vibrator advertisements that confusingly alluded to female hysteria. I am glad my parents made a better world for me so that I would never have to know their suffering, and I feel obligated to try for the same for my kids. Don’t break the chain. Those dark ages people dropped the ball and everyone hates them now- let’s not be like them! Let’s be like the Renaissance- those guys are awesome and we still really like their art.
Just as we have to commit to human progress as a species, we have to deliberately decide as individuals to do something important with our lives. What are you going to do so that there is a difference between you dying tomorrow, versus you dying in 50 years? When I’m lazy or afraid, I ask myself if I’m going to be a net drain on human energy and our resources, or a contributor to human progress. So far I’ve probably taken out much more than I’ve put in, and this debt urges me to turn it around.
What do you think are the most important opportunities and challenges facing mankind?