Humans, unlike other creatures, have the incredible ability to consciously think about tomorrow. We can imagine different scenarios playing out, and plan for them accordingly. The same approach also allows us to consider the impact of our actions on others in simple and sometimes complex ways. We’re not just squirrels hoarding nuts because we feel it’s right deep within our bones.
It’s a pity we fail so miserably to make use of these skills.
Innumerable and seemingly unconnected issues stem, at least partly, from the focus of individuals and lobby groups on immediate self-interest. We are the me, now peoples of the world.
Unions in Spain are protesting the increase in retirement age from 65 to 67. It’s understandable they’re unhappy – many of them having worked for many years to be told they need to work longer. The problem is, people are living longer so the cost of retirement is greater. Workers are healthier at 65 now than they were at 60 not that many years ago. Spain is struggling with a crippling budget deficit. The cost of retirement will be born by others, in the future. For the me, now peoples of the world, somebody else’s problem at a distant date in the future is not a problem at all.
In Norway, even as the country’s “national oil fund” accumulates with the proceeds of rapidly depleting oil reserves (a genius move by truly rare minds in today’s world) are protested by those who want to benefit from the oil proceeds now, today, for them. Nevermind the millions of years it took to generate the oil, the me, now peoples of the world want to benefit from it all right this moment.
In South Africa, the vocal demands for jobs at any cost, for increased welfare payments, for nationalisation of key industries, of protection of struggling (and doomed) textile industries, lower taxes and relaxed inflation targeting will make life easier for a group of me in the short term. The huge deficits and backwards moves in international competitiveness will scrub the remaining value out of our beautiful country. Our children and their’s will bear the burden just as we bear the burden of miserly investment in infrastructure over the past 15 years.
It takes a special sort of willful selfishness and myopia to block out any sense of someone else, tomorrow. The me, now peoples of the world have perfected this skill and hone it every day. For who knows, they might need to use it again, tomorrow.