The Good Ancestor - by Roman KrznaricISBN: 1615197303
Date read: 2021-01-30
How strongly I recommend it: 2/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)
Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.
I love the subject, and pre-ordered the book based on the title alone. But I found it hard to sift through the clutter of obvious and unnecessary sentences to find some interesting ideas.
We have colonized the future.
We treat the future like a distant colonial outpost devoid of people, where we can freely dump ecological degradation, technological risk, and nuclear waste, and which we can plunder as we please.
In your left hand you’ll find a squishy pink marshmallow. And in your right hand there is a shiny green acorn.
Are you more likely to post a selfie on Instagram for popularity, or plant a seed in the ground for posterity?
The pleasure system goes awry and becomes dominated by short-term desires and impulses that can easily transform into addictions.
The acorn brain is the subject of a new field of research known as prospective psychology.
If alien scientists wanted to destroy our species, they would invent something like global warming, which would slip under the radar of the human brain because we simply aren’t very good at acting on long-term threats. Although we will swiftly get out of the way of a baseball speeding towards our head, we are far less adept at dealing with a danger coming several years or decades down the line.
The fact that we have grandmothers who live long past their reproductive age is likely a result of Darwinian selection; their presence enabled everyone to survive. It was through the grandmother effect that our ancestors became embedded in multigenerational kinship groups that helped them develop time horizons.
For most people, the future goes dark after 15 to 20 years.
Instead of the Buy Now button, imagine “Buy in a Week,” “Buy in a Month,” “Buy in a Year” buttons.
Sends a reminder after the selected time had elapsed to see if you still really wanted the item.
The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.
The moon does the same and both are round.
Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.
The clock, not the steam engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age.
It made the artificial construct of minutes and seconds that mattered rather than the natural cycles of the moon or seasons.
Oldest living things in world: lichens in Greenland that are over 2,000 years old and grow only one centimeter every hundred years.
Our sun is less than halfway through its lifespan.
It will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise, six billion years from now.
Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.
A telescope is a time machine enabling me to look deep into the past, since the light hitting my eye had been traveling for years or possibly centuries to reach the earth, and could even be coming from stars that no longer existed.
What might our descendants wish we had done better for them?
We are all recipients of gifts from previous generations:
* the laborers of the past who built the roads and sewers we use every day
* the medical researchers who found cures for smallpox and rabies
* the campaigners who fought against slavery and for the voting rights we take for granted
Legacy has its origins in medieval Europe.
A legate - from the Latin legatus, meaning ambassador or envoy - was an emissary sent by the pope to faraway lands, bearing an important message.
So someone leaving a legacy can be thought of as being an intertemporal ambassador of the present sending a gift into the distant future.
We are all grandchildren and we are all ancestors.
We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
Futureholders: just as companies have shareholders, societies have futureholders: future citizens whose interests and welfare should be considered in the decisions that will affect their lives.
Asked to allocate funds for the welfare of humankind, how would you distribute the funds through time?
How much should be earmarked or invested for the benefit of future generations, and how many generations ahead?
Imagine you stand behind a “veil of ignorance,” not knowing what position in society you will be born into - you have no idea what your wealth, sex, ethnic background, intelligence, or values will be.
How would you distribute the resources of society?
Do unto future generations as you would have past generations do unto you.
Remember what we might wish they had never passed on to us:
* the inheritance of colonial-era racism and patriarchal attitudes that still have a hold in so many countries
* the environmental impacts of an industrial system based on fossil fuels.
Jewish Talmud: a man is asked why he is planting a carob tree that will not produce fruit within his lifetime and replies, “Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants.”
Professional forecasters performed worse on average than even the simplest rule of thumb, such as “always predict no change” or “assume the current rate of change continues uninterrupted.”
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.” — Oscar Wilde.
Utopias offer a vision of an ideal society to which we might aspire, with no illusion that it can be achieved overnight.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.
Mars terraforming could take hundreds of years — the kind of long-term thinking we need.
If we truly aspire to be good ancestors, we should embark as soon as possible on the cosmic task of settling Mars and other planets.
No place in our solar system offers an environment even as clement as the Antarctic or the top of Everest.
Tackling a problem like climate change might seem daunting, it is far easier than the task of colonizing Mars.
Any mountaineer will tell you: make sure your base camp is in good condition with ample supplies before you attempt a risky summit.
Survival mode replaces the denial of the climate crisis with another form of denial: the denial that change can happen.
You’re not going to be there to take care of your offspring ten thousand generations from now.
Take care of the place that’s going to take care of your offspring.
Create conditions conducive to life.
Future generations are disenfranchised in the same way that slaves and women were in the past.
Embed the rights of future generations in the legal system.
Nation states are a recent historical invention and have only been the dominant form of political organization for the past two centuries.
Cities, in contrast, are the greatest and most enduring social technology ever invented by humankind.
That is why cities such as Istanbul have lasted thousands of years, while empires and nations have risen and fallen around them.
Don't use Earth’s resources faster than they can be naturally regenerated.
Don't create waste faster than it can be naturally absorbed.
Think “rewilding” rather than “conservation.”
Not trying to restore nature to some remembered prior state but enabling ecological processes to resume by reintroducing plants and animals that can kickstart the recovery of wilderness and wildness.
Yellowstone Park: the reintroduction of wolves in 1995 resulted in a “trophic cascade” of ecological regeneration: The wolves kept ravenous deer away from eating saplings, which allowed trees to grow back, which in turn brought back songbirds, beavers, and other creatures down the food chain.
The impact of the French Revolution? It's “too soon to say.”
Our “ethnosphere” provides the cultural air in which we breathe.
It contains the swirl of ideas, beliefs, myths, and attitudes that are prevalent in society, and that constitute the worldviews shaping how we think and act.
A genre now often known as “speculative fiction.”
The purpose of his writing is to tell “the story of the next century.”
John Cage’s intergenerational composition As Slow as Possible is currently being played on an organ in the German city of Halberstadt, over a period of 639 years. One chord began sounding in January 2006 and lasted two-and-a-half years before the next note was struck. The final note will be played in 2640.
The ideal of a transcendent legacy:
Future people we can never meet but whom we must endeavor to embrace as our kith and kin.
Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change.
Milton Friedman recognized the transformative potential of ideas.
After he and his like-minded colleagues worked for nearly half a century seeding free-market thinking in universities, think tanks, newspapers, and political parties, neoliberalism finally overcame its arch-rival, Keynesianism, in the 1980s, and still reigns supreme decades later as one of the most dominant worldviews of our times.
A satisfying conversation is one which makes you say what you have never said before.
The key question is not “how can I make a difference?” but “how can WE make the difference?”
Individual lifestyle choices do not add up to much, unless they are scaled by politics.
To fall in love with a place - a mountain, a woodland, a river - can transform us into guardians of the future, instilling a desire to preserve its life-giving wonders for generations to come.