Wednesday, July 29, 2015
So, should I be held morally accountable to future generations, to people who don't yet exist?
Continuing the discussion of moral perspectives for those who are “different” to “special” (July 1) and operate in the world asymmetrically (without all of Clark Kent’s gifts), I ponder today, should I be held morally accountable for how my activities impact future generations, that is, not simply the unborn, but the unconceived. Can people who don’t yet exist have a moral claim on me? (Sorry, if you can curl up inside a clam shell in an aquarium or museum, you do exist.)
Of course, a lot of religious morality (in all major faiths) emphasize the claims of future generations. From a psychological perspective, many people grow up in cultures that say that lineage is indispensable to have one’s own link (or eligibility for that link) to the future and then to immortality. It's essential to continue one's own bloodline, family and tribe into the future. It’s also important because not everyone is “lucky” enough to have a legitimate opportunity to distinguish himself. But then, I ask, aren’t angels immortal, when they don’t seem to procreate? And I’m personally pretty convinced that angels “exist”.
The question obviously comes up in conjunction with many issues, most of all climate change, perhaps. But it comes up in more positive ways, too, such as the idea that technology could prevent an asteroid hit.
It’s also apparent that the time for our posterity on this planet is finite. Technological civilization, with its own brand of individualism, has “existed” for only a speck of Earth’s history. Other civilizations around the galaxy might already have had to prove they can sustain themselves for millions of years (I think Ridley Scott’s film “Prometheus” makes this point). (See NASA’s artwork suggesting a fictitious high-rise city – like China – and landscape on Kepler 452-b, 1400 light years away – on a planet around a Sun that is starting to warm up – here on a UK paper ). Eventually, inhabitants of this planet would have to move to Mars, or even Europa or Titan, or go to another solar system (which seems to have happened in “Prometheus” with nearby civilization). Tidally-locked earthlike planets with zones of perpetual twilight and mild Florida-like climates might be common and could be settled, but their political organizations might well slip toward authoritarianism, or even communitarianism (without money).
I just did a “Happy Birthday to me” at 72 on July 10 (while at Universal Studios in Orlando). There is a good chance, at least statistically, my time will end before some real apocalypse happens. It would seem I would get off “scot free” as long as the end isn’t made ugly somehow. Actually, I rather doubt it. There is evidence our brains continue to perceive our existence for several hours after the heart stops (unless the brain is destroyed by sudden and massive trauma, which raises the JFK question). I think we probably find out what consciousness is really all about in the rest of our universe during that period in “the Core”. The Monroe Institute may well shed some light on it. I think we know after we’re gone. Physics actually supports the idea of a next existence. Consciousness and free will are important parts of creation that keep generating to oppose entropy, and perhaps aren’t destroyed (any more than energy is). Maybe my memory moves to the surface of a black hole.
One thing that seems very different from the past is that people living today, if well-educated, can imagine or envision what is likely to happen after they’re gone as individuals. Past generations, until the 20th Century, really couldn’t do that. A person living as a “prole” in a feudal Middle Ages society could not have any such grasp of the future. Religion was all he or she had. But today, we can see how future generations could be impoverished by what we squander now. Probably we first began to realize that when we had to contemplate nuclear war, and live through the Cuban Missile Crisis (which certainly had an impact on my own attitude toward procreation).
A young man alive at the time of Christ, and in the geographical area of Jerusalem and Bethany (less than two miles apart) would have experienced every reason to experience the ultimate “upward affiliation”. Jesus would have come across as pretty much like Clark Kent in Smallville (that is “Good Clark”). There could have been no one “better” (although the journalist Jimmy Olsen, played by Aarom Ashmore, came close, as did Richard Harmon’s flying teen character in one episode).
Being a disciple and then apostle would have been a great honor. There was no other better science in that day (Leonardo da Vinci wouldn’t appear for 14 centuries). What had happened seemed miraculous, and the result of Intervention. In fact, early Christians believed that the End would come soon, and some must have wondered if procreation even mattered.