Fuure Essay, Research Paper
I have no idea why future generations chose me as their messenger on that sunny Friday morning in Kyoto, as I wandered in the lovely gardens beside the conference center, surrounded by colorful autumn hills.
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.
When I read the message, I noticed 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 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.
From Future Generations
1. CARING ABOUT US
Who are we?
Caring about us with your heart, mind, soul, and hands
Mutual respect and caring
2. OUR CORE VALUE
How much responsibility to future generations?
Meaning and purpose
A Foundation for moral and ethical choices
Our place within your religions
3. A COSMOS FILLED WITH LIFE
The physical universe
Humanity’s place in the universe
An enlarged core value
4. FOUR UNIVERSAL GOALS SHARED BY EVERY CIVILIZATION
The four universal guideposts
How well are you doing?
5. SEVEN KEY PRIORITIES FOR FOCUSING YOUR EFFORTS
A long-term perspective
Future-relevant research and teaching
Weapons and warfare
Planet and population
Learning, caring, and meaningfulness
Reflections on the seven priorities
6. WHAT EACH OF YOU CAN DO
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
* Effective day-to-day functioning: score of 6 (average), but effectiveness has recently been deteriorating.
* Bright prospects for the long-term future: score of 3 (very poor). Your awareness has recently been improving, but the problems and dangers are outstripping your actions!
* Profound knowledge of the world: score of 8 (very good).
* Mutually beneficial interaction with other civilizations in the galaxy: 4 (poor), but your efforts have recently been improving.
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 littl
This list of books comes from A Message From Future Generations. These are the books that future generations would recommend we read (in order to understand the very long-term perspective) if they were able to speak to us.
THE TEN MOST USEFUL BOOKS
FOR UNDERSTANDING OUR PERSPECTIVE
(A message to us from future generations)
Emmanuel Agius and Salvino Busuttil (editors). What future for future generations? Papers from one of the stimulating conferences sponsored by the Future Generations Programme, Foundation for International Studies, University of Malta.
Wendell Bell. Foundations of futures studies. A comprehensive guide to studying the future.
Norman Care. On sharing fate. The need to take our needs into account, since you and we share the same fate.
Caring for the earth: A strategy of sustainable living. A total plan of bold action to sustain the planet.
Eric Chaisson. The life era: Cosmic selection and conscious evolution. In the history of the universe, we are now probably entering the era of widespread life and diverse civilizations.
Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers. Beyond the limits: Confronting global collapse; envisioning a sustainable future. Understanding the planet, and moving toward a better relationship with it.
Ernest Partridge (editor). Responsibilities to future generations: Environmental ethics. Several philosophers discuss your relationship with us.
Jonathan Schell. The fate of the earth. A profound and powerful look at the horrors that you may inflict on us.
Thinking about future generations and Creating a new history for future generations. Two collections of wide-ranging essays by some of the best thinkers about future generations. (Kyoto: Institute for the Integrated Study of Future Generations, Future Generations Alliance Foundation.)
Allen Tough. Crucial questions about the future. What is most important, how can you achieve a positive future, and how can you help us? (USA: University Press of America. Other countries: Adamantine Press.)
Ten additional suggestions for further reading
Alan Durning. How much is enough? The consumer society and the fate of the earth. One of many useful books from the staff of the Worldwatch Institute.
Future generations journal of the global network on responsibilities towards future generations and their environment. Published by the Future Generations Programme at the University of Malta.
Future survey: A monthly abstract of books, articles, and reports concerning forecasts, trends, and ideas about the future. Indispensable. Edited by Michael Marien and published by the World Future Society.
Futures: The journal of forecasting, planning and policy. A forum for some of the most thoughtful writing on the future.
Hans Kung and Karl-Josef Kuschel (editors). A global ethic: The declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Toward a global ethic based on beliefs that are common to all religions.
Martha Rogers. Learning about global futures: An exploration of learning processes and changes in adults. Patterns of the mind, heart, and soul when people face the reality of future generations. (Doctor of Education dissertation at the University of Toronto.)
Richard A. Slaughter. New thinking for the new millennium: The knowledge base of futures studies. This book, plus his subsequent “Knowledge Base of Futures Studies” series, provides a panorama of relevant ideas from around the world.
Allen Tough. “Making a pledge to future generations” (Futures January 1993 and The Futurist May 1993) and “What future generations need from us” (Futures December 1993 and The Futurist March 1995). For the second article, people in nine countries role-played future generations and composed a message.
Warren Wagar. The next three futures: Paradigms of things to come. A bold conceptual framework for organizing the various approaches to the future.
Edith Brown Weiss. In fairness to future generations: International law, common patrimony, and intergenerational equity. A legal approach that takes our needs and rights into account.
This page, created and maintained by Dr. Allen Tough, is part of a web-based Invitation to ETI. (ETI means any form of alien or extraterrestrial intelligence.) You might also be interested in our other pages. Our home page for humans presents an overview of the entire website. Our Invitation to ETI page issues our invitation, describes our hope for a worldwide dialogue, and lists our questions for ETI. Who we are describes the members of the informal group that has issued the invitation. Another page provides background information About Allen Tough and the invitation An academic paper outlines the rationale for an array of search strategies, with this invitation as one approach. You might be interested in links to further ideas. If contact or some other exciting event occurs, news will be uploaded as soon as possible to the news page and to alternate locations at GeoCities, at Netscape Netcenter, at Angelfire, and at Richard Burke-Ward’s website.
The email address for Allen Tough is WelcomeETI@aol.com. His fax number is 1-416-444-5538 and his telephone is 1-416-444-3135.
Copyright ? 1995 Allen Tough. All rights reserved.