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Are we being good ancestors?

by Kevin Kelly on September 10th, 02007

Jamais Cascio, friend of Long Now, and now a “foresight consultant” posted his recent speech to the Singularity Summit on his website.

Besides being a pretty fine manifesto for an open future, it started with a very long-now-ish quote:

I was reminded, earlier this year, of an observation made by polio vaccine pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk. He said that the most important question we can ask of ourselves is, “are we being good ancestors?” …..In our work, in our policies, in our choices, in the alternatives that we open and those that we close, are we being good ancestors? Our actions, our lives have consequences, and we must realize that it is incumbent upon us to ask if the consequences we’re bringing about are desirable.

It’s not an easy question to answer, in part because it can be an uncomfortable examination. But this question becomes especially challenging when we recognize that even small choices matter. It’s not just the multi-billion dollar projects and unmistakably world-altering ideas that will change the lives of our descendants. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, profound consequences can arise from the most prosaic of topics.