The Conceit of "Long-termism"
how about getting through the winter
I had no idea. Apparently the hottest thing going is “long-termism,” according to Arif Ahmed, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge.
Anything you do might have momentous consequences in 500 years. Not stopping at a traffic light might mean not hitting a fly… If you look at it from far enough, everything you do is fraught with the gravest consequence.
Yeah, I get it. The flap of a butterfly’s wings might start a hurricane.
That we should care, much more than we actually do, is the main message of long-termism. According to long-termism, “positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time”.
And the guru of “long-termism” is Will MacAskill, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University, and the promoter of “effective altruism” which was the enthusiasm of the late great CEO of bankrupt crypto giant FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried.
OK. I get it. If you are going to save the planet and make everyone eat bugs you need to have a moral doctrine to back you up. Although I would have thought that any moral doctrine that is based on the idea that if we don’t act now, and mandate “EVs” by 2035, then we are all doomed, is not long-termism but a simple and naive apocalyptic belief of the kind retailed on the evangelical “sawdust trail” of the olden time.
But really, “long-termism” is just another educated class conceit like communism and socialism and the administrative state of the Progressives. The idea is that the educated elite knows what needs to be done to create a just and equitable society. And we Benighted peasants should forget our short-term selfish interests and submit to the, er, Vision of the Anointed.
Wait! Wasn’t The Vision of the Anointed a book by economist Thomas Sowell?
Here’s the problem with “long-termism.” We don’t know what will happen next week. Will the Bidenflation moderate pretty soon? Should the Fed start to ease off increasing interest rates every month? And more scary, is the Fed’s increase in interest rates bound to lead to a replay of the credit crisis of 2008 when major Wall Street firms went belly up? With home mortgage rates going from 3 percent to 7 percent in less than a year, shouldn’t we be preparing for financial Armageddon? Is the collapse of crypto exhange FTX just a foretaste of something even worse early in the New Year.
Oh, and what about winter in Europe? What with the lack of Russian natural gas?
And suppose the whole Net-Zero plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions turns out to be a cataclysmic mistake, if it turns out that the current rise in global temperature is not due to increased human CO2 emissions but to natural cycles from planetary orbit to solar fluctuation to something that we don’t even know about? For instance, whaddya think about this information about atmospheric gas concentration?
Nitrogen concentration: 780,000 parts per million.
Oxygen concentration: 210,000 parts per million.
Carbon Dioxide concentration: 400 parts per million.
Yeah. No kidding. The reason we talk about CO2 concentration in parts per million is that 0.04 percent looks like nothing to worry about. And 0.04 percent is the same as 400 parts per million.
The way that I believe that we should understand human action is that, every moment, every day, we humans are making mistakes, mistakes due to everything from malevolence to ignorance. And often we use the best available information and the best good will in the world and things still go South. Our greatest skill is that, with our rational minds, we can often fix mistakes. But usually, we have no idea about mistakes until there is real harm done. And almost always, the evidence was there all along, but nobody noticed.
For instance, if we get into a nasty recession next year, it will be obvious to geniuses like me that “The Fed should have” and “The Biden administration should not have” done things that, in retrospect, were obvious mistakes. But right now, I am thinking: I don’t know.
The way that life on Earth survives to live another day is that, when the universe changes, it adapts.
There is another factor: being in the right place at the right time. Not to mention: not being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as in the path of a hurricane.
But I get it. When you are a rich guy, you want to show you care. And when you are a politician or an activist you want the thrill that comes with directing traffic and “making a difference.”
But most of the time rich guys and politicians and activists don’t make a blind bit of difference. Very often, of course, they Make Things Worse.
Yeah, like the old saw goes: “First do no harm.” But how do you know?
Usually, you don’t. Not till afterwards.