Think not forever of yourselves, O chiefs, nor of your own generation. Think of continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground. – Peacemaker, Founder of the Iroquois Confederacy
In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion…Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation. – The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law
There are a variety of quotes like these, often rewritten as some variation of, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation…” These quotes are often used in discussion of environmental issues, but they are a fundamental concept of foresight that should be applied to much of our thinking. This is something our politicians rarely do — they’re only concerned in what they can say or do (or appear to do) to get them through the next election cycle.
Unfortunately, there are some decidedly anti-human beliefs filtering into the minds of politicians and would-be societal-shaping activists and pseudo-intellectuals. There has always been an extremist version of environmentalism that anthropomorphizes plants and animals and put’s human life low on the importance scale. This is why environmentalism has became a tainted term; conservation encompasses reasonable thought much better: Like the quotes above, conservation recognizes that waste and pollution effects us all — including those unborn. Conservation doesn’t say man should leave nature completely alone, only use it wisely. While we should care for non-sentient life, conservation doesn’t rank such life over humans.
Philosophies underpinning the extremist wing of environmentalism — specifically methodological naturalism — have seen a troubling increase in acceptance in recent decades. Should we be worried? Aren’t such movements rather marginal on the overall scale of things? Do we really need to fear those on the fringe in our advanced society? Ask yourself this: Since when do those in power care about what is true or false, widely believed or not? It was in the forward-thinking, sophisticated society of our Western civilization that eugenics and fascism influenced by irrational philosophies and poor science arose. The generations that lived through that era are quickly vanishing. The worst thing we could do is forget what they experienced, what they stood against at a great human cost.
That is not a period of history we want to repeat. Do the younger generations have the appreciation, or knowledge, of history that they should? We live too much in the now, the today, and don’t take the time to understand what came before us. Many young people wonder at what their purpose is or what their mark on life will be. Like most generations before them, they wonder if there is anything to define them.
We don’t have to look far for purpose. It is both easy and it is hard. Leaving the future — those seven generations and beyond — a world and society in better condition than we found it, is a profound responsibility — one every generation must choose to take up or ignore.
It is a responsibility that we cannot allow to fall into failure.