“We are Robbing Posterity to Live Today.”

Header_aspenlogo_subpage I am at the Aspen Institute to attend a Socrates Society seminar this President’s weekend, and the headline for this post is a quote by Zeke Emanuel, Chair of the Department of Bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health, who is moderating a session on "Resolving Bioethical Dilemmas" (believe it or not, his session is exclusively for teenagers– see Teen Socrates).

Zeke made this comment during our opening dinner panel discussion in the context of answering the following:

"What is a key question that you believe the next President of the United States should consider upon taking office?"

This simple statement is a profound and concise rendering of the American malady.  Think about it– American society has devolved to the point where virtually everything we experience is driven by a lust for instant gratification– from the mainstreaming of pornography to celebrity-seeking reality TV shows; from hasty tax stimulus packages to hedge funds; from inscrutable financial derivatives to ignorant day traders.

The popular media is consumed with the NOW.  The basic concept of long-term stewardship in public policy, of the obligation that we have as a society to bear responsibility for our children and their children, is a novelty.  Many people debating the impact of accelerating rates of climate change on the future of the world are missing the point– it’s all about posterity.  Have we truly forgotten that we are here on earth for something more than just our brief and individually insignificant moments of existence in time? 

I come to the Aspen Institute, where I currently co-chair the Socrates Society Advisory Board with Laura Lauder, for the luxury of being able to learn, for the gift of being able to step outside the narrow hallway of thinking that governs my everyday business life.  I come to the Aspen Institute to be able to hear truly insightful observations from brilliant people like Zeke Emanuel.

Tonight, 65 of us who are participating in four different seminars were fortunate to be able to hear other answers to this question from former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations Isobel Coleman, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma Mickey Edwards,  and Princeton University Professor of History Sean Wilentz

Now what are we going to do to get more people who can impact the future to remember that posterity matters?

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