We just uploaded a video called "Should We Help Future People?" giving a few quick arguments to care about the longterm future, inspired by Will MacAskill's new book What We Owe The Future!
This is just part of a series we're making on the book, we're aiming to publish one video each week.
Thanks to Sarah Emminghaus for her help with the script.
Sources are marked with an asterisk. Text might differ slightly in wording from the final video.
These are the 795 grains of sand representing everyone alive today – and these six grains of sand show the 60 million people dying each year.
This is everyone who has ever lived: 10900 grain of sands for 109 billion people.
How many people will be alive in the future? We can’t know for sure. The website Our World in Data roughly estimates there could be a hundred trillion people alive over the next 800 000 years.
That would mean ten million grains of sand. Or 12,5 thousand times our current population.*
So should we care about these people thousands of years from now? Should we try to help them today?
Some argue that there are enough issues in the world that we should focus on first.
To a certain degree this is true. We shouldn’t stop caring about people today. Most of you watching probably agree that a life in a country far away from you isn’t less worthy than the life of a random person in your country. But just like distance in space shouldn’t determine someone’s worth, distance in time shouldn’t either. So everyone is important, whether they live in your country, abroad or in the future. Given the huge amount of people there could be in the future, we should do our best to make life as amazing as possible for them. But since it’s really difficult to estimate our impact on the future, it makes sense to still spend some of our time and resources on issues today that are easier to solve.
Another argument. Imagine you’re on a hike and you drop a broken glass on the ground. At some point in time, someone will step on it and hurt their feet. Does it truly matter whether this happens in a month, or hundreds of years from now? To the person hurting their feet it doesn’t. The pain will be the same, whether it happens now or in the future.
We can also imagine living thousands of years from now and looking back at our actions from today. If we keep on neglecting the future like we’re doing now, do you think we’ll look back with gratitude? We currently don’t look at our history and say people were living very ethically, given the rampant racism and sexism of our past. So this might be a great way to set us apart from our past.
Most of us care about climate change and radioactive waste. We don’t care about these issues for ourselves and our children only. We care about these issues because they affect generations to come. It makes sense to apply this attitude to other issues too.
We just quickly summarised some arguments from Oxford philosopher Will MacAskill’s new book called What We Owe The Future. The book makes the case for caring about our longterm future and explores what we can do. It came out today, and you can use the code WWOTF to get 10% off the book at this link. Check it out! We’re making a video series summarising some of the book’s chapters. We’ll be visiting Chinese history, the islamic golden age, the possible end of humanity and more. So make sure to subscribe and ring that notification bell to get notified when they come out! I’ll try to publish one video every week for the duration of the series. See you next week!