Worrying about the right things

So often we think about only what’s in front of our faces, and we don’t think about what’s likely to be in front of our faces in the future. Thinking about the future was once a luxury of the elite, because most people had enough to worry about in the “here and now,” and so the responsibilities of the elites was to plan for their people’s future. I think you can see this in the emergence of leaders within our ancestral tribal societies as much as you see it in the heirarchies of our present political, religious, and educational lives. But there are plenty of major things that even our leaders aren’t necessarily planning for.

One of those things I’ve thought about from time to time is what contingencies might exist for the survival of Catholicism if a terrorist attack wiped out the cardinals in conclave at Vatican City during the election of a new pope. This would be a catastrohpic attack on Christianity’s ability to perpetuate itself and would likely lead to splitering and division, as any surviving cardinals and bishops around the world would have to sort out how to proceed in the case of a decapitation of our pastoral leaders. I haven’t heard of any sort of plans for this worst-case situation, though I hope that they exist.

Another example is the problem of civilization-ending asteroids. It seems as if the Europeans are starting to address this threat to humanity’s survival, but the best case situation in the next few years will be a warning time of only a few weeks for an asteroid that could wipe out a New York-sized city. Elon Musk is persuing his “get us to Mars and make us multiplanetary” plan, but I hope by 2100 that we will have both a plan and the means to avert this sort of problem. Like the tribal kings and queens of old who had to worry about the existential threats of societal famine or hostile neighbors, I hope our leaders today can begin thinking more about threats like this.

And on the more practical level, there’s the problem of long term thinking in personal and family life. In the spirit of the Stoics, it makes no sense to actively worry about things like terrorist attacks or asteroids because we simply don’t have the means to control those things. But we should definitely strive to work on what’s in our power to control—things like our personal character, the way we approach our work, the way we approach loving those in our lives, and the way we think about what’s worthwhile.

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