Every time we pursue short term goals at long term expense, we’re cannibalizing the future. For a future worth having, we need to make better decisions now.
In an ideal world, products would be designed to bring out the best in people. Companies would earn their money by improving our lives. We’d make wise investments (individually and culturally) that pay off down the road. Maybe, once upon a time, that’s how things were, but it doesn’t seem that way any more, does it? Now, instead of building a better world for our children and grandchildren, we’re throwing up our hands in defeat. By undermining our long term well-being for short term gain, we’re cannibalizing the future.
Consider this. In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan, thought it would save a few bucks by switching its drinking water source to the Flint River and not adding anti-corrosives before the water flowed through aging lead pipes and into Flint residents. That “fiscally responsible” move ended up costing so much more in terms of a vast infrastructure repair bill, lawsuits, and, worse yet, human health. A generation of Flint’s children is growing up with the threat of physical disorders and impaired cognition, unlikely to reach their human potential. The government bungled the situation so badly that even Trump’s EPA was forced to admit the need for greater oversight. Was cannibalizing the future of thousands of Flint’s children worth it?
Businesses know selling us addictive products is profitable, since we hit them up for doses of dopamine all day long. Kids, of course, are easier prey, since they’re less wise to the ways of the world. Is your teen (or even ‘tween) addicted to social media or video games, especially via phone apps? There’s a reason, and it’s not necessarily bad parenting. It’s because tech companies are cannibalizing the future by devising psychologically addictive user experiences that target kids’ soft spots. Normal human development compels young people to connect socially and gain competence at skills they will need in life. Devilishly designed games and media divert kids away from these activities by presenting alternatives that seem easier and more satisfying than mastering real-life challenges. What kind of citizens will they become, if we treat them as profit centers and damn the consequences? Unfortunately, we’ll get to find out.
The American economy as a whole is geared towards cannibalizing the future, for that matter. Have you noticed that even though reports tell us we’re doing well, wages are stagnant and family-supporting jobs are hard to come by? Perhaps, unlike some other countries, our regulatory structure favors the capital class instead of everyday workers. Funneling wealth upwards via tax breaks, union busting, cuts to unemployment benefits, and at-will employment has impoverished Americans and widened the economic divide. This might be great for retailers that take advantage of the nearly-broke, like Dollar General, but it bodes poorly for our future as a republic. The very wealthy know that, but somehow, they just can’t stop themselves from sucking it all up, can they?
So, what can we do? How can we stop cannibalizing the future to survive the present in a low-growth, overpopulated economy? We have to understand that doing the same things we’ve always done will yield the same results we’ve always gotten. We have to look elsewhere for clues, even if they seem counterintuitive.
Consider agriculture. Disgust over the abuse and waste inherent in factory-farmed meat informed the dietary decisions of many vegans, but cultivating monocropped fields leaking fertilizers and topsoil into oceanic dead zones merely cannibalizes the future in a different way. The mental leap we must make is towards restorative practices that place better goals before us. In agriculture, that means reintegrating animals into a mixed farm environment. Taking a broader perspective that considers whole systems, rather than out-of-context individual cogs, fosters deeper insight into what’s going wrong and how to fix it. In other words, to turn this ship around, we might have to question, and even slaughter, some sacred cows.
Is it worth doing?
Well, what do you have to gain?
Related: Passing the Torch