Imagining a Time-Literate Society — Marcia Bjornerud at Long Now


It is empowering, or at least therapeutic, in these dark times to imagine what a time literate society might look like. In
his last public interview Kurt Vonnegut said, “I’ll tell you one thing no cabinet
has ever had is a secretary of the future. And there are no plans at all for
my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.” Let us adopt
Vonnegut’s suggestion as our first proposal: a representative for the yet to
be born to serve among the top advisors to the president. The Department of the
Future would set in motion a realignment of priorities in all aspects of society.
And now we should cue some triumphant music, I think. The secretary will declare
some new national holidays: Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, or Chief Seattle
Days to honor great long-term thinkers. Photosynthesis and Carbonate Rock Week—a time to celebrate the mighty legions of coccolithophores and others who have kept the planet from becoming a runaway greenhouse. Resource conservation would again become a core value and patriotic virtue. Tax incentives and subsidies
would be rebalanced toward rewarding long-term stewardship over short-term
exploitation. Putting a price on carbon will help us get a grip on our fossil
fuel addictions, sober up, and let us prepare for the natural disasters that
will happen without our assistance, like the hundreds of large earthquakes that
will happen around the globe in the next century, rather than expending resources
on self-created climate catastrophes. Poverty and class-based disparity of
opportunity would be recognized as problems with deep historical roots that
cannot be solved without sustained commitment over commensurate timescales into the future. Public school teachers and others whose work represents an
investment in the future would be paid well and held in high esteem. Geology would be fully integrated into
science curricula, perhaps serving as a capstone course in which students would apply physics, chemistry and biology to the immensely complex earth system. With a solid understanding of how the planet works, students would go on to become
educated voters who would hold public officials accountable for wise governance of water, land and air. Legislators, governors, and mayors who
embrace the Seven Generation Principle would point proudly to what they are
doing and be reelected by grateful constituents. More generally, schools
would help develop children’s knowledge of and appetite for History and Natural
History, instilling in them a deep instinct for their place in time and a
keen curiosity to understand more.

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