If you're mulling over ideas and ethics, trying to decide what's right for your life, trying to think over conduct and actions...
...you might get to the point where you think, "Everyone's going to think I'm crazy, but..."
Here is a question I've found that helps with that:
What will people think, three generations hence?
I used to kind of think the opinions of others don't matter. There's lots of quotes from talented performers that say that.
But that's, at best, incomplete. At worst, it's downright ignorant.
If you hold views out of harmony with society, you stand to potentially suffer for them.
Is it worth it?
It's an interesting question.
But I think one incomplete and partial answer is whether people will get in a few generations.
This has the benefit of sanity-checking your ideas against public morality -- which isn't entirely useless; in fact, even in the most broken society probably 80%+ of their morality is just sound wisdom from the ages. But it also lets you act with some confidence.
I made it not a complete standard of mine, but just one question I would ask when evaluating courses of action. It's a useful one.
Is society the standard then?
What about if views in harmony with society are views out of harmony with nature?
Is rationality what makes man man? If so, is not to be an excellent man, for a man to develop, exercise, and apply to his actions, his rational faculty? Just as an excellent piano is a piano that makes beautiful sounds when played?
Is it the rational faculty that allows us to be social with others, making rationality primary and social secondary?
Thus, ought we to have fidelity to rationality first, and to society second?
Just because the majority believe something, even three generations from now, does not make the belief true, and so holding this heuristic can be a pitfall in decision-making, because it's judging the worth of actions based on majority opinion (even three generations from now), rather than on the merit of the action themselves. Consider communal reinforcement.
Communal reinforcement is a social phenomenon in which a concept or idea is repeatedly asserted in a community, regardless of whether sufficient empirical evidence has been presented to support it. Over time, the concept or idea is reinforced to become a strong belief in many people's minds, and may be regarded by the members of the community as fact. Often, the concept or idea may be further reinforced by publications in the mass media, books, or other means of communication. The phrase "millions of people can't all be wrong" is indicative of the common tendency to accept a communally reinforced idea without question, which often aids in the widespread acceptance offactoids. A very similar term to this term is community-reinforcement, which is a behavioral method to stop drug addiction.
Or consensus reality:
Consensus reality is that which is generally agreed to be reality, based on a consensus view.
The difficulty with the question stems from the concern that human beings do not in fact fully understand or agree upon the nature of knowledge or ontology, and therefore it is not possible to be certain beyond doubt what is real. Accordingly, this line of logic concludes, we cannot in fact be sure beyond doubt about the nature of reality. We can, however, seek to obtain some form of consensus, with others, of what is real. We can use this consensus as a pragmatic guide, either on the assumption that it seems to approximate some kind of valid reality, or simply because it is more "practical" than perceived alternatives. Consensus reality therefore refers to the agreed-upon concepts of reality which people in the world, or a culture or group, believe are real (or treat as real), usually based upon their common experiences as they believe them to be; anyone who does not agree with these is sometimes stated to be "in effect... living in a different world."Throughout history this has also raised a social question: "What shall we make of those who do not agree with consensus realities of others, or of the society they live in?"Children have sometimes been described or viewed as "inexperience[d] with consensus reality," although with the expectation that they will come into line with it as they mature. However, the answer is more diverse as regards such people as have been characterised as eccentrics, mentally ill, enlightened or divinely inspired, or evil or demonic in nature. Alternatively, differing viewpoints may simply be put to some kind of "objective" (though the nature of "objectivity" goes to the heart of the relevant questions) test. Cognitive libertyis the freedom to be the individual's own director of the individual's own consciousness and is fundamentally opposed to enforcement of the culturally accepted reality upon non-conforming individuals. Effects of low cognitive liberty vary from indifference to forced-medication and from social alienation to incarceration to death.
Or social proof:
Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.
The effects of social influence can be seen in the tendency of large groups to conform to choices which may be either correct or mistaken, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as herd behavior. Although social proof reflects a rational motive to take into account the information possessed by others, formal analysis shows that it can cause people to converge too quickly upon a single choice, so that decisions of even large groups of individuals may be grounded in very little information (see information cascades).
Social proof is a type of conformity. When a person is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for cues concerning the correct behavior. When "we conform because we believe that other's interpretation of an ambiguous situation is more accurate than ours and will help us choose an appropriate course of action," it is informational social influence. This is contrasted with normative social influence wherein a person conforms to be liked or accepted by others.
Social proof often leads not only to public compliance (conforming to the behavior of others publicly without necessarily believing it is correct) but also private acceptance (conforming out of a genuine belief that others are correct). Social proof is more powerful when being accurate is more important and when others are perceived as especially knowledgeable.
If one lives in harmony with the laws of nature, as I think is the goal, discovering how to do so through their rational faculty, they will, as consequence, live in harmony with others, and if they cannot, due to incompatible individual natures, then they will peaceably withdraw from those with whom they cannot exist in harmony. If one lives an exemplary life, then three generations hence have a greater chance of appreciating your Work than those existing today, but such ought not be the standard by which one measures one's actions.
A related passage from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius:
"I am able to determine about myself, and I can inquire about that which is useful; and that is useful to every man which is conformable to his own constitution and nature. But my nature is rational and social; and my city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world. The things then which are useful to these cities are alone useful to me. Whatever happens to every man, this is for the interest of the universal: this might be sufficient. But further thou wilt observe this also as a general truth, if thou dost observe, that whatever is profitable to any man is profitable also to other men. But let the word profitable be taken here in the common sense as said of things of the middle kind, neither good nor bad.
Think continually that all kinds of men and of all kinds of pursuits and of all nations are dead, so that thy thoughts come down even to Philistion and Phoebus and Origanion. Now turn thy thoughts to the other kinds of men. To that place then we must remove, where there are so many great orators, and so many noble philosophers, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates; so many heroes of former days, and so many generals after them, and tyrants; besides these, Eudoxus, Hipparchus, Archimedes, and other men of acute natural talents, great minds, lovers of labour, versatile, confident, mockers even of the perishable and ephemeral life of man, as Menippus and such as are like him. As to all these consider that they have long been in the dust. What harm then is this to them; and what to those whose names are altogether unknown? One thing here is worth a great deal, to pass thy life in truth and justice, with a benevolent disposition even to liars and unjust men.
When thou wishest to delight thyself, think of the virtues of those who live with thee; for instance, the activity of one, and the modesty of another, and the liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a fourth. For nothing delights so much as the examples of the virtues, when they are exhibited in the morals of those who live with us and present themselves in abundance, as far as is possible. Wherefore we must keep them before us.
He who loves fame considers another man's activity to be his own good; and he who loves pleasure, his own sensations; but he who has understanding, considers his own acts to be his own good."
> Is society the standard then?
Most definitely not --
"I made it not a complete standard of mine, but just one question I would ask when evaluating courses of action."
It is worth considering, though. As backwards as things can be, society seems to be on a generally gradual upward trajectory for at least the last few hundred years. If asking how views will shift in the mainstream over 3 generations, there's a very good chance that you'll find truths there. 3 generations, specifically, means you're discounting fads and fashions, even longer-term ones. So I'll predict things like processed food consumption falling, intentional self-management of one's biochemistry via pharmacology, etc. I can't predict if there will be more or less electoral participation and democracy; that seems to rise and fall cyclically over time.
Examining what you are doing in the light of future generations is helpful. What's interesting and difficult is that the further out you go, the more drastically you have to change what you are doing to be remembered by "them" at all. Try asking yourself what people in 500 years will think. Nothing most people do will be remembered.
I have a hard time thinking more than 100 years out, except in very broad terms. In fact, the more I learn across disciplines, the harder time I have predicting far out.
I totally agree, Sebastian. Legacy, customs, habits and ethics, can be such a strong incentive, providing a compass for our everyday life. I have similar thoughts and contemplated a lot about the issue in a more short period and from a personal development apprach (some of my thoughts about the subject are presented in my post: http://takisathanassiou.com/who-you-going-to-be-in-5-years/ !).
You have expanded the time frame and the "target group(!)" from yourself to cover entire societies and you focused on more general ideas. For me you start from yourself in order to develop yourself enough and in a consistent way in order to be developed towards a model or an example of a different "lifestyle", a one other people would respect, accept and perhaps adopt. This is, perhaps a more direct way of impact in the social ways! Just a thought.
Sebastian, I read your post while waiting to meet some friends for dinner, and was unable to really focus on the original purpose of the dinner meeting.
Instead, I brought up the topic of Three Generations Hence, it made for a very interesting evening of dinner and drinks. Personally, looking back in time, although I don't have three generations of time to reflect on I can say that if I would have looked forward, I would have made some decisions differently.
I believe it is a great way to look past the smoke and mirrors of what sometimes blinds the universal truths that can help us make a decision that can not only help us, but those that come after us.
First thing I gotta say is - wow, I appreciate all the people coming and visiting, commenting, sending an email. I've gotten 718 visits since I installed Google Analytics a few days ago, average time on site 2:36. That's over 31 hours of people's lives they're coming to share ideas with me, read what I write. Wow, that's so humbling. It might even be higher than that with people reading on RSS or instapaper. So, very big thanks to the people that are reading, commenting, and letting their friends know about the site. It's quite an honor to take off so fast.
A very pleasant surprise for me has been (1) I'm getting some pretty insightful comments already, and (2) no stupid/rude/idiotic comments. Is the internet evolving or do I just have an awesome crowd here? Both, maybe?
One such discussion is with Alessandro Orsi, who has kindly made some very thoughtful comments/discussion on Luck Doesn't Exist.
We talked back and forth about cause and effect a little bit, and then he made this comment most recently:
I see your point. You look at generations/human race and consider a new born as a ring in a long chain. So when people say bad luck, you say “There’s no bad luck, just previous actions that lead to present situation”. And that’s fine. Like a political analysis of the People of the World.
Classical music concerts are one of my favorite places to think. It sounds weird, but classical music provides just enough stimulation to keep me from becoming distracted, but not enough stimulation to impact my thinking processes. I love being able to drift from absorbing and enjoying the music to going deep in thought without really even noticing.
My violin teacher (who's great, by the way, in case you're in SF and want to learn Violin) brought me to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last week and told me that they had free concerts by the students all the time. Perfect. Despite really enjoying the music, I'm way too ignorant to be able to tell the difference between a good student and a professional symphony player, so these shows are really a great opportunity.
On Monday I went to Matthew Linaman's (http://www.youtube.com/user/cellolinaman) cello recital at the conservatory. Have you ever noticed that people often won't take front row seats if they haven't paid for a ticket? I've noticed this at a lot of talks and smaller concerts like this. Anyway, the point is that I got to sit in the very middle of the front, and this was a small enough hall that this seat was the best seat. Most of the front row seats remained empty.
Beyond his playing (which was fantastic, by the way), I kept thinking about his Cello, Cellos in general, and stringed instruments in general. Cellos last. They get better. The craftsmanship on a good Cello, probably even an okay cello, is remarkable. I have a violin that my sister gave me, and I find myself marveling at the curves of the wood, the perfect symmetry, and the invisible joints holding it all together. It's amazing, really.