It is a truly ancient cliche, the idea that we should be constantly thinking about the world we leave behind, doubly so for those of us with the temerity/good fortune to bring kids into this world. We’ve heard things like this for all of my life, as some kind of motivator to make the world a better place, and i’d be lying if i said i don’t think about it. A lot, in these days where even good news days would horrify someone from twenty years ago.
The problem is, now i think about it as a not some idealistic rallying cry, a nebulous goal where incremental improvement accumulates pretty naturally over a lifetime as it did for generations before ours, but a series of problems to work. And in reducing it to that, there is both a focus and a drive to go back to the first principle of making sure his world is a good one, but also a need to see reality clear-eyed and maybe think about the possibility that we need to prepare for failure of plan A.
It doesn’t speak very well of me or our present moment that i’m so frequently tempted to think this way. To be thinking about, if not giving up (because that isn’t true), at least planning for what failure looks like. What’s it look like if the 1000 year storm takes our sea-level home in the seventh year we own it, maybe right after we put a lot of savings into renovating it? Where do you draw the line and recognize you’re governed by a despot, and how long do you stick around after that? What decisions do you make now under the assumption that no institution will look out for your career, your health, or your savings? And how do you prepare for all those things without breaking faith with the large number of people less fortunate than yourself?
Yet the tendency to look out for what’s immediately around you is real, because at least that you have control over. We can shout all we want at national politicians, but if the system is set up so that West Virginians have an outsized say about things that matter to me, maybe i start to care more about local decisions. Make Massachusetts the best it can be. If Massachusetts’ dismally mediocre governor won’t for instance, tell people to mask back up, then at least i can be glad that Boston will. If our governments can’t do enough for the less fortunate than at least i can point money at organizations that will. The circle gets smaller and smaller until you can start to see cause and effect again. Which has kinda always been the case, but my parents didn’t have the same kind of existential threats to their well-being that i’m leaving my son with.
Which is where that small thinking fails so utterly, of course. If a criminal wannabe tyrant gets reelected (or re-‘elected’, worse yet), if the people i already campaigned for and supported want to stop that but can’t, what’s left to do? Hope that your state somehow shields you from the worst of it? Maybe that works for a while there, but when he and his kind turn the whole country into an oversized coal-rolling pickup, nobody’s going to protect us from the sea. Nobody’s going to protect my retirement savings from cratering. Nobody’s going to keep my health insurance from retreating from the most minimal standard of provision of care.
It feels like the moment is now and it’s an impossibly fast train to catch. And it’s all but certain we miss it. And there won’t be another. i don’t know what happens next in this metaphor, but it feels to me like i have to build my own train.