Note — Aug 21, 2022

Against Jackpot-Longtermism

I barely glanced at the last kerfuffle a little while ago, around the ideas and ideals of longtermists. It is, however, important to better understand what today’s “masters of industry” are thinking, so I did pay attention to this one by Dave Karpf. He goes into some detail on what longtermism is about and what is wrong with the “movement,” or the right and left meeting on the other side.

As with many things around American oligarchs, they are often looking and considering the correct things but from such a skewed perspective that they end up completely wrong. Something like “it’s a thin line between genius and madness.”

In one line: they value future generations to the point of focusing only on existential threats (which would kill off humans) and almost completely skipping over contemporary suffering and non-existential, but serious, threats.

My take on Karpf’s take, and my understanding of what I’ve noticed elsewhere, is that they operate from a place of virtually no empathy and basically don’t acknowledge, or realize, how privileged they are, skipping over everything between them in their present ‘king of the world’ condition and them as they imagine themselves in a far future. In other words, after years of people in power completely ignoring future generations, longtermists now use them as an excuse to think only of their klept futures instead of fixing today’s actual challenges.

I think it is a monument to something else: a profound failure of the imagination. The clock is a testament to willful blindness, as today’s tech barons whistle past the grim realities of the oncoming catastrophe that is man-made climate destabilization. Even worse: It is a reminder that social chaos is never evenly distributed. […]

The tradeoff in focusing on “existential risks” is it serves as cover for ignoring non-existential risks. Wealth inequality is a non-existential risk. Racism and sexism are non-existential risks. Even climate change, according to many longtermists, is a non-existential risk. […]

We should recognized Longtermism as something more pernicious, though. It is a philosophy that says we need not concern ourselves with the fates, the dignity, or the injustices that people living today face, because those people matter no more nor less than the people who will live millennia from now. It is a philosophy that instructs our privileged elites to imagine themselves at the fulcrum of history and ignore the suffering they might cause on their path to greatness. It is a philosophy that imagines, centuries from now, people will still tell the tales of this era, and of the great men (always men. Always.) who set the course of the future.