Being Good Ancestors

This post has a few different threads going on and it might jump among them in such a way as to make for awkward reading. As it contains no life updates, you may be tempted to give this post a miss. I ask you, forbear.

Today, I have many thoughts for you. Thoughts for a time when the world, it seems, is in great peril. Thoughts for you and for me, when it feels like we’re failing in all of our efforts to be the change in the story of our earth. The story is already written, I’m afraid, but it is not yet complete. Ruminate a moment, then, not on the change you want to see in your life or in the world as we see it. Cast yourself a hundred years–a thousand years–into a future built as you might wish it for a beloved posterity.

I was reading an article some time ago, nothing particularly moving or anything but the author used a phrase that I found very arresting. I don’t know if it’s common parlance in environmentalist circles or what, but it’s really something. The author said we were not, and encouraged us to become, good ancestors.

Ancestor, for me, has two main connotations: ancestor veneration (typically in the East Asian sense) and like neanderthal/cave man/Australopithecus whatever (as in last common ancestor, obviously I’m not a science person). I don’t typically apply it to myself. Though I don’t anticipate having children (who knows, life is mysterious) I will, regardless, be the ancestor of some people. I already have a niece. How are they going to think of me? Or even in a general sense: what will people think of my generation, several generations hence?

I also heard an interesting analogy the other day and I think it’s relevant. They were talking about police brutality and such, and a defender of police said that a couple of bad apples shouldn’t make you hate the whole profession. The person responded by saying that they don’t hate the whole profession but it doesn’t matter if every single apple is a good apple if the barrel itself is rotten. In other words, our system doesn’t fail–it’s meant to operate in an imperfect, categorically unjust way. We need a whole new barrel.

Relating to ancestors. It’s not enough to raise good children–give them a moral compass, a backbone, the milk of human kindness–if the world we leave them sucks. This applies to the environment because of course. But it also applies to the systems of our society. I think it entirely misses the point to try to plant courage in the coming generations so that they can face challenges well. Of course we should do that, but we should also mitigate the challenges they will face as much as possible!

It makes me think of Harry Potter. Surprise. A lot of people have noted how the series has set up a generation of activists. Ideas like Dumbledore’s Army and the failed Ministry of Magic planted the impetus to incite young people to take control of crises instead of just taking the world as it is. Consider this: Harry’s parents and the original Order of the Phoenix, essentially lost. Voldemort would have continued a reign of terror if he hadn’t unexpectedly died (kind of). In the wake of his disappearance, did society change at all? Did people become more accepting of people with mixed magical heritage? Were systems put in place to ensure that someone else could not come along with the same ideas again? Did human society reconcile with house elves, centaurs, and other magical creatures?

Obviously, it’s heroic to fight evil forces. But, while Voldemort was evil in and of himself, he also represented a strain of evil present in society at large. And it seems to me that those older characters just let it lie. Brought up their children to be kind, but didn’t really fight systemic injustice. Hermione (because she is incredible) makes this her life’s work in the epilogue. Because conquering a villain, in some ways, is the easy part. Building a new world is hard. But if we want to be good ancestors, it’s necessary.

We mustn’t fight a villain and then rest on our laurels. In the words of the Constitution of the United States, we ought to build a new world “for ourselves and our Posterity.”

All these thoughts were compounded by another article I read just this week whose main thrust was this: if we look at the likely span of future humanity, there are literal quadrillions of people who have yet to be born and, it stands to reason, those lives are a significantly weightier moral object than present day existence. Bearing that in mind, everyday acts of altruism, the writer argues, can and do make a difference in forming and reforming the structure of our world.

I want to live life in such a way as to have a positive impact on the quadrillions whom I will never see. I want other people to want that, too. I want people to vote, organize, protest, and work hard for justice. I want people to protect those who need protecting, to advocate for the rights of all, to refuse to be part of a system that systematically dispossesses and abuses and denies humanity to those who are most vulnerable.

Basically: be good, do good, change the world. May the light of history shine kindly on our efforts in the ages to come.

The View from Empire

Greetings, friends. Thank you for taking a sec to read this, even if it’s just the preview on Facebook. I appreciate you.

Now that I’m feeling more settled in my job and its happenings (though by no means totally on top of things), there’s really not a whole lot to say. It’s hard for me to gauge whether there ramblings of the life updates are more interesting to you. Obviously, the cats are Reason #1 for reading so over included a couple later in the post. I thought for today I’d mostly just describe one afternoon for you. Kinda cheesily poetic and kinda combining philosophising and daily life.

On Tuesday, I drove down the road a ways just to explore a little. In the next town over, there’s a little park on Lake Michigan and I stopped to read there for a while before getting dinner. It wasn’t quite blustery and it wasn’t quite chilly but it was windy and cool cloudy and the first day that really felt autumnal.

I walked along the beach a while but mostly I sat in the car and read. I had parked right in front of the water, maybe ten yards away. The sky slowly darkened as the clouds went from lightly overcast to a duller blanketing. My windows were cracked so I could hear the water with its steady white noise. The sea grasses trembled in the wind and the trees shivered with the first oranges and yellows of the season.

I don’t know if I’ll return here often, but during my time there I certainly thought about it. It’s only fifteen minutes away from school on a relatively flat drive (I’m constantly evaluating topography from a driving-in-snow perspective). Coming here in winter with no other visitors, sitting in my car by the water, reading contentedly before heading to dinner in the village. It sounds very appealing. I just might make a habit out of it.

 

 

How, I ask you, am I supposed to deal with such cute cats.

Anyway. One other note. On Wednesday, I finally went and got my Michigan drivers license. And, because it happens at the same time, I registered to vote. So that’s handy. I reflected to the coworker I went with that voting in Leelanau County, Michigan is going to feel very different for me from voting in Pierce County, Washington. Things will not be nearly as aligned to my preferences. Here’s hoping with that, I guess. At least I can vote on some statewide stuff as well. Votes always matter but I guess I’ll feel like my vote will count more here, if that makes sense.

Good luck this week, have a happy equinox. Register to vote, if applicable.