Longtermism & Existential Hope: Why having hope for the longterm future matters
By Beatrice Erkers, Foresight Institute
We live at the beginning of history, and the future ahead of us is really, really big. That is, if we can get there. A look at today’s media invokes doom, slow demise, catastrophe, and existential angst. But we have to remember that the opposite path is possible, too!
With Foresight Institute’s Existential Hope platform we want to introduce futures of “existential hope” in which humans reach their full potential, succeed at outrageously ambitious endeavors, and realize mutual flourishing for the longterm future.
These worlds are possible from where we stand, and we are more likely to reach them if we know what to aim for than if we do not.
What is longtermism?
The meaning behind “longtermism” is “the idea that positively influencing the longterm future is a key moral priority of our time”. It is a relatively new term that has been trending of late. This is mainly due to the Effective Altruism-movement and the book What we owe the future by Oxford philosopher William MacAskill, in which the author makes the case that most human experiences are yet to be lived.
An estimated 118 billion people have already lived on this planet, but millions of billions, are still to be born. Longtermism is about taking the large scale of the future seriously. It means thinking about the challenges we may face and taking the actions necessary to benefit all these future generations to come.
Because the case for longtermism is simply the idea that future people matter. What we do now affects the lives of our great, great, great grandchildren, and their grandchildren in turn. Depending on what we do, future generations could know unprecedented flourishing — or unprecedented suffering.
Because there is an “if”. And that if consists of the existential risks such as nuclear war, malicious AI, or pandemics, that continue to threaten our planet and civilization. To be able to steer past these risks, we need to encourage meaningful action.
Why we need Existential Hope
Which future is easier for you to imagine? The existential risk future, where civilization eventually falls prey to any of the numerous risks we are facing? Or the existential hope path, where we meet our potential?
Imagining dystopian futures has always been easier for us to envision than positive ones. But having only negative visions for the future is problematic. If most of us can not even imagine positive worlds, how can we possibly hope to build them? We need to begin imagining positive futures, so that we can path the way to building them.
Existentialhope.com is an onboarding platform for action toward creating positive futures filled with optimistic resources on the organizations, projects, and creators out there that actively work toward better worlds, so that, once inspired, you too can kick into action and create the necessary hope we need for the future.
We know that hope alone is no strategy. That is naive. We also do not want to claim that we have the answers. Nick Bostrom captures well the hubris of such a worldview in this quote;
“What if the great apes had asked whether they should evolve into Homo sapiens [and said] ‘Oh, we could have a lot of bananas if we became human’?”
But — we truly do believe that the stakes for the longterm future are high and time is shrinking. So let us lean in and get to work.
We don’t have the answers, but we want to start the conversation.
Join the Existentialhope.com quest and start contributing projects, resources, and more now!
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For the last 35 years, Foresight Institute has been supporting the beneficial development of high-impact technology to make great futures more likely. We focus on science and technology that is too early-stage or interdisciplinary for legacy institutions to support. Foresight exists as a hub of people, projects and organizations steering towards better futures.
To join a thriving global community around advancing bio, nano, neurotech, computing and space technologies for futures of existential hope, apply to become part of our Discord.
Become a supporting member to set bounties, fund fellows, and co-design the program with us greatly helps us at the Foresight Institute create flourishing futures. Please take a look at our website to find out more.