The importance of posterity

by hexacoto

In George Orwell writes in his book, 1984:

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

In Orwell’s book, the world is divided into three superstates, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Each superstate preserves itself by totalitarianism, changing the past as they see fit, ensuring their continued existence into tomorrow.

But if all life in the story were to ended the  next day, would the respective governments continue to censor and repress?

If life were to end tomorrow, would we bother to write anything beautiful and lasting, if we thought posterity to be pointless?

In a New York Times opinion piece, The Importance of the Afterlife. Seriously., the author, Samuel Scheffler, writes:

If you were a cancer researcher, you might be less motivated to continue your work. (It would be unlikely, after all, that a cure would be found in your lifetime, and even it were, how much good would it do in the time remaining?) Likewise if you were an engineer working to improve the seismic safety of bridges, or an activist trying to reform our political or social institutions or a carpenter who cared about building things to last. What difference would these endeavors make, if the destruction of the human race was imminent?

If you were a novelist or playwright or composer, you might see little point in continuing to write or compose, since these creative activities are often undertaken with an imagined future audience or legacy in mind. And faced with the knowledge that humanity would cease to exist soon after your death, would you still be motivated to have children? Maybe not.

Time becomes meaningless when we stop living for the future — every moment we live up till the present is the result of time past, and we can control the path which the present will travel towards the future. This system pervades all aspects of our life: literature, science, relationships, etc. We are able to create and write things because we expect people in the future will at some point see it, and we are inspired by things that have come before us. But what comes before us is easily changed by those who gets to write the history books.

Why bother to control the past if the future is not worth changing? The Ingsoc government in 1984 most certainly wouldn’t if they knew that they would not exist past the next day. Our history is only as valuable as we have a tomorrow to live in.

So by that reckoning, the past and the present really isn’t that important, and what matters most is really tomorrow. Which is why those who can see no future for themselves find no point in living even in the present, and turn to suicide.

Tomorrow is the most important day of your life.