How to be a good ancestor

Article by Sigal Samuel: “In 2015, 20 residents of Yahaba, a small town in northeastern Japan, went to their town hall to take part in a unique experiment.

Their goal was to design policies that would shape the future of Yahaba. They would debate questions typically reserved for politicians: Would it be better to invest in infrastructure or child care? Should we promote renewable energy or industrial farming?

But there was a twist. While half the citizens were invited to be themselves and express their own opinions, the remaining participants were asked to put on special ceremonial robes and play the part of people from the future. Specifically, they were told to imagine they were from the year 2060, meaning they’d be representing the interests of a future generation during group deliberations.

What unfolded was striking. The citizens who were just being themselves advocated for policies that would boost their lifestyle in the short term. But the people in robes advocated for much more radical policies — from massive health care investments to climate change action — that would be better for the town in the long term. They managed to convince their fellow citizens that taking that approach would benefit their grandkids. In the end, the entire group reached a consensus that they should, in some ways, act against their own immediate self-interest in order to help the future.

This experiment marked the beginning of Japan’s Future Design movement. What started in Yahaba has since been replicated in city halls around the country, feeding directly into real policymaking. It’s one example of a burgeoning global attempt to answer big moral questions: Do we owe it to future generations to take their interests into account? What does it look like to incorporate the preferences of people who don’t even exist yet? How can we be good ancestors?…(More)”.