Generations: Tyler Cowen on faith in the future

These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned:
Bela son of Beor became king of Edom. His city was named Dinhabah.
When Bela died, Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah succeeded him as king.
When Jobab died, Husham from the land of the Temanites succeeded him as king.
When Husham died, Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, succeeded him as king. His city was named Avith…

Old Testament – Genesis 36:31-36 (NIV)

I’ve been listening to daily readings of the Bible (read by the excellent David Suchet) on my morning runs. There are lots of genealogies in the bible, and listening to this one reminded me again that we stand on the shoulders of giants (and miscreants). The legacies of those who came before us shape us far more than we often think – and we are shaping the future today.

Even a change in trajectory of a degree or two makes a big difference over the long haul. This is very obviously true across the arc of our own lives and careers, and we are often very aware of it for our own children, but it takes a degree of faith to think about our neighbourhoods and towns, our nations and the world, for generations down the line and to deliberately leave them an inheritance that puts them on the best path that we can.

I came across the same theme this week in Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments:

We can also see the importance of faith to the overall argument [about the importance of investing in the future]. To fully grasp the import of doing the right thing, and the importance of creating wealth and strengthening institutions, we must look very deeply into the distant future. As I have argued at length, this is a conclusion suggested by reason.

But in the real world of actual human motivations, the application of abstract reason across such long time horizons is both rare and unhelpful when it comes to getting people to do the right thing. The actual attitudes required to induce an acceptance of such long time horizons are, in psychological terms, much closer to a kind of faith. We cannot see these very distant expected gains, but we must believe in them nonetheless, and we must hold those beliefs near and dear to our hearts. In this sense, we should strongly reject the modern secular tendency to claim that a good politics can or should be devoid of faith.

There are, of course, many bad forms of faith in politics, and we should not encourage political (or other) beliefs in willful disregard of reason. But we cannot kick away faith itself as a motivational tool, as politics is of necessity built on some kind of faith. The lack—and, indeed, the sometimes conscious rejection—of the notion of faith, as is common in secular rationalism, is one of the most troubling features of the contemporary world. It has brought us some very real gains in terms of personal freedom, but it also threatens to diminish our ability to make the very best choices.

Tyler Cowen – Stubborn Attachments

In faith – what are you building?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...