You don't have to be reminded. Forward looking folks know this time of year is when we re-assess our annual donations and find ways to help tilt the scales toward a more favorable tomorrow. But is there an aspect of ultimate self-interest?
Consider. What criteria will future generations use, when they decide which people from our era to up/down/in-load or simulate or whatever tech-apotheosis you yearn for them to provide? Won't they factor in not only how interesting you would be to have around, but also how hard you tried to be - in the words of Jonas Salk - a good ancestor?
Of course what I'm describing is eerily similar to the deal offered to our grandparents and their grandparents... redemption through good thoughts and good works. Only now we're talking about a process that will be both palpable and propelled by physical law.
(Ironic, huh? Still, whether you are placating a judgmental deity, or earning cred with our future, godlike descendants, it does boil down to the same thing. Help make things better. And maybe there'll be a prize to go along with the satisfaction.)
I've long promoted what I think is the most effective means for a modern, busy person to invest in improving the world... a method that makes efficient use of your time and money, and in ways that those future folk may notice. That method is called Proxy Power. It consists of buying subscriptions to groups and orgs and NGOs who pool their members' dues and influence to support full time activists, who then take action to make a better world on your behalf!
Organizations like the Sierra Club, Oxfam, the Red Cross or the ACLU are the great equalizers of our new civilization. They are how millions of smalltimers or average folk can together hire lawyers on a par with oligarchs, or fill a ship with food and schoolbooks, or stop whalers, or preserve an aquifer, or free a whistleblower, or replenish the blood supply, or lobby for a simpler tax code, or help poor girls in Pakistan go to school or...
Do read my old appeal on this matter. Not only in a spirit of philanthropy - perhaps inspired by the season - or to help your children or save your nation and world, but also out of enlightened self-interest and desire to help convince those who hold the keys of heaven -- or a future heavenly simulation -- to smile and admit that you were one of the okay ones. (Also, at year end you can assess your tax situation and still squeeze a few deductions into 2012.)
== Quirky choices ==
Mix and match organizations who cover the bases you want covered! Say for example: one for hunger (Oxfam? or the Heifer Project?) and two for freedom (ACLU and/or Electronic Frontier Foundation and/or Project Witness) Followed by one agitator environmental organization (Greenpeace) and one eco-negotiator (the Sierra Club). One that goes directly to helping real people, one or two at a time (e.g. Doctors Without Borders or Habitat for Humanity). Throw in your local library or PBS station, Planned Parenthood and the Libertarian Party or The Planetary Society and The Skeptic Society.... you get the drift. (BTW: I don't send money to all of these, every year.)
Okay, okay. I figure a couple of your choices may differ, or even cancel some of mine! So? We're all winners through lively and informed debate. And the passionate geeks and attorneys we hire with our proxy dues will be passionately, geekily informed debaters on our behalf!
Oh, and let me admit that some of my own choices may seem quirky. Every year since 1979, for example, I've sent a small check to a little Treasury Dept. office in Parkersburg West Virginia, to be applied against the U.S. national debt. That's beyond my regular taxes. Sometimes (in lean years) the donation is very small, sometimes larger. Call it a statement in my own mind of how grateful I am, not to live in the 99% of human cultures that would have burned or garroted or skewered or drowned a guy like me before I was sixteen. A society that instead pays and honors me to be like this. So no, I won't commit the churlish, vile sin of ingratitude. No, not that sin. Others, but not that one.
== And more reasons to believe... ==
Of course, all of this bears upon the notion that cynicism is getting tiresome. Below, I will show evidence that folks are fighting back, ranging from several famous billionaires to a quoted passage from Charles Stross to recent endeavors by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling and myself, persuading science fiction authors to return to the great old can-do spirit. But first...
A cute "Tree Lobsters" cartoon lays down that same fundamental problem mentioned above... faced by all of those who have bought expensive cryonics contracts, in hope of being revived in some future age. Why would future folk want you? By now you know how to answer that. Make a pact with tomorrow.
Or, for a much deeper immersion into the concepts behind all this, watch Jaan Tallin (founder of Skype and venture capitalist) give an amazing Singularity talk about your hope of being a featured simulation.
Speaking of folks worthy of uploading/reviving/whatever? Did any of you see Jon Stewart interview Warren Buffett and his biographer? The Oracle of Omaha, indeed. Got rich by being smart. Smart and trustwortthy. Even smart enough to know what it all is really about, and why solipsism is for dopes. Go Warren! (More on good billionaires below.)
Will it work? Mind Meld asks authors, including Brenda Cooper and Charles Stross -- and yours truly -- about optimistic scenarios for our future world. Why they are rare amid waves of dystopias. And how hope really matters.
Of course, at the opposite extreme are the scrooges. See this older posting of mine that lays down the conflict before us. The Relevance of an Old Nemesis - as Even Older Ones Return.
Ponder doing your gift shopping at Costco - where workers earn 45% above industry standard and get profit sharing - versus Walmart, whose employees desperately take in an average of $500,000 in food stamps and other public support, per store.
... and then we come to...
== The Era of the Nerds? ==
Uber nerd Nate Silver on talk shows is such a geek! But that is so "in" now... that I figure Silver is fielding embarrassing calls from sperm banks. Here's something only a sci fi author would extrapolate. Watch the kindergartens for 200 miles surrounding his present digs, 6 years from now. Oh, this will have repercussions for centuries to come.
Speaking of uber-nerds. Sergey Brin asks the election winner to quit his own party. Not a bad idea. Related to my Stipulation proposal. Worth pondering.
Aw heck, let's make this whole section about my billionaire acquaintances, Sterling examples of give-back moguls who earned their wealth with brilliant goods and services, but haven't forgotten the context of it all.
Take Elon Musk. Elon's at it again. Pushing at us to be all that we can be. I sat in his living room one evening and heard about his plans to get a human colony on Mars... must be a decade ago. Now you get to read all about it. How big a statue at the base of Olympus Mons do you think he'll deserve, if this comes true?
Standing next to Elon on Mars? Amazon's Jeff Bezos: the ultimate disrupter - a fascinating look at an American original. One of the transforming figures of our time... and a really nice guy.
All right, in Existence I make it plain, the billionaires will matter, especially if the good ones join us in staving off the depredations of bad oligarchs. Still, go back to my appeal at the top of this missive. We will matter far more, over the long run.
... and if you need more convincing...
== Back to investing in Optimism ==
There's this, from the fellow who coined the phrase the rapture of the nerds... Charles Stross offers reasons to be cheerful.
"...we're close to exterminating polio and dracunculiasis (aka guinea worm disease) in the wild. (Two extinctions I won't be shedding any tears over.)
'In other news of improvements, both China and India underwent annual economic growth averaging around 10% per year throughout the decade. The sheer scale of it is mind-numbing; it's as if the entire population of the USA and the EU combined had gone from third-world poverty to first-world standards of living. (There are still a lot of dirt-poor peasants left behind in villages, and a lot of economic — never mind political — problems with both India and China's developed urban sectors, but overall, life is vastly better today than it was a decade ago for around a billion people.)
'The number of people living in poverty and with unsafe water supplies world-wide today is about the same as it was in 1970. Only difference is, there were 3 billion of us back then and today we're nearer to 7 billion. Upshot: the proportion of us humans on this planet who are living in third world poverty (unable to afford enough food, water, clothing and shelter) has actually been halved."
Hm... as we've seen this time, there are guarded reasons for tense, tentative hope.
We're navigating harsh shoals but fair harbors are in sight. That's exactly the time when all hands are needed at the sails and tiller and sounding lines, bringing to action every tool of heart and mind!
Cynicism is for saps and indignation junkies and traitors to hope. It is an excuse for laziness, leaving to others the grown-up task of study and research and negotiation and hard work and innovating and saving the world.
We can get there. I just showed you how easy, simple and cheap it is to do at least the minimum, choosing half a dozen groups to save the world for you! And thus you can go on record as one of the good guys. One of those who helped to make a dazzling future for our godlike heirs.