Right side of history

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about just how motivating it is to want to be on the right side of history.

We all have values that we sometimes live up to and sometimes don’t. We all have ideas about how the world should be but sometimes give up on little bits of it because the problems seem too intractable.

But if ever I am looking for a moral loophole or deciding that maybe the actions of one insignificant person like me don’t really matter, I remind myself that I want to be on the right side of history and find it much easier then to act in alignment with my own values.

We all have a different sense of which side of history is the right one, so there no indication that this approach en masse will lead to world harmony, but it does mean we might all act in accordance to some kind of moral compass more often.

I read a book once that I have no recollection of apart from it being fiction and based in the civil rights movement in the States. There was a brief discussion about fighting for a cause that may never see its realisation in your lifetime (and indeed may never see its realisation). That can seem so incredibly depressing – knowing so strongly what is just and also knowing that many after you will have to continue to witness and experience repeated injustice. When I read this book I wondered how anyone could maintain the motivation to continue to pursue justice without indication that anything would come of it.

It’s easy to believe that any one of us would have been marching for civil rights but how many of us would have forgone a stable career for the uncertainty of activism,  or taken the risk of getting involved with people that might turn out to be unscrupulous, or taken the risk of losing control of your reputation, taken the risk of losing friends, or taken the risk of devoting your life to something and making no difference. Life wasted – oh well.

But when I ask myself whether I’m on the right side of history, all of those concerns recede just a little bit.

Michael Caton, who appeared in the carbon tax ads, responded to criticism with:

“Occasionally you’ve got to put your head up and if someone kicks you in it, you’ve got to roll with the punches…But in 2050 I suspect my grandchildren would be really disappointed in me if I didn’t take a stand and try to do something to make a positive impact on their standard of living.”

That sounds like a right side of history kind of argument to me. I wonder whether this is as powerful key to conscious living for others as it is for me.

High Resolves Initiative, an organisation operating in Australia is taking a similar message to high schools. From the High Resolve website:

If we are to have any hope of responding to the increasingly complex challenges of our world while there is still time, we will need a critical mass of today’s youth to develop the desire, the skills, the creativity and the confidence to act with solidarity in the collective interest of humanity; something that previous generations have failed to accomplish.

No preaching about what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, just a reminder to be on the right side of history.


2 thoughts on “Right side of history

  1. DavidA

    I see two contradictory forces at work:

    1) The obsession with economic growth
    2) The idea that emissions must be reduced

    Economic growth tends to result in more emissions, since more ships, cars, lorries, trains, planes and power stations are in action.

    I remember in the late 90s, the British government kept on going on about “emissions reductions targets,” while patting themselves on the back for the economic growth. The government was then shocked, shocked I tell you, when Britain’s emissions went up along with the economy. “Crikey, chaps, who would have guessed?”

    Emissions reductions and economic growth will only be compatible when we find a way to move on from technologies like internal combusion engines and coal power. Effective new transport and power technologies that are affordable in emerging economies will be needed, since it is impossible to expect people in emerging economies to work towards emissions reductions unless they can afford the low-carbon tech.

    Nuclear power has just gone out of fashion in a big way, so we can expect even more coal power stations in the decades ahead. Coal is dirty but cheap and works at full whack 24 hours a day, unlike solar or wind.

    “Long is the road and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” — John Milton

  2. DavidA

    in 2050 I suspect my grandchildren would be really disappointed in me if I didn’t take a stand and try to do something to make a positive impact on their standard of living.

    The thing is, economic growth is seen as the way to make a positive impact on people’s standard of living, and this economic growth will lead to more emissions. People in emerging economies are being warned about the dangers of emissions, yet they are naturally very interested in improving their standards of living. Economic growth will trump warnings about what could happen if CO2 levels go too high.

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