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For the children, we should stop saying "it's for the children"
The future is a big place, and most of us will find ourselves living there. It makes no sense to avoid thinking about the inevitable just because it's easier to quarrel over the familiar.
One of the surest signs that someone is pushing a self-interested agenda is that they insist their pet project is "for the kids". Since children have a limited or nonexistent voice in the political processes that make things happen, they make for convenient human shields against criticism.
■ There is something more than a little untoward about using children's interests in that cynical way, just as there is something unsettling about using children as spokespeople for causes. There is no way to engage in a robust and thoughtful way with someone like child activist Greta Thunberg, since any criticism coming from adults is, by definition, launched from a place of power imbalance -- unfair at best, obscene at worst. Kids should be free to be kids (learning, making mistakes, and finding their voices along the way), and adults should debate with adults. Don't make children your heroes and don't make them your foils.
■ If we were indeed serious about taking action on behalf of children, we would find a way to orient at least some of our decision-making -- private, public, political, personal, and beyond -- around specific future goals. People saving for retirement have the option to invest in target-date funds, which are at least nominally intended to have in mind the interests of people retiring around certain future dates. It is odd that we don't have corresponding views represented in bodies like Congress.
■ There are Congressional caucuses organized around obvious interest groups based on ideology, and race, veteran status. The caucuses are so granular, there is even a dairy farmers caucus. There are Congressional caucuses for cut flowers, fragrances, rugby, and tires. But there are no "target date" caucuses: No 2030 Caucus. No 2040 Caucus. No 2099 Caucus. No caucuses (unless they've been cleverly named) addressing specific visions for what ought to come in the future, and how we might steer towards healthy, productive objectives.
■ We shouldn't have more visibility about future Olympic host cities than we do about our country's policy orientation. Yet we do: We know where the 2032 Olympics will be held, but you would have to obtain a crystal ball to see what will develop in American policymaking by then.
■ This is not to fetishize an over-reliance on planning and planners. Lots of people ascribe far more wisdom to the supposed long-term plans of China's ruling class than is actually on display. But Dwight Eisenhower's reflections on planning for war have salience in peacetime, too: "[T]here is a vast difference between a definite plan of battle or campaign and the hoped-for eventual results of the operation. In committing troops to battle there are certain minimum objectives to be attained, else the operation is a failure. Beyond this lies the area of reasonable expectation, while still further beyond lies the realm of hope -- all that might happen if fortune persistently smiles upon us."
■ At all levels of self-organization, from the family to the city to the state, and right up through the national and international levels, we do (and always will) face really big problems. These problems almost always start upstream of ideology, but when they migrate into politics, they all too often get retrospectively labeled with "left" and "right" solutions. Those labels are quite frequently no more than reflections of what was most convenient or expedient to a group of people at the moment they first became aware of the problem.
■ Planning isn't a dirty word; Madison and Hamilton used it repeatedly when describing the Constitution itself, and Franklin wrote, "Look before, or you'll find yourself behind." There are thoroughly legitimate things that we should be doing in public life "for the children". But the future is a big place, and most of us will find ourselves living there. It makes no sense to avoid thinking about the inevitable just because it's easier to quarrel over the familiar. Of all the caucuses in Congress, only four even bother to use the word "future". Factions and party divides may be inevitable, but it would be a worthy leap for us to invest some share of our attention and energy in thinking about the "target dates" for our civilization, and how we're steering along the way.