Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

The Future Isn’t Now (But It Should Be)

With elections coming up very soon in Israel and the U.S., an important question arises. But it’s a question that is hardly ever asked: should we be voting for candidates that espouse policies for the “here and now” – or for the future?

The operative word for this question is “should,” because in fact very few actually promote future-oriented policymaking. There are two main reasons for this. First, every elected official has one major goal: to be reelected in four years or two years (or in Israel that’s lately become every year, at least!). In order to have a good chance at that, our representatives have to show that they did something. True, such “doing” could be legislation impacting the country over the long term, but usually it’s something with more immediate impact. Why? That brings us to the second factor…

Us. We the People. Human beings are notoriously now-oriented. It’s baked into human nature. After all, for tens of thousands of years our ancestors lived lives that were (in the words of Thomas Hobbes) “nasty, brutish and short.” You didn’t worry about next year’s yield because you had to first get through this year’s harvest.

Fortunately, the modern world is quite different. Unfortunately, our most basic instincts haven’t much changed (if at all). Or to put it another way, our goals and our needs (as individuals and as a species) are out of sync. Of course, one might ask: if this shortsighted approach has gotten us here after millennia, what’s the problem? The answer is that as opposed to our forebearers whose “footprint” was close to nil, we in the modern world have immense power to change almost everything around us, for better or for worse. In the past, each generation lived much the same way, eking out an existence from Nature without much affecting it or the world in general. Today – not only because of advanced technologies but also due to the sheer quantity of humanity – every activity has significant consequences not only for our contemporary world, but certainly no less for our progeny in the future.

This explains some otherwise confounding political decisions. For instance, we now know for a fact that global warming will make desert areas virtually uninhabitable in a few decades. So why is every Israeli government pouring huge resources into building up the Negev?? ( Indeed, this Israeli macro-cluelessness has been foregrounded in the U.S. with millions of Americans over the past several decades moving to the “Sun Belt,” despite rising temperatures (1200F in Arizona!) and worsening storms (Level 5 hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana; massive tornados throughout the Deep South).

And it’s not merely the “government” or “private citizens.” Our entire capitalist system is geared to “now.” The stock market cares almost exclusively for the “next quarterly revenue report”; CEOs are compensated for how much their company profited the past year – and if they were at the helm when the company made profits illegally and that’s discovered years later, good luck trying to “claw back” their exorbitant salary. Indeed, the exceptions to this rule stand in stark contrast to the general market e.g., for about 60 years Warren Buffet has invested only in long-term companies; we know how spectacularly well that’s turned out. But how many Buffets are there?

It is probably only a coincidence that the one Israeli political party with the word “Future” in its name (Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid) has been the only one to grow in strength this past decade (that’s not a promo; only an observation). At least some Israelis seem to have overcome their short-termism….

Finally, the media are just as “guilty” as the rest of society. Watch, listen to, or read the news – it’s one murder or political insult or the latest inflation numbers after another; the really important news that will affect us today and our grandchildren in the future are almost nowhere to be seen or heard. One recent egregious example: Netanyahu has promised the haredim that if he forms the next government, he won’t apply the Ministry of Education regulations that all publicly funded schools must teach “core subjects” (especially math and English). Such a “promise,” if carried out, will do more to harm Israel’s future strength (economically, from which almost everything else flows) than almost anything else one can think of. Did you see that as a major headline in the media? I thought so. Was there a major public outcry? Hardly.

So as we all go to the election booth in two or three weeks, think not of “where will I be tomorrow?” but rather “who deserves to determine the world of my grandchildren?” If “the future isn’t now,” let’s try to make it be through our vote.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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