Here is a thought experiment for you:
Imagine you are famous. Because of your renown, you are given a chance to leave a message every future human will receive in 1000 years.
What would you say?
You have two minutes to say it, but as much time as you want to choose your words.
I’d suggest you make it short. You do have some competition in this department — from Bertrand Russell.
Lord Russell (1872 – 1970) was one of those impossibly famous people. Just to name a few aspects of his remarkable life, he was a British philosopher, mathematician, logician, and public intellectual. He even did a small amount of time in Brixton Prison because of his pacifist opposition to England’s involvement in World War I.
Talk about making a principled stand!
Not to be broken by the experience, Russell made his time in confinement useful:
I found prison in many ways quite agreeable. I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work. I read enormously; I wrote a book, ‘Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy’… and began the work for ‘The Analysis of Mind’. I was rather interested in my fellow-prisoners, who seemed to me in no way morally inferior to the rest of the population, though they were on the whole slightly below the usual level of intelligence as was shown by their having been caught.
Russell was a man who turned a defeat into opportunity and found humor in it.
On the BBC TV interview show Face to Face in 1959, Russell was asked the question I posed to you.
His two-minute message to the future was in two parts: intellectual and moral. Now you can leave whatever message you wish in whatever format.
Take courage, my friends! I’m here to listen and might even take a crack at coming up with my own answer to the big question.
But even now, I’d say this:
If our species doesn’t make it 1000 years, it will be because we didn’t take the great man’s advice.
P.S. I’d add a brief bit to Russell, with apologies to his ghost and with thanks to those who have or will have given his words some thought.
For centuries, the world has had in mind a very lofty goal — to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” As Freud suggested, this might ask too much of us, a dream we’ve failed to achieve. But perhaps we should shoot for something more modest: to respect our neighbor, be kind, and hold back our judgment and anger until we put ourselves in his shoes.
One more thing. Property and material objects have limits in their ability to produce the happiness everyone wants. We have been persuaded that more is better while our fellowmen go hungry and homeless.
We will do better to the extent we think of ourselves as custodians of physical objects and the planet we call our home. Material things will break down, but we mustn’t treat the earth the same way. We have it on loan.
Like curators of fine art, we must treat it gently and work to return it and our environment to the state best disposed to allow our ancestors and all the world’s flora and fauna to live. Without life, there can be no “after” life.