"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." Nelson Henderson, Irish rugby player
Even as someone who will have no descendants to enjoy the shade, I honor this sentiment. It is a hallmark of civilized cultures, and I mourn its disappearance from my own.
It's not that my country is lacking in individuals who continue to plant trees for future generations. It's that our shared culture dismisses or even mocks such actions, because they lead to neither money nor power.
Somewhere in the mid 20th century, the USA stopped considering future generations. The reasons are no doubt complex. My own thinking attributes the change to McCarthy/Nixon/Hoover Communist witch hunts, which cast a cloud over any secular act that smacked of altruism, followed by Regan/Trump/celebrity-bling glorification of greed and excess. The result is a ruling class who would not plant a tree for its unachieved shade unless they could make an immediate profit selling futures -- and then they'd want an award for humanitariansim. We are led by people who think taxes that build bridges and maintain roads are a form of theft, because people other than the,selves will use those bridges and roads. We are led by people for whom the meaning of life is to take everything the world has to offer and, as even they apparently have to eventually die, dying with the most toys.
Such unabashed narcissism is poisonous for a culture. History has proven it, time and again. On some deep level, even our own ruling class senses this, a fact made manifest by the virulence with which they attack any proposition that other nations are thriving beyond their own. But acknowledging this would mean conquering the very character traits that have brought them the power they cherish.
When rulers decide to steer their barges down denial, what is the eventual result? Shipwreck. The excavation of which ruins will, no doubt, provide a bounty of fodder for future scholars from lands rich in old and well-tended shade trees.
Quotes-of-the day from the 2014 Keep Calm & Carry On desk calendar