Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
Most people are familiar with the myth of the Genie who will grant you three wishes. Behind this narrative trick lies a deep and important idea – figuring out what we truly want is more difficult than it seems at first. This question becomes even more crucial when we consider how to structure a society that can confidently navigate a future full of radical change.
We face a dilemma – even if we could grant everyone on Earth their wishes, many people struggle to articulate what they truly desire. So, perhaps the best guiding question to help people think about and express their wants is, “where would you like to be in five years’ time?”
After pondering this question, many people might answer that they want to be wealthier, in good health, living an interesting and fulfilling life, surrounded by loved ones, and appreciated by those around them.
Once we receive an answer, we can start working on the immediate action items that are most likely to bring about the desired outcome. Naturally, we assume that the solutions have been discussed with the person being questioned and that we have their consent for each step.
But how would a person addicted to some substance or behavior answer this question? There is no offer here to supply more of the immediate gratification they seek. The question simply provides a framework for setting policies that can help achieve the ultimate goal. For many people struggling with harmful short-term needs, their answer might be that they hope to see themselves free from their addiction in five years’ time. Perhaps we need to ask this question repeatedly over a month and average out the answers given.
Many people will not only answer where they want to be in five years, but will also express strong opinions about the future status of those around them, their nation, their culture, or humanity as a whole. They will also express their hopes to see progress in their current life missions in terms of society, sports, culture, technology, ecology, or entertainment.
There are roughly three possible alternatives to consider:
The first alternative is that only a select few get to answer the question of where they want to be in five years and the rest of the world is manipulated, brainwashed, or lied to in order to advance the personal goals of these powerful individuals.
The second alternative is that a small group of people who claim to know better than everyone else, get to decide what is best for everybody. However, this solution is problematic because there are so many different views proposed by “experts” that it becomes impossible to determine the right one. There is a very low probability of selecting the true view. Furthermore, when a small group of people have the power to decide, corruption often makes this alternative evolve into the first one.
The third alternative is a world where every individual is empowered to make progress in their own chosen direction. Of course, each person’s desired outcomes will inevitably conflict with others’, and society will have to find ways to resolve these contradictions guided by principles of equality, realism, and fairness.
It appears that we are already on the path of the first alternative. So, which of these alternative paths should we be on, and what actions should we take today if we want our preferred alternative to prevail?