Something I have recently heard in discussions is the dichotomy between the “short term” and “long term” goal mindsets; the idea that you can create goals across the span of a certain amount of time, with some of it being defined as “long”, and other goals defined as “short”. The distinction and where a goal becomes long or short isn’t very clear, though one could make the claim that a “short term” goal would be something you’d do within a day or within the next hour.
I reject this thought process. There is no dichotomy between these two things, as I consider the “short term” invalid within a human context. Let’s explore why.
Long Range Thought as the Default
Humans are goal-oriented beings. The essential characteristic that defines us is our rational faculty, which gives us the ability to form concepts and achieve goals across time. Animals can’t do this, they only behave across space, but we can act both in space and time.
So what does this mean? Consider the prospect of saving money for a trip. In order to do such a thing, one must be able to learn how much money they need, where they will go, when they will go, and for how long. There’s a lot to think about there, and all of it requires thought that spans across time. There is action across space; actively stashing away money, restricting leisurely spending, potentially working over time, etc – but all of it is planned and acted out in accordance with a goal that spans across time.
If one were to maintain consistency, cause and effect would take over – the facts that you have laid out will come to fruition in the form of your goal being achieved. This is long range thought in action.
Let’s further subdivide and contextualize it within the span of a day. I reject the idea that this is a “short term” thought process, because any goal setting is necessarily a long range conceptualization. You’re making goals, just within shorter time spans that still pertain to long range outcomes. You’re always thinking a step ahead from the present, and one can create smaller goals that ultimately lead into your larger ones. None of these are “short term” however – they are still being laid out so that a desired outcome in the future can take place.
Whim Worship as the “Short Term”
Now let’s consider what the short term really means. Consider what your immediate thoughts are when you see something desirable – whether it be an attractive person, junk food, a nice TV, etc. Your immediate reaction is “I want that” from a perceptual or biological point, but what prevents you from taking action are your long range goals. Whether it be wanting to go on a trip, lose weight or maintain a good relationship, all of these things – and I’m assuming these things are of value to the reader – are long range goals that you implicitly hold.
What the short term is are whims and desires that pop up from your immediate awareness of the world. Your senses give you information, and from there you use reason to deduce what things are and of what importance they are to you. To think in a short range perspective is to switch off the inductive and deductive aspect of your thought processes; it is essentially saying that “whatever I want, I take”. You’re not actually thinking, you’re just letting your emotions drive you. It’s moving across space, but feeling across time.
This isn’t to say emotions are bad. Emotions are value judgements that arise from the ideas that you hold, and they are things that you ought to explore with some introspection. It is good to feel good; but one must also recognize that the immediate moment of gratification is more often than not, not to your interest as a rational being. Emotions and your immediate whims are not for making decisions – they are for evaluating and then making decisions after the fact.
What you rationally want to do is think about your life long range. Setting goals and conceptualizing is exactly what leads to a prosperous life – especially when one adheres to reality and recognizes the facts of their existence and situation. Cause and effect will naturally support and push one to success.
One more thing to address. There is an argument that has recently made rounds that due to cognitive differences, some people are unable to think long range – they’re stuck within the moment. This is wrong.
Man is a rational animal. What this means is what defines us – our rational faculty – is what we all have. The capacity to think long range is possible for all humans with a healthy, functional brain. The difference however is that some people can think further ahead than others. It is a matter of degree, not a matter of “can” and “cannot”.
What this means within the societal context is some people are capable of reaching success from a material perspective to a much greater degree than others, as the further ahead you can conceptualize, the greater the rewards you can reap. That’s it. Developing a free society to support whichever level of cognitive capability is precisely what caters towards this. A man who can only think as far ahead as a few days who works as a janitor, is just as moral and noble a person who can build manufacturing empires across decades.
The infrastructure topic is for another time however. Perhaps I’ll make it a goal to write about in the future.