Humans ‘Tend to Be Focused on Short Term Because Long Term is Too Unpredictable’, Academic Says

The Covid-19 pandemic has plunged the world into economic crisis, with the World Bank projecting a 5.2% decline in global GDP – marking the deepest recession since World War Two, and nearly three times as bad as the one caused by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford, is looking at whether humanity has the ability to plan and overcome major adversities.

Sputnik: On the back of challenges brought on by COVID-19; is humanity, in fact, able to successfully plan for the long-term future?

Robin Dunbar: The answer is, yes, we can always plan but the real problem is that this everyday behaviour of humans, like almost any other animal, tends to be focused on the short term because the long term is far too unpredictable. As a species, we have the advantage that we can see far enough ahead and make predictions but most animals don’t, and by and large, we tend not to return to grab at the immediate slice of cake on the plate rather than wait for a better opportunity in the future. You can argue this good economic and psychological grounds for doing that simply because the future is unpredictable. If you don’t make it through till tomorrow, you don’t have any chances at all, but if you make it through till tomorrow, there’s every possibility something new may turn up.

Sputnik: What effect does politics and government have on our in-built ability to shake adversity and develop going forwards?

Robin Dunbar: I think the bottom line is there are two ways of doing this. One is the kind of military model where you have top-down discipline imposed on the rebellious troops, which is clearly the kind of authoritarian motive of politics; and the other is sort of consensual version, which is the sort of bottom-up version. So, it’s a matter of persuading people. Now, we can do that but we’re actually not very good at it, and we’re not very good at it the bigger the size of the population really. It’s extremely hard for very large numbers of people to converge on an agreed democratic position because there are just too many different opinions floating around and opinions tend to polarise. We are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea on this one in a very politically, I think, very serious way.

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