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to have a home in the nations in which we live, that the skills we have
acquired will be useful in some fashion, that we will be able to participate
in the cultural activities we care about, and that we will have some chance
to achieve our goals. Our businesses run on credit, borrowing their very
capital from the financial resources of the future; our governments staff
and equip standing armies to defend against atacks that may come to
pass; and we insure our properties, bodies, and lives against harm that
may befall us. Many of our daily activities are directly oriented toward
ensuring that the future will be livable. Sustaining our loving and erotic
relationships, cultivating our family ties and our friendships, raising chil-
dren, giving or geting an education, giving or geting preventative and
acute medical care, and building and maintaining the physical structures
in which we live and work: all these, and countless further activities,
reveal how greatly we wish to sustain the lives we already know, to hand
them down to further generations, and to maintain something like our
current level of abundance and happiness. Our orientation to the future,
in short, provides the very pith and substance of our present.
Individual lives take for granted that they are shaped by narratives
with a past, present, and future—that they are oriented to satisfactions,
achievements, or realizations that will reward lifelong commitments.
Only through such narratives can we live our lives ethically, for only
through them can we establish a context for intentional action, whatever
it may be, in relation to everyone and everything that maters to us. 105
Such narratives also shape the collective life of families, communities,
and nations, as well as political groups, commercial enterprises, and reli-
gious faiths. Without such narratives, it is hard to imagine that modern,
democratic societies could legitimate themselves at all, for from the start
they are founded on the principles of liberation and progress. This orien-
tation is so deeply embedded in our activities that even an outright nihil-
ist who repudiates all notions of a collective good nevertheless assumes
he will be able to sustain that identity and share that perspective in the
future. Merely speaking of that viewpoint to others takes for granted the
timeline of persuasion, the long-term contexts of argument and debate.
At times, of course, people sacrifice too much of their present lives
for the sake of the future: they too eagerly practice the well-known art
of deferred gratification, working so hard in the present that they almost
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