What has posterity ever done for me?

By Gordon Clanton

North Coastal columnist

Economist Robert Heilbroner (1919-2005) posed this provocative question: “What has posterity ever done for me?” And if posterity has not done anything for me, why should I do anything for posterity?

It is very difficult to orient ourselves toward the well-

being of future generations. We are too busy with our immediate concerns to give much thought to posterity — the more so in times of economic insecurity.

We often perceive ourselves as operating in a state of emergency. As they say in Louisiana: “It’s hard to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”

One key measure of the moral worth of our opinions and actions is their impact on future generations. What kind of world will we bequeath to posterity?

Concern for posterity (which must be cultivated) is different from concern for one’s own children (which comes naturally). My teacher Robert Bellah warns that the claim that we do this or that “for the children” often is a justification for selfishness, greed, insularity or divisiveness.

Individuals often disagree as to what is best for posterity. Such disagreements are the stuff of political discourse. And, paraphrasing Tip O’Neill, “All politics is loco.”

Which brings us to the Del Mar Union School District. This situation is enormously complex, deeply rooted, highly polarized and very fluid.

By 2006, the board was deeply divided. Both Barbara Myers and Annette Easton believed they were fighting for the soul of the board.

Easton recruited Katherine White and Steven McDowell to help her take over the board and fire the superintendent. Myers, taking the high but naive road, decided it would be unethical to recruit candidates to run against an incumbent board member.

The insurgents hired Tom Shepard to run their campaign — a big gun for a local school election. They spent unprecedented amounts of their own money. They accused the board majority of mismanagement, lack of transparency, and lack of proactive leadership and due diligence.

Many in Del Mar voted for the insurgents because of disappointment over the length and complexity of negotiations over the Shores School, which the district subsequently sold to Del Mar.

Easton, White and McDowell defeated Myers and Martha Murphy. The new majority fired Superintendent Tom Bishop, whose supporters insisted was doing an excellent job.

Now the board is fighting with the new superintendent, Sharon McClain. Critics say the district is in chaos, that the board micromanages district affairs and dithers on key strategic decisions. Meanwhile, communities are roiled by possible closures of neighborhood schools.

Stay tuned.

Gordon Clanton teaches sociology at San Diego State University. He welcomes comments at