The jail cell of the last King of Kandy, condemned by the British. Ceylinco Parking Lot
There’s an ongoing discussion about what future generations will condemn us for, like we condemn the past for slavery, sexism and racism. Kwame Anthony Appiah says they will judge (Americans) for their prison system, industrialized meat, treatment of the elderly and the environment. Ross Douthat (the NYTimes token Republican) calls this provocation and says future generations will judge us for abortion. It’s an interesting question, though these are somewhat Americentric answers. In the Global South people still practice sexism, racism and even slavery. In predicting the future, Will Wilkinson (the Economist) is probably right to say “we will tend to mount our personal hobby-horses and congratulate ourselves for getting on the right side of history before the right side of history was cool”. But, to mount that hobby horse, I have my own opinion as to what history will condemn us for.
Before beginning, Appiah set out a framework for what may look bad in reverse:
First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.
Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, “We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?”)
And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit.
Following that, I think history will condemn us for 1) discrimination against homosexuals and 2) industrialized meat (via Appiah). The first because gay people are obviously people and they deserve to be treated well. The arguments are out there and the arguments against have been like ‘marriage has been between a man and a woman’ or along traditionalist lines. Finally, opponents of gay rights avoid the truth that gays can serve in the US military, that gay marriages don’t destroy straight marriages, that gay people are not pedophiles, etc. The last century has seen a womens rights movement and a civil rights movement but the gay rights movement has only just begun.
The process of farming and killing animals too, I think, will look barbaric in hindsight. We know the arguments for vegetarianism, but most people (self included) say ‘meat tastes good’, hardly a moral argument. We avoid the truth that killing animals is bad (we feel bad doing it ourselves, or seeing animal sacrifice) and avoid the truth that there is an alternative. I don’t think people will turn vegetarian though, I think we’ll just start eating in vitro meat.
Aside from those issues, I think future generations will merely look down on things like our barbaric medical practices (chemotherapy, invasive surgery), crude technology (plugging things into walls?) and household drudgery (no self cleaning houses?). In a more local context, I think future Sri Lankans will condemn the current culture of having servants, of common discrimination against women, and I think we’ll have a child abuse scandal either generally or within the Buddhist clergy. But that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. You?