We look back on people in the past and try not to judge them too harshly for what we now see as immoral behavior (e.g., slavery). I think it’s pretty much a certainty that 100 years from now people will look back at us and not understand how we could have allowed (or not allowed) certain things to happen. I like to think about what the things are that future people will find offensive. Here are some candidates:
1. Same sex relationships. It’s hard to imagine that future people won’t look at our society’s discomfort with same sex relationships (and marriage) and be pretty baffled by it. In fact, I think future people won’t identify as gay, straight or bi. Rather, it will just be understood that sexual preference is a matter of degree, and varies over time and environments. So our reluctance to allow same sex marriage will seem puzzling for several reasons.
2. Drug war. I think people will be appalled to learn that we put people in prison for years because they chose to use recreational drugs. This is another obvious one.
3. The New Jim Crow. I think there is a decent chance that Michelle Alexander’s argument that the unprecedented mass incarceration in the US, the stripping of rights away from felons, and stop and frisk policies, will be viewed similarly to the way we currently view Jim Crow laws of the past. And if that’s the case, Ronald Reagan will be viewed as the father of the new Jim Crow (okay, the last part is probably just a fantasy, but allow me to dream).
4. Incarceration in general. I think it’s possible that prisons will go away, just like the death penalty did in many countries. If that’s the case, I think we will be judged harshly for our large prison population.
5. Factory farms (concentrated animal feeding operations). This one seems pretty obvious, as there is already some momentum to improve how these animals are treated. A lot of people today are shocked by it when they find out what’s happening. Imagine the shock future people will experience when they look back at us if they live in a world where animals are treated better.
Those are all things that some people have already identified as problematic, so I haven’t said anything too radical. Even better would be to come up with a few candidates that seem so normal to us today that no one even questions them. I am currently thinking about this.