This question is something that has been on my mind for some time. It seems as if there are endless things that we could be condemned for from where I’m standing, however my point of view is not necessarily that of my future grandchild. In this article, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton, sets out four examples of current policy that he believes those in the future will look back and say “What were people thinking?”
The American prison system is the first example he gives, and before I get into my slightly different approach, I should point out that this example is quite relevant to our small isolated nation. Our incarceration rate is second only to the U.S.A, and as Professor Appiah points out, many of those incarcerated are in there for non violent offences such as drugs. We have an unsustainable view on crime, and incarceration. He also questions factory farming and whether this will be an acceptable practice in the future, another good point for New Zealand, as in the past few years there has been significant publicity around sow crates and other horrid practices that seem completely out of place within our vast and untouched country. The institutionalization of the elderly and the environment are also mentioned, and for further reasoning on these you would be best to take a few minutes and read the article.
Unfortunately, I believe Professor Appiah looks at the issue from a position where he has already assumed the most important, and least assumable consideration of the question, how those in the future will perceive their world. When I look at the question, before even jumping into specific examples, I explore the paths that are being paved by the social norms of the present, and then consider the obstacles that will inevitably arise along the way.
If one were to believe that the path we are on now will continue without encountering any of the expected hurdles, then it could be more plausible that humans (especially in English speaking countries) will actually expand on the concepts such as factory farming, exploitation of environments, and intensive incarceration. My theory in case of this eventuality (which I have to point out, is not what I predict), is that more than likely humans will look back at physical contact with disgust, having moved into a totally virtual sports world. Why? The backbone of this is created by the desire of key players to make a profit, and a virtual stadium is much cheaper, and could also look very pretty. Another consideration behind this possibility is the growing inability for people to socially interact in a real life situation. At that point in time, real life interaction and social media interaction will be indistinguishable. It is hard to imagine this eventuality, and may seem trivial right now, yet by merely plotting the course of our social evolution from a modern idealistic point of view, it sadly becomes quite reasonable.
There would be other things that would appear old fashioned or outdated, such as travelling near a stranger on a bus or train. Fear would rule civilization, and it would be abhorrent to think that anyone would travel within the immediate proximity of someone not part of their trusted network. Physical deployment of troops to a warzone would be a horrible thought, and those in the future would be unable to comprehend how a life could be thrown away so easily, of course this masks the fact that whatever is sent into fight in place of a citizen would still be killing real humans. Sadly enough, the use of unmanned drones is already quickly increasing, and the subjective value of an American soldier versus an Afghani civilian already clearly distinguishable.
These are all considerations that come about from an idealistic view of the future from our current position, however they don’t take into account any of the inevitable obstacles we will have to deal with, and assume that the path we are following is sustainable. So realistically, the examples I’ve given above can be written off just as easily as the thought that we’ll ever end up in a position where our current system will merely be a 2.0 version of its current self in one hundred years.
Dreams come crashing down when we begin to throw the words climate change, unaffordable debt, unsustainable population growth, water wars, and globalization in there. I believe that discussing the question of what our future generation will think of us is in itself the best answer to the question. Our future generations will not look back at this sort of article and ponder how close our predictions were, no, they’ll look back and ask why, no matter what conclusions we arrive at, no one acted. Apathy is what our future generations will despise us for, our disturbing greed, and our self belief that we are more intelligent than reality suggests.
They will wonder why we allowed financial institutions to create debt that we expected them to repay, as if they would one day benefit from our 3D LCD Television sets in the middle of an energy crisis, where the metals used to make those televisions could have actually served a purpose. They won’t have time to ponder this kind of issue though, for their world will likely be one where they have issues so severe that, were they to occur today and the mainstream media reported it, we’d never believe them.
I could go on to look at detail on specific practices that future generations will condemn us for, and depending on the path we end up taking, I could be very accurate, but that misses the point that raising such a question gives rise to far more fundamental considerations. In saying that, one must live in the now or insanity is inevitable, therefore the discussions that will arise from people being asked this question should be allowed, if not encouraged.
To finish an article started with a question, I thought it best to ask another of us all, one that is probably more relevant than most are willing to accept.
If I am not selfish, why do I care nothing for my future grandchildren and their quality of life, after my grandparents sacrificed themselves to ensure I had the best quality of life? Or am I merely blinded by the veil of ignorance that droops over my plastic face to believe my current actions are in fact ensuring the best quality of life for my grandchildren?