Will The People Of The Future Regard Us As Barbarians?

veal-calvesSocieties past were barbaric: slavery, witch-burnings, child labor, and wooden teeth. Writing in the Washington Post, Princeton professor Kwame Anthony Appiah wonders what future generations will condemn us for. He suggests our prison system, treatment of animals in factory farming, neglect of the elderly, and desecration of the environment as four contenders for what will be viewed as our greatest crimes. What do you think?

We already know that the massive waste of life in our prisons is morally troubling; those who defend the conditions of incarceration usually do so in non-moral terms (citing costs or the administrative difficulty of reforms); and we’re inclined to avert our eyes from the details. Check, check and check.

And the full extent of the punishment prisoners face isn’t detailed in any judge’s sentence. More than 100,000 inmates suffer sexual abuse, including rape, each year; some contract HIV as a result. Our country holds at least 25,000 prisoners in isolation in so-called supermax facilities, under conditions that many psychologists say amount to torture.

The arguments against the cruelty of factory farming have certainly been around a long time; it was Jeremy Bentham, in the 18th century, who observed that, when it comes to the treatment of animals, the key question is not whether animals can reason but whether they can suffer. People who eat factory-farmed bacon or chicken rarely offer a moral justification for what they’re doing. Instead, they try not to think about it too much, shying away from stomach-turning stories about what goes on in our industrial abattoirs.

Nearly 2 million of America’s elderly are warehoused in nursing homes, out of sight and, to some extent, out of mind. Some 10,000 for-profit facilities have arisen across the country in recent decades to hold them. Other elderly Americans may live independently, but often they are isolated and cut off from their families. Is this what Western modernity amounts to — societies that feel no filial obligations to their inconvenient elders?

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  • Andrew

    I suspect slavery, witch-burnings, child labor, and wooden teeth will be making comebacks. The people of the future may not even remember us.

  • Andrew

    I suspect slavery, witch-burnings, child labor, and wooden teeth will be making comebacks. The people of the future may not even remember us.

  • RoscoeMG

    I’ve wondered about this for a while. Although child labour and slavery are still commonplace in the ‘developing world’, do we view them as barbarians? Does the developed world have a leg to stand on with the multitude of wars raised for cash against relatively defensless countries for reasons which are shakey at the least. I think it’s worrying that the west considers itself as developed, does this mean a stagnation in progress? I think maybe we’ve peaked and will start moving backwards, re-introducing abhored practices of the past and rendering the title of this article moot. There are already signs in the US with the term ‘progressives’ being used as a slur. Maybe the world has finally turned upside down and is ready to complete a full circle back to a dark age of barbarism.

  • RoscoeMG

    I’ve wondered about this for a while. Although child labour and slavery are still commonplace in the ‘developing world’, do we view them as barbarians? Does the developed world have a leg to stand on with the multitude of wars raised for cash against relatively defensless countries for reasons which are shakey at the least. I think it’s worrying that the west considers itself as developed, does this mean a stagnation in progress? I think maybe we’ve peaked and will start moving backwards, re-introducing abhored practices of the past and rendering the title of this article moot. There are already signs in the US with the term ‘progressives’ being used as a slur. Maybe the world has finally turned upside down and is ready to complete a full circle back to a dark age of barbarism.

  • Alturn

    A perspective of one of the Masters of Wisdom, from http://www.share-international.org/master/2008/ma_june08.htm

    “A few years from now, looking back, men will wonder why they hesitated so long in taking the obvious and most natural action: sharing the resources of the world. Experiencing warmly the new stability, the lack of tension, the ease of international co-operation, men will wonder how they could have been so blind to the self-evident, so wilful and destructive to their own best interests for so long.”

  • Alturn

    A perspective of one of the Masters of Wisdom, from http://www.share-international.org/master/2008/ma_june08.htm

    “A few years from now, looking back, men will wonder why they hesitated so long in taking the obvious and most natural action: sharing the resources of the world. Experiencing warmly the new stability, the lack of tension, the ease of international co-operation, men will wonder how they could have been so blind to the self-evident, so wilful and destructive to their own best interests for so long.”

  • Vox Penii

    Will the people of the future regard us as barbarians?

    Who fucking cares. Must be a slow news day: “Let’s telephone a blathering ‘cultural studies’ professor and get his ‘new historicist’ speculation about the future…”

    >We already know that the massive waste of life in our prisons is morally troubling; those who defend the conditions of incarceration usually do so in non-moral terms (citing costs or the administrative difficulty of reforms); and we’re inclined to avert our eyes from the details.

    In reply” Why are we counting only the cost to the government of putting a criminal behind bars, but not the cost to the public of turning him loose?” > http://m.redding.com/news/2010/sep/22/liberals-are-penny-wise-on-prisons/ http://web.archive.org/web/20080312214444/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-whyspeculate.html < ]

  • JP

    fuck the future. fuck the past. i am from the present and i consider us barbarians

  • JP

    fuck the future. fuck the past. i am from the present and i consider us barbarians

  • Andrew

    How many times are you going to cut and paste Crichton’s hypocritical dismissal of what makes humans intelligent?

  • 2ei20je20e20

    It’s interesting human, abortion is not mentioned with regards to our present day follies; yet we denounce infantacide during the end days of ancient rome.

    • gemmarama

      abortion is not infanticide, it’s a medical procedure undertaken by a woman to rid herself of a parasitic organism. get your facts straight.

    • Word Eater

      Infanticide is a form of eugenics. I imagine as the world strays further and further away from superstition and religion, eugenics will be seen as less and less amoral.

  • 2ei20je20e20

    It’s interesting human, abortion is not mentioned with regards to our present day follies; yet we denounce infantacide during the end days of ancient rome.

  • Chlod

    So this Princeton professor – Kwame Anthony Appiah – thinks future generations will have the same ideals as the ones that are currently in vogue among his colleagues and students. Yeah, sure. He watches too much Hollywood movies. He also needs to meet people outside of academic circles.

    If the godforsaken future has a right to exist, our children will view us in the same way we view the Roman empire in its last days. They won’t be kind for us. However, if the future is pretty much the same as our decadent present, there will be nobody left to draw such a conclusion. Neither is it likely that such dissent would go unpunished.

  • Chlod

    So this Princeton professor – Kwame Anthony Appiah – thinks future generations will have the same ideals as the ones that are currently in vogue among his colleagues and students. Yeah, sure. He watches too much Hollywood movies. He also needs to meet people outside of academic circles.

    If the godforsaken future has a right to exist, our children will view us in the same way we view the Roman empire in its last days. They won’t be kind for us. However, if the future is pretty much the same as our decadent present, there will be nobody left to draw such a conclusion. Neither is it likely that such dissent would go unpunished.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    They almost certainly will…and for many of the reasons listed above…but not because of how managed to acquire food…especially steak…and sausage. In some future golden age they will look back through the centuries and nod wisely, agreeing that, although their ancestors were amoral, short sighted and foolish…

    …our taste in delicious meats and ability to make use of them creatively indicated that a high degree of civilization was still in place. I will now take a break and celebrate this post with grilled sausage.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    They almost certainly will…and for many of the reasons listed above…but not because of how managed to acquire food…especially steak…and sausage. In some future golden age they will look back through the centuries and nod wisely, agreeing that, although their ancestors were amoral, short sighted and foolish…

    …our taste in delicious meats and ability to make use of them creatively indicated that a high degree of civilization was still in place. I will now take a break and celebrate this post with grilled sausage.

  • DeepCough

    Barbarians? Us? Hey, no matter what epoch you’re in, human sacrifice never goes out of style.

  • DeepCough

    Barbarians? Us? Hey, no matter what epoch you’re in, human sacrifice never goes out of style.

  • gemmarama

    abortion is not infanticide, it’s a medical procedure undertaken by a woman to rid herself of a parasitic organism. get your facts straight.

  • gemmarama

    MUST we get this article on a weekly basis?

  • Word Eater

    Infanticide is a form of eugenics. I imagine as the world strays further and further away from superstition and religion, eugenics will be seen as less and less amoral.

  • Andrew

    How many times are you going to cut and paste Crichton’s hypocritical dismissal of what makes humans intelligent?

  • gemmarama

    MUST we get this article on a weekly basis?

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