[CN: Everything.] There’s a great scene in Mad Men S2E07 (The Gold Violin). The family is having a picnic in the park and when they finish Betty Draper shakes the rubbish from the blanket onto the grass. There’s a lot of other subtext but it’s supposed to leave a modern audience shocked. Here’s the clip:
I thought it was a bit heavy-handed in making us repulsed by the Drapers, but it got me thinking. Something we might now regard as monstrous was not given a second thought (according to the show at least).
If we don’t destroy ourselves, social norms will continue to change. There must be plenty that we commonly do now that future people would think is monstrous. I’ve had a go at predicting some of these. I’ll also compare what we consider as bigotry today to what future people might see us at. I’m not endorsing these comparisons but predicting that future generations will make them and using them to show the salience of these acts to future generations (if I’m right).
- Neurodiversity: Many phenomena still considered by most as mental “conditions” or “disabilities” will be seen as part of normal human variation, especially today’s autism spectrum concept. People will see our generation’s view of these as “disabilities” similarly to how we might now view those who see being LGBT as a “disease”.
- Intelligence: It will not be acceptable to discriminate against intelligence on a general basis except that certain jobs might be restricted to people of certain intelligence as a natural requirement (similar to some jobs today having height/fitness restrictions). Making fun of, or disparaging people for being “stupid” will be seen similarly to how we now view racist/sexist slurs.
- Animals: Harming animals for food will be seen as violence, probably paralleled with a switch to mass-produced lab-grown meat. I think what people will find hardest to believe is not what a large percentage of people ate meat but how normal it was considered by everyone (even say a vegan activist). Maybe in a similar way to how we’d read about cat burning. Animal experimentation may well follow the same way in which case today’s practices might be read in the same way we read accounts of vivisection from the history of medicine.
- Personal hygiene: Water-based toilets (ie. with bidets/hoses) will prevail over toilet paper, which people will consider disgusting. To the point of shuddering, and think everyone in a toilet paper culture would smell all the time. Like we might when reading urban myths about the medieval family’s annual bath.
- Waste: Most packaging will be seen as pointless and harmful. To go back to Mad Men and the Drapers’ picnic, this is how people might see anyone living today who buys things with excessive (or any?) packaging. Food waste will also acquire an extra moral dimension compared today. Think Capitol Citizens in The Hunger Games throwing up just so they could more lavish food while the districts starve — that’s how people will think of corporations and individuals that cause food to be wasted.
- Bodily contact: All forms of contact will be expected to be consensual. Something like non-consensual hugging (including going in without giving the other person a chance to back out) will be viewed at best like we might view someone shoving people out of the way to get through in a crowded train station. Or worse, as we might watch some 1960s James Bond “boys will be boys” behaviour that’s really abuse.
- Children: Children’s autonomy will be in. As per the above, expecting kids to bear non-consensual touching (including by relatives) would count as assault. But the biggest change I predict in this whole post is the total abolition of assigning children a gender and a sexual preference. It will be expected that children don’t need “help” figuring that out and making assumptions on their behalf will be treated as we today might view parents that perform permanent surgery on their kids’ genitals without good medical reason. Oh wait…
- The criminal justice system: What you think of the Salem witch trials in terms of quality of evidence and of the Zindan prison of Bukhara in terms of prison conditions is what people will think of our justice system. Eyewitness testimony and many other types of evidence used today will be right out. They will also consider use of solitary confinement one of the most serious crimes against humanity (possibly as serious as some historical genocides) and wonder how anyone could have lived in an era where it was accepted.
- Social welfare: The expected solutions to poverty and homelessness in wealthy countries will be a basic income and housing for homeless people. These won’t be the only solutions but the fact that it’s taken us so long to start trying these obvious-to-the-future ways will be seen as both an intellectual failing and deliberate cruelty. A basic income and guaranteed housing will be more or less universally considered as rights more similar to how we might view the right not to be discriminated against.
- Consumption: People will be horrified at ethical defects in the supply chain (such as sweatshops, slavery and environmental devastation) and will consider us moral failures en masse for not ensuring that we don’t buy anything “tainted”.
I think all of us today will completely be written off and condemned as immoral. If you think that’s too harsh, remember that we are perfectly happy applying the same to previous generations (eg. condemning 99% of white people living in the US south during slavery).
Now of course you might be suspicious that these are all just my views and aren’t I projecting what I want to be true? I don’t necessarily agree with all of the above in all the details. I definitely think the world I’ve described is a much better world than ours but your mileage may vary. You could almost go backwards: if you think the world has been progressing morally (and will continue) then your personal ethics should derive from where you think we’ll end up — not vice versa.
Do you have any other reasons I missed for why people from the future might find us gross/distasteful/abominable?