What Will Future Generations Condemn us For?

In the Washington Post, Anthony Appiah takes up this topic. He mentions the US prison system, the treatment of animals in things like CAFOs, and isolation of the elderly. The article reminded me of a recent podcast with William Gibson, where the renowned futurist would predict only that future generations would “regard us with contempt” for all the opportunities we missed.

Projecting future mores is a difficult task. Consider this prophecy from 1918, authored by sociologist Herbert Stewart:

It may turn out that the life of idiotic ostentation makes humanity quite as despicable as the life of a drunkard, and that the image of God is less defaced in a saloon of the Bowery than in those jeweled birthday parties for dogs with which the New York Four Hundred disgust all civilized mankind. That much of this is, in the face of the world’s needs, an enormity for which all defense is mere shamelessness no conscientious person will deny. . . . Take the advertisement of a present-day ‘millionaire’s hotel,’ with the assurance it gives of ‘the very last word in sumptuousness.’ Is this not one of the features of our time upon which we all trust that a wiser age will look back, not only with condemnation, but with a sense of nausea?

We’re still waiting for that wiser age to arrive.

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