Here is a bit more post-holiday moralizing. Kwame Anthony Appiah, the famous ethicist and philosophy professor at Princeton University asked the question in the Wapo:What will future generations condemn us for? What else should be on the list? Does anyone in the observant community care? Why not? What were we thinking?
Industrial meat production
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.
In the European Union, many of the most inhumane conditions we allow are already illegal…
The institutionalized and isolated elderly
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. Is this what Western modernity amounts to — societies that feel no filial obligations to their inconvenient elders?
Keeping aging parents and their children closer is a challenge…Yet the three signs apply here as well: When we see old people who, despite many living relatives, suffer growing isolation, we know something is wrong. We scarcely try to defend the situation; when we can, we put it out of our minds. Self-interest, if nothing else, should make us hope that our descendants will have worked out a better way.
Of course, most transgenerational obligations run the other way — from parents to children — and of these the most obvious candidate for opprobrium is our wasteful attitude toward the planet’s natural resources and ecology. Look at a satellite picture of Russia, and you’ll see a vast expanse of parched wasteland where decades earlier was a lush and verdant landscape. That’s the Republic of Kalmykia, home to what was recognized in the 1990s as Europe’s first man-made desert. Desertification, which is primarily the result of destructive land-management practices, threatens a third of the Earth’s surface; tens of thousands of Chinese villages have been overrun by sand drifts in the past few decades.
It’s not as though we’re unaware of what we’re doing to the planet:
Let’s not stop there, though. We will all have our own suspicions about which practices will someday prompt people to ask, in dismay: What were they thinking?
Even when we don’t have a good answer, we’ll be better off for anticipating the question.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton University, is the author of “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.”