Apologies in advance. This post is about philosophy and morality; way out of my area of expertise. You have been warned.
By our standards, ancient Rome was not a nice place. I’m not just talking about problems due to inferior technology or sanitation or disease. Even a hypothetical ancient Rome that fixed those things would be worse than the modern world. Slaves would still exist. Racism and discrimination would still be rampant. The citizenship of one’s parents would still determine your lot in life. Simply put, ancient Roman morality was worse than ours.
It is my claim that over time, most civilizations have moved along a moral trajectory. Slowly -ever so slowly- people have become nicer. We’ve recognized more humans as worthy of moral value. Eventually we decided slavery was wrong. We began to treat women and men equally. Currently we’re moving toward treating homosexuals and heterosexuals equally.
The fact that morals have improved over time should strike people as extraordinary. Think about what must have happened for slavery to go from right to wrong. At some point, a person went from thinking “slavery is right” to thinking “slavery is wrong”, without initially wanting to change his mind! I wish I knew how to trigger that sort of thinking. It’s as valuable as vaccines.
It’s great that people have become more moral over the millennia. Now what are the odds that after thousands of years, we suddenly got morality right? What are the chances that we won’t improve upon our current ideas about right and wrong?
Yeah, pretty damn small.
OK, so if we’re wrong, we should ask the question, “What are some things that future societies might condemn us for?”
Stop here and think about them. I don’t want to contaminate your initial ideas.
There are some obvious ones that are already in political discourse. Recreational drugs. LGBT rights. Border and immigration laws. Religious indoctrination of children. Other things that You Can’t Say… yet.
One day morality will even go beyond those things. What about eating meat? It’s absolutely indefensible that we breed, kill, chop up, and eat animals. It’s not the eating of meat that’s wrong. If we could grow meat in vats, there would be no problem. The problem is that animals experience pain much like we do. While animals are not open to the same range of experiences as humans, they still seem to have some moral value. All else equal, I think we’d prefer that animals not suffer and die.
Future technologies could improve morality as well. Like education and nutrition today, in the future it could be considered abusive to not give your child anti-aging and intelligence-enhancing treatments. And that’s just the start.
Does this future scare you? Well so would the present to those who lived in the past. Eutopia is Scary.