What will future generations condemn us for? Our readers had some ideas.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Outlook last Sunday, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah asked what future generations might condemn us for, in much the same way that we denounce past generations for practices such as slavery. He proposed four candidates for future disapproval: the prison system, i nd ustrial meat production, the isolation of the elderly and environmental degradation.

Outlook's editors put his question to readers; many thanks to the hundreds who responded with their own suggestions. Here is a sampling:


"My great-great-grandfathers fought in Hood's Texas Brigade from secession to Appomattox during the American Civil War. They fought on the wrong side of a war that is remembered for liberating the weakest members of society from perpetual exploitation and violence. I don't want my great-great-grandchildren to repeat my question, 'What were they thinking? Why did they support slavery?'

"So, I thought through these questions: Which members of our society are the weakest? Who are the victims of the most violence now? . . .

"The answer is easy to discern . . . unborn children."

High-heeled shoes

"The ancient Chinese bound women's feet because small feet were considered attractive. Are we much better?"

The death penalty

"100 years from now, the idea that a civilized, free society strapped down those it found unfit to live and killed them either with electricity or lethal drugs will seem unbelievable. Particularly as more and more evidence emerges that the death penalty was often imposed unfairly . . . and that many people were executed who were actually not guilty, it will become a black mark on our history."

Same-sex marriage bans

"Not too many years ago, the idea of gay marriage was as absurd as the idea of women's suffrage was in 1900."

Deficit spending

"The bankrupting of the country because we were too selfish and partisan to confront it. . . . It doesn't require any difficult moral pondering, broke is broke, and everyone suffers needlessly from it."

Childhood malnutrition

"The future will first judge us on our refusal to end the most horrific of all human experiences: the death of children from easily preventable malnutrition and hunger-related infectious diseases, in an era when so much could be done for so many for so little cost."

Treatment for mental illness

"Our treatment (or lack thereof) of the indigent mentally ill is barbaric. . . . We have the capacity to provide humane residential care for the seriously mentally ill but we don't provide that care. Instead, the seriously mentally ill are too often exposed to life on the street, or in prison. What are we thinking?"

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