The Future’s Verdict on Us

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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63 Responses

  1. Opposition to same-sex marriage (among other forms of legally-permissible discrimination against homosexuals) seems to fit into these categories, too.

    So does institutionalized legal exclusion of immigrants from available work.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Transplanted Lawyer says:

      @Transplanted Lawyer,

      About SSM, let me throw in a spanner. Support for homosexuality fits Appiah’s criteria too.

      The arguments against homosexuality are “not new.” They have been around for thousands of years. The pro-gay case rests mostly on a view of human nature, or of necessity.

      Perhaps one day the future will regard our nonchalance about homosexual relations as exactly of a piece with our factory farming — abominations that show exactly how barbaric the past really was.Report

      • @Jason Kuznicki, according to the criteria set forth by Appiah, a moral argument (as opposed to a tradition-based or necessity-based argument) can be and is made to defend homosexuality. Homosexual behavior harms no one and is compatible with a peaceful, self-sustaining society, therefore it should be tolerated. Further, if one assumes that homosexuality is an innate characteristic of an individual then it is arbitrary and morally wrong to use it as a basis for systematic, discriminatory treatment of individuals by the government. The second argument flirts with being one based on human nature rather than upon a purely moral foundation, but at least it makes explicit its reliance upon an assumption about human nature, an assumption that seems well-founded to me.

        To be sure, a non-arbitrary moral argument can be constructed to criticize homosexuality (i.e., tolerating homosexual behavior leads to less procreation and therefore harms society as a whole) but the existence of a moral counter-argument is not the same thing as refuting the existence of a moral argument defending a practice. That argument is also not the argument typically used to attack homosexuality, justify discrimination against homosexuals, or even to support SSM bans.Report

  2. MFarmer says:

    Until we deal with the problem of statism, fighting to end the war on drugs and the imprisonment of so many non-violent law-breakers who broke laws that are irrational is like whack-a-mole — we are dealing with symptoms when we should be addressing the fundamental problem — a powerful State machine.Report

  3. Scott says:

    Anyone who would believe China’s claims about their number of prisoners is a fool and not worthy of being taken seriously. I could care less if folks that break the law are locked up. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Scott says:


      I am relatively uninterested in China, which I already assume to be a tyranny. Yet there’s plenty of room to dismiss China’s imprisonment numbers while being worried about our own.

      For starters, I note that the United States is a significant outlier among the free countries. At some point, we surely should ask — is it possible we’ve locked up too many people?

      You, it seems, would say no. It’s never possible to lock up too many people, as long as that’s what the written law orders. And there is never any reason to question whether our laws might be better if they directed us to lock up fewer people.

      This is logic I can’t agree with, because it leads us directly out of the camp of free countries and into whatever hell the countries like China are hiding.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki, In an effort to avoid snark, isn’t the homosexual lifestyle a problem with my world-immanent friends who worship at the alter of Darwin? Don’t Darwinians find it to be (forgive me) a dead end?
        If you keep this up I won’t have anymore episodes of ‘Cops,’ to watch (‘bad boys, bad boys watcha gonna do…!”
        Is your point that there’s to many laws? If so, where would you cut away the bad ones?
        If, you guys keep electing Imam Barry they’re going to bring back “debtor’s prisons.” Sorry, couldn’t hep it.
        Trans. Lawyer said something about the oppressed ‘immigrants.’ Did he mean ‘illegal’ immigrants, or legal immigrants? Do you think he knows there’s a little difference? Or, maybe it doesn’t matter for him?
        And, finally in an effort to be honest, I think we should hang weight, high noon, at the county courthouse, with the local high school’s drum and bungle corps playing their heart’s out. What do you think?Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks,

          Homosexuality may be any number of things from an evolutionary perspective. It may offer some enhanced fitness for kin. It may originate in constellation of genes that is very advantageous when manifest in one sex — so much so that on balance it tends to get passed on in a population even despite its inhibiting effects when manifest in the other. It may be a spandrel. The simple reality is that we don’t even know whether homosexuality is genetic to begin with, so all of this is very speculative.

          Is your point that there’s to many laws? If so, where would you cut away the bad ones?

          The drug laws as they relate to nonviolent acts among consenting adults, whether commercial or otherwise. I think that, plus the knock-on effects, would probably be enough.

          I would not hang pedophiles, but then, I wouldn’t hang murderers either. I’m against the death penalty in general.Report

          • MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            @Jason Kuznicki,
            “Homosexuality may be any number of things from an evolutionary perspective.”

            But most of all it’s a choice made by individuals that doesn’t violate anyone’s rights and is of no legitimate concern to anyone but the people making the choice. Next!

            Drug use is a personal choice and as long as the drug user doesn’t violate anyone’s rights, then it is of no concern to anyone except the drug user. If a spouse doesn’t like the drug use, they can encourage their loved one to stop or leave — if it causes health problems then the individual is responsible for paying the cost. If some in society think drug use is immoral then they can make their case in the free market of ideas — employers can choose to not hire drug-users and people can use ostracism as pressure if they don’t want to associate with drug-users — however, if drugs are legalized, the fun and excitement of doing something illegal and dangerous is removed, people stop killing people over the drug trade and the quality is managed and the prices don’t drive people to crime. Private treatment facilities can deal with the abuse problems, and charity organizations can deal with those who can’t afford treatment. The problem of addiction can be dealt with by society, rather than by State incompetents and their prisons.Report

          • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            @Jason Kuznicki, Look Jason, my cat knows more about evolution than I do but I’m figurin’ that two men or two women doing the nasty is pretty much, in evolutionary terms, a dry run. Now that’s not a moral analysis rather it’s about as biological as I get. So, it seems to me the syndrome we call ‘homosexual’, whatever it is, doesn’t appear grounded on biological considerations? Correct me if I’m wrong, and I’m not being snarky, but I sure as hell ain’t going to be pc to please anyone.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              @Robert Cheeks, Interestingly not. A “gay gene” can be passed down the generations as long as it helps some of its carriers to reproduce. Obviously not the people it actually makes gay, but their brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles cousins, et cetera. That can work in various ways – by having other benefits, or because having gay uncles helps offspring in some way, or because its a wierd combination of other genes that are very beneficial.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              @Robert Cheeks, Simon K, ‘gay gene’, dude? Ok, I don’t read the latest in evolutionary/biology journals, and I only watch the interesting stuff on NOVA but that’s the first time I’ve heard of a ‘gay’ gene.
              Without snark, what’s your source? Is this political/ science like the faked weather statistics/data the commies used to protect Algore’s wacky ‘global warming?’ I mean those people will believe anything.
              So, tell me of the ‘gay’ gene.
              And, what-the-hell does this mean:
              “A “gay gene” can be passed down the generations as long as it helps some of its carriers to reproduce.”
              You lost me after the first clause. How does a ‘gay gene’, whatever that may be, help ‘carriers’ reproduce….seems to be contradictory!Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                It’s very simple.

                Suppose there is a gene that causes women to be more fertile. Women with this gene have, say, double the number of kids. We’d expect that gene to proliferate, and pretty soon virtually everyone would have it.

                But here’s the problem: When men get this same gene, they turn out to be gay. So the men have fewer kids. Not zero, because gay men do still have sex with women and get them pregnant… but fewer. It happens less often.

                If you do the math — there is math to this, and I’m not doing it here — you’ll find that the gene still proliferates. As long as it helps the women more than it hurts the men, its incidence in the population stabilizes over time at some relatively low level.

                We don’t have conclusive evidence that such a gene exists, but there is some intriguing data suggesting that it might.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              @Robert Cheeks, There’s probably no single “gay gene”. That’s a simplification. There may be no genetic component to homosexuality at all, or most likely there are a whole bunch of genes that slightly increase the likelihood of homosexual behaviour. However, even if there was a single gene that absolutely made all its male carriers gay it could still survive in the gene pool.

              There’s no political component to this in my view. Its just how the math works out – there might be a gay gene. I don’t think it affects the politics one way or another – in particular it doesn’t mean homosexual behaviour is not a matter of free will.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              @Robert Cheeks, Jason, thanks for the effort. I may have actually understood part of your remarks! That’s the good news. The bad news, at least from my perspective, is that I smell a scientistic effort to bring about a social legitimazation sp for the homosexual worldview.
              But, you did warn me of that we’re talking possibilities here and not doctrine, which I much appreciate.
              I’ll keep an eye out for the particular ‘gene’ and see how that develops in the wonderful world of science but, again, I’m smelling ‘librul’ effort to derail reason/truth, and dude that’s all I’m interested in.Report

        • dexter45 in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks, If you hang all the pedophiles, who will you get to say mass?Report

          • Robert Cheeks in reply to dexter45 says:

            @dexter45, Damn Dex, that was truly a ‘good’ one! Although, along with hanging peds, I’d burn the ‘pink’ seminarys and the creeds and ‘progressive’ changes associated with Vatican II. Then we’d have us a real Roman Catholic Church..though I’d be in favor of the priests marrying. But, again Dex, dude that was a good one.Report

        • @Robert Cheeks, as a matter of fact, I am aware that there is a difference between “illegal immigrants” and “legal immigrants,” in that one set has to go through a fairly rigorous bureaucratic rigamarole to earn the right to work here, and the other has to work in a semi-underground economy in order to come and in order to work here. Neither group, it seems to me, has a particularly good deal, and the reason for that comes from the laws set up with the explicit intent (but frequently not the practical effect) of separating willing laborers from willing employers.Report

          • Robert Cheeks in reply to Transplanted Lawyer says:

            @Transplanted Lawyer, Perhaps the problem is the failure of Mexico to function as a state? Hell, they can’t even kill their drug lords.
            I’ve heard the plea of just how hard it is to go through the system to be legal. The Mexicans I had the pleasure of working with, did just that. Dude, the dog ain’t huntin’.Report

          • Simon K in reply to Transplanted Lawyer says:

            @Transplanted Lawyer, The trouble is, the bulk of us legal immigrants simply have our employers give a large sum of money to a lawyer, fill out some forms and wait while USCIS sends every more incomprehensible paperwork our lawyers tell us we can ignore and accumulate ever stranger passport stamps until eventually they send you the thing you actually asked for. Its a weird process but not nearly as difficult as walking across a desert while avoiding heavily armed thugs. The whole system of legal immigration is basically just another device to deter those who really need the work, who naturally can’t pay enough money to lawyers. It would be fairer to simply auction the green cards.Report

          • Scott in reply to Transplanted Lawyer says:

            @Transplanted Lawyer,

            I guess you miss the major difference that one comes here legally and the other one breaks our laws. I fail to see how one day we Americans will be harshly judged for wanting to protect our country any more than say Mexico, whose policy towards illegals coming into their country is much harsher than our own, even as the Mexicans bitch about our treatment of their illegals.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Scott says:

              @Scott, If immigration policy was completely absurd, would whether immigrants were legal or not still be the only aspect of immigration you thought was worth talking about? If the US only allowed red-haired immigrants, for example?Report

      • Scott in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,

        Comparing our incarceration rates to those in other developed countries in western Europe is like comparing apples and oranges. We are not a socialist country and are much larger, not to mention that we are not as homogeneous as those countries. I’m still trying to figure out which developed country are we so similar to?

        If our citizens want our elected officials to change the law so as to not lock as many folks up then fine, however, that won’t make the laws “better.” However, if the law says lock them up then the law should be respected and enforced until such time as it is changed.Report

        • Simon K in reply to Scott says:

          @Scott, No western European country is socialist either, and even if they were, what does it have to do with imprisoning people? All developed democracies are extremely similar in the structure of their economies and the state’s role in them and the overall standard of living. The US is an outlier in a number of respects – including rate of imprisonment – but its an outlier within an extremely narrow band relative to the rest of the world.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Scott says:


          So… socialism leads to less incarceration? Sign me up then!

          Seriously, prison is a lot like socialism. That’s part of why I am suspicious of it. You get your housing, your meals, your medical care, your exercise, your work… all from the state. If that’s not socialism, nothing is.

          Finally, I disagree in the most profound terms with the following:

          If our citizens want our elected officials to change the law so as to not lock as many folks up then fine, however, that won’t make the laws “better.”

          Imagine that we had a law against riding bicycles. The punishment is 50 years in prison.

          By your logic, repealing this law — or at least shortening the sentence — would in no way make our laws “better.” No siree! Everything on the books is perfect, exactly as it is, in this best of all possible worlds.

          Really, what nonsense.Report

    • Barry in reply to Scott says:

      @Scott, “I could care less if folks that break the law are locked up. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

      Nasty government everywhere applaud you.Report

      • Scott in reply to Barry says:


        What happened to respecting the law and obeying it? I guess that is too much to ask some folks these days. What do you think should happen to someone that breaks the law, maybe throw them a pizza party and ask them nicely not to do it again?Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    The best way to guess how the future will look at us is to look at how all sorts of futures ended up looking back at their predecessors.

    How did the 1500’s look back at the 1200’s? How did the 1800’s look back at the 1700’s? How did the 1900’s look back at the 1800’s?

    How do we look back at 1910?

    Here’s my prediction.

    Progressives will see us as a bunch of well-intentioned ninnies who were trying to micromanage people without respecting their own personal autonomy while, at the same time, completely ignoring the real issues that we should have been focused on.

    Conservatives will think that we got a lot right and we should go back to basics like they did way back then (excepting, of course, the progressive excesses).Report

  5. Sam M says:

    “those who defend the conditions of incarceration usually do so in non-moral terms”

    People defend the prison system in moral terms all the time, don’t they?Report

    • Eric Seymour in reply to Sam M says:

      @Sam M,
      I think Appiah is arguing against the conditions in our prisons, or that we subject non-violent offenders to such conditions–not against the fact that we imprison people at all.Report

      • Sam M in reply to Eric Seymour says:

        @Eric Seymour,

        “I think Appiah is arguing against the conditions in our prisons, or that we subject non-violent offenders to such conditions–not against the fact that we imprison people at all.”

        I don’t think so. There’s a dual argument. As mentioned, one part is all about conditions. But the other part is about the NUMBER of people we imprison.

        And either way, I hear people talking about these things, both of them. in moral terms all the time.Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Sam M says:

      @Sam M, I do, Amen!Report

      • North in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        @Robert Cheeks, You defend the prison system Bob? I thought you wanted to hang em all.Report

        • Robert Cheeks in reply to North says:

          @North, Hello North! I think you lefties exaggerate stuff so you can make us mainline people squeal like little girls at a sleepover.
          I’m not buying the ‘overpopulation’ stuff. Not that I don’t think there’s a high prison pop. but that there’s also a higher pop period and since LBJ’s ‘Great Society’ certain social groups now breed indiscriminately and end up with high pops of fatherless children..and you’re aware of the problem that can generate.
          So, I say, if you wanna reduce the prison pop, through out the commie-dems, get rid of their bureaucracies/laws/social structures and return to the idea of the American’ll see the prison pop decline drastically.
          Martha’s birthday was yesterday..I got her Steeler ear rings and cooked spaghetti and meat balls, and hot sausage in a delicate tomato sauce with red wine, garlic, and the leavings from the skillet, with Toscano bread..nice, dude! Grandbabies and kids all sang ‘happy birthday.’ When they left, I asked her how it was to be the matriarch of the family, and we talked about how nice it would be to live to see some of the offspring of the next a little choked up on that one.Report

  6. Eric Seymour says:

    Appiah’s criteria are thought-provoking to be sure, but I think ultimately not very useful in making predictions. I guess they could be used to distinguish between practices that might provoke condemnation if future generations disagree with today’s norms, versus practices where disagreement would result merely in future folks chuckling at our “quaint” customs. But they can’t predict whether opinions will actually shift in the future.

    Two examples which came to my mind immediately which fit the criteria are SSM and abortion. I wonder if the author purposely avoided those in order to shine a light on issues which a lot of people might not even be aware are issues?Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    Frankly, I was unimpressed by the Appiah piece. I mean, I agree wholeheartedly on ending the drug war, and have reservations about factory farming (of animals). But the piece about the elderly left me cold – and with all due respect, I’m reluctant to hear about anecdotes about eldery care from a nation whose life expectancy is around 57 years. Finally, the environmental problems he touches are all regional ones borne out of poverty, not affluence.Report

  8. dexter45 says:

    If one wants to know why America has so many prisoners, one only has to follow the money. Do a little research on private prisons and on the private prisoners who are working for 25 cents per hour. Find the corps making the money and then find who has vested interest in those corps.Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to dexter45 says:

      @dexter45, dude, France 1789…oh, no!Report

      • dexter45 in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        @Robert Cheeks, Could you please elaborate?Report

        • Robert Cheeks in reply to dexter45 says:

          @dexter45, just referring to evil corporatists profiting at the expense of prisoners oppressed by the oppressive system and other associated myths, with the caveat that we wouldn’t have these problems at least to the degree we do if the GOP primarily, and the commie-dems, secondarily sent the manufacturing jobs to China, India, etc. They robbed Americans of a chance to attain a middle class living and no one got shot, no one died.Report

          • dexter45 in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            @Robert Cheeks, If you could leave out “other associated myths” I think I agree whole heartedly. It’s not as bad as 1789, but a lot of Americans are hurting. Down here, we didn’t get zapped as hard as other parts of the country, mainly because of the chemical plants and the hurricanes, but things are really tight here. Also, it would be a lot worse without some of those commie-dems and their minute safety nets. I have been wondering for a for a while if America could have a “let them eat cake moment” and what would be the catalyst that caused it.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to dexter45 says:

              @dexter45, Dude, I may be annoying but I really don’t have a problem with ‘safety nets.’ Up here, in the Ohio Valley, they’ve been humping my people since the early 70’s with the closing of the steel mills, the betrayal of ‘big’ steel by the automanufactures and their evil unions…union brother’s my ass!
              So, people who were not college material lost the opportunity to make a middle class living, marry, and make-a-da-babies in a family. You can measure the social cost of moving those facilities overseas. So Jaybird’s right, both the GOP and the commie-dems are evil and we’re too stupid to figure our how to do a third party that actually serves the needs, political/moral, of Americans.
              Hey, Imam Barry was a real help with your recent oil leak….? What will you do if there’s that ‘cake’ moment? What will you do if your loved ones can’t get medical help under Obamacare because they smoked, or were overweight, or voted Republican?Report

            • ThatPirateGuy in reply to dexter45 says:


              What will you do if your loved ones can’t get medical help under Obamacare because they smoked, or were overweight, or voted Republican?

              This is certifiable. I mean that is exactly the sort of the thing the AHA is there to stop. But as an American you have a right to your rich fantasy life so have a nice day.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to dexter45 says:

              @dexter45, apparently I hit a nerve. Pirate, you go ahead and put your faith in the bureaucracy and let me know how that works..dude, you define the Second Reality..wake up!Report

  9. dexter45 says:

    I am sure hell must have frozen over because this is the second time in twenty four hours that I have agreed with you. I don’t believe that either party is any good. I lost faith in the unions when they started voting for contracts that shafted the new people. I think cap and trade is a joke. I think the President dropped the ball with the oil leak. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Where we differ is I think you like the tea party while I think voting for them would be like trading a puppy for a hungry hyena because the puppy scratched you.Report

  10. Robert Cheeks says:

    Well Dex, we’re having a ‘kumbaya’ moment here and I’m getting choked up.
    I’ll take my stand with the TPers cause there ain’t no one else out there. I don’t know why you don’t join, they’ve got no ‘leader’, they don’t tie you down to anything but a general republican (as in republic) worldview, which works for me. Limited gummint, paying our bills, reducing gummint, I don’t know Dex, works for me…and here’s the deal, you can go talk to them and they’ll listen to you.
    I’m planning on an apolgetics for Glenn Beck over at PoMoCon. You should comment!Report

    • Barry in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      @Robert Cheeks, “I don’t know why you don’t join, they’ve got no ‘leader’, they don’t tie you down to anything but a general republican (as in republic) worldview, which works for me. Limited gummint, paying our bills, reducing gummint, …”

      Yes, I remember the Teabaggers out there protesting Bush-Cheney, back when most Americans were scared to do so, or blindly licking Flightsuit Boy’s boots out of fear.


      • Jaybird in reply to Barry says:

        @Barry, People still say “not”?

        Anyway, there were a lot of things that went on between 2000 and 2006.

        2002 was the first election after 2000. There was something that happened in 2001 that changed the dynamic of the election (and, let’s face it, a whole bunch of “let’s not invade Afghanistan” war protests that happened, for some reason, to have a small but vocal minority flying Hamas flags at the same time bombs were blowing up for the 2nd Infatada. So that election wasn’t exactly about “fiscal responsibility”.

        2004 *MIGHT* have been about fiscal responsibility until the Democrats said “I know… we’ll take on Bush-the-draft-dodger” and decided to run their very own Vietnam Veteran. For a handful of reasons, this didn’t work out.

        2006 was about fiscal responsibility.

        Do you know what happened?

        All of the Republicans who gave a shit about fiscal responsibility stayed home.

        The Republican lost control of both the House and the Senate in one election. “Landslide” is not an overstatement of what happened.

        Then the remaining Republicans decided that TARP and bailout mania was awesome (to the point where John McCain suspended campaigning to go back to Warshington to lobby for these bills)… and the Republicans lost *EVEN MORE* seats in the House and Senate to the point where the Democrats were nigh-unfilibusterable.

        The teabaggers (hee! That’s really funny!) stayed home in 2006 and 2008.

        Which is, interestingly enough, exactly where those anti-war protesters happen to be.

        For some reason.Report

        • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

          @Jaybird, I see old Barry kind-a lit you off.
          Well done.
          And, while I’ve plagarized your now famous “junk” remark, I need advice..should I say ‘not’?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            @Robert Cheeks, Never again.

            It would be better to make a reference to a catchphrase that was huge in the 60’s or 70’s but has since disappeared.

            “Surprise, surprise, surprise” is one that I’ve been trying to bring back.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

              @Jaybird, Well, I consider you the wizard of the ‘cool’ word. I mean “junk” just killed me…and now I call everyone “dude” which to my pleasure annoys many!
              So, keep them coming and I’ll use some and discard others.
              Wait, one comes to mind: it’s 1962, me and my pal, Butch -the-Greek are at Gilford Lake, there’s a black haired beauty from Toronto; some dude says, she’s ‘fine’. First time I heard that..later that year the Chiffons came out with “He’s so fine.”
              I’ll let you know if I come up with anymore. I’m running again with Butch-the-Greek, and we’re packing heat.
              Oh, wait! Another was the term “bad” as in “good”. That was 1963 at the Lake Marwin dance, as in: “That dude is bad; he’s got the moves!”Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

              @Robert Cheeks, oh, don’t look to me as some sort of sultan of cool.

              If you saw me in real life, you’d say “that’s a bald fat guy with a big beard who doesn’t speak as much as gut rumble.”

              That said, I am ashamed to say that I was not aware of “bad” meaning “good” prior to Michael Jackson… though, I suppose, “wicked” ought to have prepared me emotionally for it. (In my personal life, I am trying to not use “bad” anymore… I try to use “ungood” and, more likely, “double-plus ungood”.)Report