Thursday Night Bar Fight #1: What will be socially verboten in the future?

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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576 Responses

  1. Roger says:

    They will condemn us for condoning and even encouraging exploitation, defined as an action which coercively harms one person for the benefit if another.

    The events which will catalyze this change of consciousness is gradual evolutionary institutional change. Various societies will discover positive sum institutional solutions to operate with less coercion and exploitation.Report

  2. James Hanley says:

    Driving internal-combustion-driven vehicles. The negative externalities are massive, and we blithely impose them on each other without concern. We are truly inhumane to our fellows and worthy of condemnation.Report

    • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      Definitely, along with several other common but environmentally damaging behaviors. Hell, I bet plastics will be a serious point of criticism.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

      {{Very clever James. Well done!}}Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

      James got my contribution.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to James Hanley says:

      You joke, but this is probably close to the truth. In general, “burning things to get energy” will probably be looked on the same way that we look on people burning wood (or peat!) as a primary source of energy. The most modern oil-, coal-, or gas-fired power plant will be considered nothing more than a complicated version of Caveman Thog’s burning log, above which he cooks squirrel-on-a-stick.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        You joke

        Only 15% joking; 85% serious.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        Yeah, but was Thog near-evil for burning a log? The discussion wasn’t “How technologically backward will they think we were??” Likely quite, and likely for not yet developing whatever the energy revolution is going to be.

        And I don’t think they’ll regard us even as technologically backward until a long time after some technological revolution that allows personal transportation with a degree of comfort and convenience that the automobile does (I actually don’t know exactly what externalities James is referring to: emissions, hitting pedestrians, a landscape dominated by these terribly inhumane and destructive structures known as major highways, etc.) It’ll be a long time after that before they regard our energy consumption decisions relating to energy as evil, because the kind of empowerment that such ease of movement gives to humans is not going to stop being valued by humans. They will read back that value onto our decisions today, even after a technological revolution renders having that kind of personal empowerment far less costly to the world.

        Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t deserve condemnation to the point of being thought nearly evil for using the internal combustion engine. But I’m taking the over if we’re setting the over/under at 500 years before that becomes the completely conventional, if not universal, opinion.Report

    • trumwill mobile in reply to James Hanley says:

      The moment we don’t need it anymore, that’s when it will become unconscionable. And lots and lots of self righteous people will never see the relationship. They will confudently assert that they would have voluntarily ridden bicycles. But the won’t have to, so it’ll be an easy assertion.

      Or, alternately, they’ll be stuck on bicycles because we’ll be out of fuel, and cars will be sour grapes.Report

  3. Glyph says:

    I suspect advances in technology will both greatly simplify/cheapen/democratize birth control options (including a cheap, easy, no-brainer and no-sensation-loss one for men), as well as expand the definition of “viable fetus”, to the point where people will view the massive number of abortions that are performed in our time with the kind of horror that we reserve for Spartans leaving babies on the hillside, or Eskimos pushing grandma onto the ice floe.

    How’s that for a bar-fight starter? 😉Report

  4. Fnord says:

    My old fall-back for these sorts of questions is “eating meat”, or at least killing animals for food purposes, which cheap vat-grown tissue will render obsolete (for reference, I’m not a vegetarian).Report

    • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

      I think you are right, not to mention what we do (research etc.) to intelligent species we largely don’t even eat en masse, like chimps and dolphins and elephants and the like.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Fnord says:

      I think we’ll still eat meat, though the source may differ.

      Supposing we do reach a point where we conclude that eating meat is immoral, I’d be fascinated to see the resulting conversations. Much of the world will likely still require meat as an accessible source of nutrition. Developed countries may have vat-grown tissue, but I doubt poorer nations will. Those who abhor the practice will have to decide the morality of their own nation’s efforts (or lack there of) to supply reliable sources of food that are not steeped in an immoral practice. Will a meatless American society support the necessary increases in foreign aid to rid Africa or Asia of meat eating?Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m figuring that vat-grown meat is going to be a LOT less expensive than raising and slaughtering animals. Vat-grown will be a pure block of protein, and ready to serve in a couple months; animals take YEARS to mature to eating stage, and they have all kinds of inconvenient bones and organs to deal with. (People didn’t start eating hearts and tongue and liver pate because they liked it, they started eating those things because they didn’t want to let those calories go to waste!)

        It’s a common theme in sci-fi stories that “guaranteed real” meat is an expensive luxury item.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jim Heffman says:

          Good point, Jim. But the technology, I assume, is not cheap. So if we’re exporting vat meat and it is affordable, that could be a very high net good. But if we aren’t, for whatever reason, and are subsequently demonizing people for taking advantage of the only resources available to them… that’d be an interesting scenario.Report

          • Fnord in reply to Kazzy says:

            As of right now, vat-grown meat is expensive (and, in practice, not really available at all, of course). 500 years for now?

            Even failing that, well, Emancipation was a huge economic disruption for the American South. (I’d include a mandatory disclaimer about how exploitation of animals is not equivalent to the exploitation of humans, but starting fights is the point, right?)Report

          • James K in reply to Kazzy says:

            That raises an interesting issue.

            In a free global market, cheap, vat-grown meat would be exported from the countries that have a comparative advantage in producing it (i.e. wealthy countries that can afford the capital for it) to other countries that demand it. But, agriculture is a heavily protected industry, and I can easily see poor countries bocking trade of synthetic meat, both to protect their domestic industries and possibly due to some kind of religious objection.

            This could create significant economic and cultural conflict, where wealthy countries argue with poor ones over the trade of synthetic meat.Report

        • George Turner in reply to Jim Heffman says:

          I don’t think most meat would be more expensive than it is now (assuming population growth doesn’t create a massive supply and demand problem). You take cows and turn them loose in a field of grass. Not a lot of cost there.Report

        • Shazbot3 in reply to Jim Heffman says:

          They already have artificial meat that is grown in a can. It’s called Spam.Report

    • Just Me in reply to Fnord says:

      This reminds me of an Eureka episode, E = MC…?. As an experiment that will recreate the first moments of the origins of the universe, the “Big Bang”, goes terribly awry, the town’s geniuses turn into morons, leaving the fate of Eureka in the hands of Jack Carter and an antisocial young ubergenius, Zane Donovan. At first, it is believed that the Big Bang device is responsible, but Carter discovers that a new kind of chicken meat is responsible. The cloned meat contained a chemical that affected the brain chemistry of those who ate it. Zane, then, stops the Big Bang device from exploding. After a cure for the chicken is found, everyone returns from their “moron-mind” state. Oh the ironies that abound as technology and advancement complicate and sometimes harm or lives.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to Fnord says:

      Not sure about that one. A lot of the things done in the past that we find horrific now were the result of particular constructions of societies and economies that we now find abhorrent. Eating protein, though, that’s a biological necessity, and most protein is meat. Even if future societies develop artificial meat, they’ll recognize that we didn’t have it.

      If science, in future, finds out that common food animals are a lot more intelligent that we know at this point, then you could be right. And I can see modern methods of factory farming being condemned regardless, because they’re pretty systematically cruel. But nature was red in tooth and claw long before we showed up.Report

  5. zic says:

    Put stuff in plastic bags, called trash bags, and throw them into holes in the ground.

    But, and here’s the funny part, those holes in the ground filled with trash bags will be the single best source of information about how we live; not much different from cesspits and middens of yore. Because they won’t be able to read all the stuff stored in ‘clouds’ of electronic signal anymore then I can retrieve the music on my mom’s 8-track tapes.Report

    • Glyph in reply to zic says:

      “Because they won’t be able to read all the stuff stored in ‘clouds’ of electronic signal anymore then I can retrieve the music on my mom’s 8-track tapes.”

      Exactly. They are going to think we were all illiterate (“These doofuses didn’t even have a written language! There are no books, just all these little shiny glass/metal bricks with a pictogram of a half-eaten fruit on the back! What were these, religious talismans?”)Report

      • Lyle in reply to Glyph says:

        Actually as long as public domain source code for image readers exist, assuming folks still know how to program image files will be available. Note that we already have emulators, and in the future you may run emulators on emulators. For example if you run DosBox on a windows 8 machine you can run MS dos and Win 3.1 apps. That means that the issue will be storage media mainly. Note that many of the horror stories of past format issues involve proprietary formats that are not well documents. Note that 20 year old cds still read fine (just tried it). One would have to migrate the storage media as it evolves i.e copy from the old to the new. Then combine that with an emulator and off you go. Note for 8 tracks amazon still sells a player. In addition there are services that will take your 8 track tapes (if playable) and copy them to cds. (likewise for the old reel to reel tapes).
        Its just like you can still find 78 rpm phongraph players (which date back 70 years or more)

        Note that emulation has been around in the IBM mainframe community since the 360 in that one could get a 1401 emulator for the 360.
        Note that this does not say just stack up and forget, one does have to curate the media and at least for tapes spool back and forth, and keep track of storage tech changes. (Just like if you have any old 5.25 inch floppies there are services to copy them).
        So I suspect that as long as the media remains readable, someone will run a service to copy them over. Plus IMHO paper books wont go away, just become print on demand, after all if you want 500 years of storage in proper conditions nothing beats paper and ink (proven tech over 500 years).Report

        • Bob2 in reply to Lyle says:

          It’ll be a pain to read quite a number of old formats or figure out the password to get into locked files on those old formats. Future archaeologists needing to be experts in ancient computer formats lol.

          Reminds me of this from Roger Ebert’s story about love letters to his wife and back.
          ” I saved every one of her letters along with my own, and have them encrypted on my computer, locked inside a file where I can’t reach them because the program and the operating system are now 20 years out of date. But they’re in there. I’m not about to entrust them to anyone at the Apple Genius Counter.”Report

        • Kim in reply to Lyle says:

          20 year old cds read just fine. 5 year old ones? not so much. The old gold Sonys are wonderfully made.
          If you don’t test the DVDs when you make them, and throw out the ones with too many errors, you likely won’t have it in five years. (or tommorrow).
          I’ve got enough discs that are nearly unreadable, or actually unreadable.

          Parity is your friend.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Lyle says:

          Data conversion has become a thriving business. I only foresee a growing market for such services.Report

          • Lyle in reply to BlaiseP says:

            I agree its a thriving business, and for consumer oriented issues will remain . I just checked and services exist to even copy 8 inch floppies. The past examples such as one reported on today in recovering the data from the apollo surface experiments package, suffered in that items were not in consumer hands, thus a small market for the conversion services, Once something has gone consumer its a much larger market for conversion services. BTW one should be aware that depending on the kind of slide film one used color slides begin to degrade at 40 years (also depends on how often, and how long projected and how the slides where kept when not being projected). So while black and white prints will last for a very long time color does not have the same life time. I recently tried to digitize some purchased color slides from 1962 that were on eastman color film, and and to make them into black and white as the colors had faded away. So its not just digital data that need taking care of.Report

        • Barry in reply to Lyle says:

          Yes, and with written documents almost all are lost unless carefully maintained.Report

        • LWA in reply to Lyle says:

          Re: emulation and reading of old media;

          We always think that technology runs in a smooth upward arc, of improvements upon improvements. And in the long arc of time it does, more or less.

          But within smaller spans of time it doesn’t- the artistic mastery of the Classical age was literally forgotten after the fall of Rome- the knowledge of how to do things like carve realistic figures was slowly lost, in part because succeeding cultures didn’t think it was important enough to study.

          I can easily imagine a future in which the reading of our technology isn’t considered worthy of the time and effort it takes to do it.

          They might have LPs, CDs, and a dozen different types of digital storage, but they may consider our culture immoral/ dangerous/ backwards and either ignore it or actively suppress it.

          I can imagine a future version of the Taliban/ Khmer Rouge/Texas School Board* achieving a victory total enough to wipe out the vast majority of what is recorded today.

          *Sorry. Couldn’t resist.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to zic says:


      As a former archaeologist I think about this one constantly. I think about how much they are going to be able to learn about our biology from DNA samples in sealed water bottles we threw in the garbage.

      I also lament the end of written correspondance on paper. That will make things tough for future historians.


      • Yep. I used to have this as a luncheon debate with our corporate librarian. She maintained, and convinced me, that 150 years from now the source material for historians will still be pigment-based ink on acid-free paper, which will give them a rather biased view of this period. She suggested writing your memoirs and sending a print-on-demand copy to your alma mater’s library. The latter seems less reliable than it used to be, given the enthusiasm with which libraries are taking on the task of digitizing everything. They might just scan your book and toss the original, rather than sticking it in the stacks, which sort of defeats the entire thing.Report

        • All that said, for the 500-year period there would seem to be one of two states. Either paper has disappeared (and the remaining attitude is “You cut down a bazillion acres of trees every year to do what?” Or the paper version of history books includes things like, “Our ancestors had something called electronics that used electricity to record pictures and text.” Depending on which of the several sides of the peak fossil fuel debate you’re on.Report

          • zic in reply to Michael Cain says:

            You brought this NPR World story to mind, People of Timbuktu Save Manuscripts from Invaders.

            I believe they store old movie reels in old salt mines to preserve them.

            Lack of humidity or stone seems key. And watchful protectors, horders. But if there aren’t enough horders, the stored information takes on relic or totemic status. I am not convinced we should be worshipped; the jury of jellyfish and cockroaches is still out on that.Report

      • zic in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        So please don your ancient sorting hat, and predict: what will they think of Happy Meal™ toys in that for off and distant future? Poland Spring Water™ bottles?Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Archaeologists 500 years from now are going to be peeved at the people 100 years from now that used nanotech to strip mine everything out of every landfill created in the 20th and 21st centuries.Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    Football, and similar sports, though those are kinda sorta controversial now.

    I could see the doing of manual labor being viewed as some sort of oppression. We might have a “War on Labor” in the way we now have a “War on Poverty”, based on the belief that no one should suffer in such ways. With robots likely doing a far greater supply of work, this seems possible.Report

  7. I don’t know about eating meat per se, but industrial meat farms deserve our contempt and shame now, to say nothing of the judgments of people 500 years hence.Report

  8. Lab Rat says:

    Our carelessness with antibiotics. There are already totally drug resistant strains of TB evolving in Africa and totally drug resistant Gonorrhea in the US. Some previously manageable pathogen will cause a epidemic or pandemic and change the way we view medicine.Report

  9. Nob Akimoto says:

    Planned obsolescence and casual disposal of electronics.

    As a result of aware or at least learning machines that would have very long shelf-lives and some sense of personality, the notion of simply tossing your computer after 18 months will seem strange and even inhumane.Report

    • Chris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      I can’t imagine planned obsolescence going away without a serious slow-down in the rate of technological progress, or better, a massive change to our economic system.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Chris says:

        I always found it somewhat odd how even in super advanced TNG era Star Trek that the ship’s computer was treated like a disposable appliance. Particularly when they started adding biological bits.Report

        • zic in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Wasn’t there an episode where it basically gave birth? Picard theorizes that they — the crew — influenced it, so it must be relatively benign, having their goodness.

          All kinds of shiz went down in those cargo bays.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      “Planned obsolescence and casual disposal of electronics.”

      Hey, nobody forced you to stop using your Palm Pilot. It’s sort of like riding around today in a Nash Rambler, but it still does everything it did back when you bought it.Report

  10. Sam Levine says:

    Democracy as we currently understand it (two wolves and a sheep deciding on what’s for dinner) will be the most offensive thing we do to future generations. It’s not so much that we’re screwing up things, it’s that we’re doing it in the name of freedom that will grind their gears.Report

  11. Maribou says:

    Allowing things to happen on a large scale while simultaneously condemning the hell out of them.

    “At least in the Middle Ages, they didn’t REALIZE X was so wrong. Those 21st century people KNEW… and it still took them 200 years to fix it!!!”

    I think we’re doing everything we can about all the stuff we hate – but whichever of those hates stick around, the future people will disagree.Report

  12. Tod Kelly says:

    I’m going to go with chemotherapy. I believe in 500 years people will look back in horror at the idea that we slowly poisoned people in order to cure them. They will look at chemotherapy like we look at leeches and bloodletting today.Report

    • Gotta quibble with this one, my friend.

      I don’t know of a single oncologist who wouldn’t gladly throw out every single bag of vinblastine and doxorubicin if they could. I took your question to imply an element of moral failure, not mere technological or scientific limitation. Chemo is used because it remains the only possibly effective treatment for a great many cancer patients, though there are a lot of promising alternatives being researched. While I agree that future generations will be glad we’ve found a much less toxic treatment for cancer, I don’t think we’ll face their judgement for doing the best we could, in so doing curing a lot of people (unlike, say, bloodletting).Report

      • Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Russell Saunders says:


        My mom-in-law was saved from lung surgery (and possible death) by chemo and radiation. There may be advances, but this is hardly a moral dilemma.Report

      • But wasn’t bloodletting doing the best we could, in a lot of cases? And don’t (most) people still judge bloodletting harshly?Report

        • Ryan Noonan in reply to Maribou says:

          My understanding is that bloodletting was almost never actually a treatment for anything. It was just a totally unscientific mistake. Unless chemo turns out to have been basically worthless, which seems really unlikely, it’s not a great analogy.Report

          • Yeah. Bloodletting was based on the humours system of bodily health, and while there might have been minor symptomatic improvements after bloodletting (say slightly lower blood pressure for a while) it was basically worthless, yes.Report

          • What Ryan said. Chemo may be horribly toxic, but for a high-enough percentage of cancer patients it puts them into remission and makes it worth the toxicity. That makes it a morally sound intervention to offer.

            Bloodletting did nobody any good. It was a barbaric intervention from a backwards time. I don’t necessarily “fault” practitioners, but I would put them in a very different category than oncologists.Report

    • MikeSchilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Likewise surgery. Advanced medical techniques (e.g. nanobots that continuously clean arteries, or detect and remove pre-cancerous tissue) are going to make cutting people open seem as primitive as leeching them.Report

  13. Burt Likko says:

    Nationalism. In half a millenium, the nation-state will have been supplanted by a different kind of polity, motivated in some fashion more by economics and self-identification than geography. It wasn’t that long ago in historical terms that political loyalty was owed to individual people, rather than to the political entities that those people control.

    What will it be like? Maybe it’ll be like The Diamond Age in which people self-affiliate into cultural clusters which enjoy varying degrees of economic success and establish relatively mobile areas of overt control. Or maybe it’ll be like Max Headroom with something resembling corporate feudalism. Seems more likey to me that what exists now will morph and transform rather than being violently supplanted; only in retrospect will historians realize that individual identification with nation-states will have been supplanted by individual identification with their successors.

    Oh, don’t worry, our descendants will find plenty of other reasons to kill one another. But the notion that people ought to kill one another because they identify with a particular pattern of colors associated with a particular geographic area will be thought silly and antiquated, if not barbaric.Report

  14. Mike Dwyer says:

    Zoos – no explanation needed.Report

  15. BlaiseP says:

    Some things won’t have changed very much. Machiavelli wrote The Prince about 500 years ago. That part of human nature will still be with us and it will continue to be taught.

    Paracelsus, the creator of laudanum and a good deal of what we’d call modern pharmacology begins his studies at Ferrara. He still held with astrology but he got alchemy out of the gold and silver business. Perhaps in five hundred years, we could get pharmacology out of the gold and silver business.

    Erasmus is writing about this time. His little Latin exercises, the Colloquies, are the best of their type, giving us gentle and often hilarious insight into the people of the time. It is a Piece of Civility to salute those that come in your Way; either such as come to us, or those that we go to speak with. And in like Manner such as are about any Sort of Work, either at Supper, or that yawn, or hiccop, or sneeze, or cough. But it is the Part of a Man that is civil even to an Extreme, to salute one that belches, or breaks Wind backward. But he is uncivilly civil that salutes one that is making Water, or easing Nature.

    The printing press was 74 years old when Erasmus and Machiavelli were writing. Draw a straight line from Erasmus to Voltaire, that’s about 250 years. From Voltaire to today is another 250 years. What with Internet Immortality preserving our every obtuse comment, we know what they’ll be studying in 500 years. Us.Report

    • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

      “Perhaps in five hundred years, we could get pharmacology out of the gold and silver business.”

      Why? What alternative model of selection are you suggesting (other than using profit as an indication of consumer demand?)Report

    • NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I have to agree people are largely talking about stuff that has been around for thousands of years. Sometimes millions of years. Some of it just might be hardwired.Report

  16. NewDealer says:

    This is a fascinating and difficult question.

    First the question assumes a constant progress and that we will always be evolving technologically, morally, and ethically.

    Is this likely? Or is it just as plausible that 500 years from now society will be less technologically, morally, ethically advanced because of war and other disasters? A Canticle for Leibowitz if you will?

    I am not saying that one is more likely than the other. But reversion is always a possibility. After all, Rome was followed by the Dark Ages. We have been pretty good with development and always moving forward for several centuries but there is no guarantee that this will always be true.

    It is also hard to answer these questions without it becoming wish fulfillment. It is too easy for the atheist to say “in 500 years, all religion will be considered immoral.” I am agnostic leaning to atheism on whether God exists or not but some religions have been around for thousands of years if not more, who is to say they will disappear in 500 years.

    This is merely to say perhaps the 27th century will look to the 21st century like the Renaissance looked to Ancient Greece and Rome, we will be a source of light perhaps. Maybe they will say “The United States Constitution looks really good.” “Due Process is amazing”, “These people thought homosexuality was perfectly normal and acceptable”, “Look at the medicine they had”.

    Just throwing my fist into the bar fight.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to NewDealer says:

      You know, this is a very interesting point. And it might be regionalized. The Muslim world looks back on the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with a nostalgia for past glories that seems reminiscent of what medieval Europeans must have thought of Rome.

      So in 2513, it may well be people living in North America may feel similarly nostalgic after hearing stories of the fallen colossus that was the United States of America, and the Chinese or Indian or Indonesian or Brazilian citizens who are effectively masters of the world may find that attitude of their American counterparts simultaneously quaint and subversive.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

        The regionalization aspect is not one that I thought of but an interesting point.

        I was thinking of a more global catastrophe that renders all technology and current ways of life moot. Perhaps we will go back to ships with sails to get around the world and then discover blueprints on how to make an airplane. Maybe everything will be more regionalized and people will travel less far.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to NewDealer says:

      After all, Rome was followed by the Dark Ages.

      Only in western Europe. Byzantium and the Sassanids followed by the Caliphates of the Umayyads and Abbasids continued to advance.

      Of course then came the Mongols and drove nearly everyone back to the stone age.

      I do wonder what the new Mongols would be.Report

    • Mopey Duns in reply to NewDealer says:

      I am with ND.

      We aren’t doing badly, but all the answers so far presume that the future in 500 years will be like us, only more so…more concerned about the environment, electronics, etc.

      It is the basic sci-fi error, and will probably look just as silly in 50 years, let alone 500, as the idea that class divisions would persist until we all evolved into Eloi or Morlocks.

      For one thing, I bet that there won’t be a consensus on ‘us’, whoever us consists of (humanity as a whole in the 21st century? Westerners? Americans?), since the concerns that motivate people will still vary from place to place. I honestly doubt that whoever evaluates us will speak English, for one thing.

      I bet that at least one group, however, will be horrified by our willful frivolity.Report

      • This. 500 years is too long to guess at technology. 100 years is almost too long. Futurists in 1912 missed some really big things: nuclear stuff, solid-state electronics, the notion of thousands of different molecules for treating disease and other medical disorders. OTOH, someone from 1512 would recognize a lot of our society “in the small”: parents raising kids, groups of players presenting stories for entertainment, singing, dancing, church, fear of the tax collectors, arguments over a pint of beer. Trying to look even 100 years out, we’ll miss critical pieces of technology. But I’d be willing to bet that no matter what changes technology may create, the “in the small” social life 500 years from now will still be recognizable.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain says:

          People are people in any age.

          We are born. We live, love, suffer, laugh, learn, work, eat, drink, etc.

          The consistency of the Human Experience in all of its joy and sorrow is the genius of being human. It connects us to the past and the future. We can still read Plato and find meaning and value. We are just as moved by a work of art that is centuries or thousands of years old as an artist’s contemporaries. 500 years from now, people might still love Richard Serra sculpture or Speilberg movies.

          Perhaps Walt Whitman said it best:

          “Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me!
          On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose;
          And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.”

          -Crossing Brooklyn FerryReport

    • Simon Kinahan in reply to NewDealer says:

      Its debatable whether the “Dark Ages” represented a regression at all relative to Rome. Technological progress actually did continue, but continued in a different direction. Iron ploughs and non-strangling horse bridles opened up Northern Europe – which for the Romans was a basically an uninhabitable swamp full of barbarians – to be the most fertile land available. This accounts in large part of the temporary disappearance of large cities, and the parallel disappearance of the things that go on in large cities – academia, architecture, sodomy, etc.

      Similarly, ethically the “barbarians” closed down the Roman amphitheatres and only partly for economic reasons. By the end of the “dark” ages, they’d largely done away with human sacrifice for religious reasons and with chattel slavery.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Simon Kinahan says:

        Good points but it was largely the end of learning from Grecco-Roman sources for most people and growing intolerance for Jews during the early Christian Church.

        The Romans had lots of faults but they did try really hard to run an Empire with cultural diversity and some variant of equality among different cultures. At least this is my lay (and possibly very wrong) understanding.Report

        • Simon Kinahan in reply to NewDealer says:

          Emperor Vespasian is largely to blame for antisemitism. The church just inherited it from the Romans.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Simon Kinahan says:

            Well there goes me blamming Paul the Trator aka Saul of TarsusReport

            • Simon Kinahan in reply to NewDealer says:

              How would you blame Paul? He was Jewish, after all. He did convert a lot of gentiles and thereby created Christianity as a distinctly different thing from Judaism where previously it was probably just another messianic Jewish cult, but other than that he seems largely blameless for Christian anti-semitism. I’m happy to blame him for virtually everything else bad about Christianity mind you …

              Vespasian happened to be declared Emperor by his legions while his son and heir was laying siege to Jerusalem. Having beaten the other claimants to the title at the time, he needed an enemy to unify the Empire, and it just happened that the Jews were convenient. They were monotheists, which was dodgy, and they’d just rebelled, which for the Romans was just about the worst thing, and he’d beaten them, and they weren’t politically very powerful. What’s not to like?Report

  17. Creon Critic says:

    Inequality. Millions die of preventable disease and millions more are left to the tender mercies of capitalism while a small group live better than Bourbon kings.Report

    • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Which form of inequality? Equality of outcome or equality of opportunity?

      And considering people have different goals, capabilities and levels of effort, how do you propose we control for the natural conflict between the two concepts of equality?

      And if luxury goods provide jobs for the less advantaged, are they still inherently bad?Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to Roger says:

        I’d say both inequality of outcome and opportunity both would be of concern. Some outcomes should be guaranteed: food, shelter, clothing, health care… The outcome in mind is human dignity irrespective of the variables you mention (varying effort, different goals, etc.).

        And if luxury goods provide jobs for the less advantaged, are they still inherently bad?

        I wave a magic wand and you suddenly have about $20 billion. You also happen to live in a country that has serious poverty problems – half the children under 5 years old are underweight, that kind of poverty. Do you elect to build a $1-2 billion residence for yourself and four relatives? Say the residence will have a full time staff of 600 people and the proposed residence will employ a number of craftsmen, architects, etc. during the course of construction. Still worth $1-2 billion?

        Now, suppose you do decide that yes, a $1-2 billion residence is the kind of thing that you need in your life, “the rich are different”, and all that. Is that decision worthy of praise or criticism from the larger society? Is this the sort of behavior we should encourage – assuming societal approval or disapproval has an impact – amongst the uberwealthy?Report

        • Major Zed in reply to Creon Critic says:

          In 500 years the poor will be characterized as those whose starships can only go 90% of the speed of light, giving the well-to-do, whose starships can go 99% of the speed of light, an unconscionable – unconscionable I say – three times advantage in time dilation effects.Report

        • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

          Thanks Creon,

          My guess is that an 18th C humanitarian would say modern societies have long since gone beyond their dreams of lifestyle for the poor. Assuming continued economic progress (no guarantee) then we get to Zed’s point in the future.

          My concern of course is that there is a conflict between inequality of opportunity and outcome, and to achieve both we need some institutional, moral, or technological breakthrough, and I am interested in hearing what these breakthroughs would be from those projecting it upon the future.

          At a minimum, there will never be equal outcomes long term among people with different time horizons or discount functions. * Aka ants and grasshoppers.

          On the luxury goods argument, I would just offer that most of us on this site are morally equivalent to the billionaire. We waste money on newer cars, and better electronic gadgets, and better weddings for our daughters rather than transfer funds to starving kids with disabilities in Africa. We are your billionaires.

          * though virtual reality could eliminate this dilemma, and is very, very promising.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Roger says:

            The most surprising things to the 18th century would be our food and our medicine. Both are incomparably better for all people in society, of whatever social stratum. Even comparing elites then to ordinary people today, we still win.

            Louis XV had nothing but quack doctors attending him; those were the only kind on offer. Literally no one knew anything at all about the origins of most diseases, and Voltaire was quite right when he quipped that a doctor was someone who at best amused you while nature took its course.

            I mean, I have zero medical training, and I’d make a better doctor than anyone then alive, because I’d know that (a) it’s bad to bleed people when they’re sick; (b) mercury, lead, and arsenic are useless as medicines; and (c) it’s good to wash your hands before examining anyone.

            The surgery stuff? I could totally wing the minor surgeries they sometimes did and still probably do less harm overall. If, of course, they’d allow me. Of course I doubt they would, as bloodletting was virtually synonymous with medicine at the time, and I would never prescribe it.

            As to the king’s food, the typical lower-middle-class person today has more options, of better quality, and at a lower price point than the king himself. The few things he might claim over us (truffles, wild game, a few other odds and ends) are well-compensated for today by the vastly greater wholesomeness of our own food.Report

            • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Most of the ‘medicine’ practiced in the 18th century wasn’t done by doctors; it was done by women, using what we’d call home remedies today. Some were actually pretty sound, the basis of modern treatments — digitalis for heart conditions, for instance. Women treated colds, infections, any other number of ailments quite successfully. And spectacularly unsuccessfully, too. They attended births.

              There was also a whole branch of medicine practiced by non-doctors — by barbers and butchers; the extraction of infected teeth, etc.

              But all in all, I agree; in America, even those who live in poverty tend to live better then kings of yore. Just imagine the value of a set of machine-milled cutlery to the king’s household. The luxury of the Kohl’s $50 cashmere sweater. The wonder of a pair of SmartWool socks. The warmth of a pair of cheap snowmobile boots with felt liners. These are small things, things we take for granted. But not too long ago, such items would have been signs of great prestige and wealth.Report

              • Roger in reply to zic says:

                Yeah, just the thought of dentistry is enough to convince me that it is better to be poor today than an aristocrat then. The dentist’s tools: string and a hammer.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to zic says:

                My sense is that outside of midwifery a lot of this has been oversold, albeit by people trying to make a well-intentioned feminist point.

                Digitalis isn’t something one takes lightly, as it can easily cause death all by itself.

                Women though were certainly better at reproductive medicine, and for quite a while, men left it entirely to them. Birth control and abortion included. It was unhealthy, you see, not to have one’s menstrual period, and there were treatments one could take to induce it…Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to zic says:

                I’ve read quite a bit of early modern medical history, thanks. Doctors were generally for the upper class, while folk practitioners treated commoners. If the folk practitioners were really any good at all, the upper-class doctors would have been displaced. They weren’t. Rather the opposite happened — and well before the doctors were any good at medicine themselves.Report

              • Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                There are quite a few reasons why one group of people displaces another, in terms of the economy. One is quality, but it’s far from the only one.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                That’s true. The one thing we do know about early medicine, its efficacy varied widely and had specialities. Some cultures had some superb scientists and physicians who passed on their knowledge. In ancient Egypt, there’s one such scientist who was actually promoted to a god: Imhotep. We know he actually existed. Apparently he was some sort of Leonardo da Vinci figure: he was an architect, too.

                Imhotep got the spirituality out of the practice of Egyptian medicine. Once any culture has made that step, science can begin in earnest.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

                “…in America, even those who live in poverty tend to live better then kings of yore…”

                I always think of this when I visit Newport, a favorite trip for Zazzy and I. Not only was the culture highly restrictive and demanding in a way that I’d find maddening (7 outfit changes a day!), but their lives of luxury would be considered destitute nowadays. Unreliable electricity, if any at all… no refrigeration… I don’t care how much gold leaf you have on your ceiling… I’d rather have modern amenities.Report

            • Bob2 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Interestingly enough, you could actually go back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s and still be a better doctor than most of them, though they had advanced enough via Joseph Lister at a certain point to discover the usefulness of carbolic acid as an antiseptic in surgery. Not to say usage of his techniques were widespread…they weren’t.

              Most of our doctors were quacks well into the 1900’s, and much of what we know as modern medicine didn’t even start getting standardized til the last century. A lot of people just became doctors because it was easy to get a degree that said you were one, and didn’t know the first thing about medicine really.

              But yeah, most of what we know as modern Western medicine is less than 100 years old. Not always the most comforting thought.Report

          • Creon Critic in reply to Roger says:

            Considering the question some more I think I’d put it another way that might get wider agreement. The EU, US, and Japan spend billions on farm subsidies. IIRC there are 2 billion people living on less than $2 and there are cows in Japan that get more than that in daily subsidies. That would be one area where I could see college classes 500 years hence wondering about how we justified the institutional arrangements that permit that.

            As for where we lay on the spectrum, I have a great deal of difficulty identifying with the billionaire and his $1-2 billion residence. I resist the idea that my ipod is even nearly morally equivalent to a billion dollar 40 story tall residence for 5 in a developing country. For one, I’m guessing most people here work for a living. In contrast, the billionaire could literally stop working this instant and have tidal waves of money for the rest of his life and the lives of his great grandchildren. Also, your and my half millionth dollar do not in any way, shape, or form compare to the billionaires 20 billionth dollar. The amount of good we could do with 5% of your and my net worth pales in comparison to what 5% of the billionaire’s net worth can do, with little to no appreciable harm to the billionaire’s lifestyle btw. So yes, I’d post some serious questions about how undertaxed the wealthy are when they set about spending sums on projects of that nature.

            As for policy, some steps that come to mind, a financial transactions tax, coordinated attention to thwarting tax havens’ use and abuse (both by high net worth individuals and multinational companies), and lots more humanitarian assistance (combating orphan diseases comes to mind as you mentioned health care). Not to knock individual giving but whether or not you and I individually forego new cars and ipods, interventions on the billion dollar and up scale would be needed to effectively redress some of these inequalities.Report

            • Jim Heffman in reply to Creon Critic says:

              So you’re primarily motivated by jealousy. Got it.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jim Heffman says:

                Play nice in this thread, please.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jim Heffman says:

                I wouldn’t say jealousy, but it does seem to assume that if someone isn’t using their talents enough to help out others–even if they’re very clearly not harming others–we are morally justified in forcing them to do so.

                I find that very problematic.

                I’m a lousy swimmer, so if you’re drowning and I don’t jump into help, I think most people would excuse me. But if an Olympic swimmer with lifeguard training didn’t….what then? I can see wondering what kind of person he was that he didn’t use his talents to help, but would we be justified in forcing him to help?

                And that’s setting aside the very real possibility that the billionaire, just through the business activities that made him rich, may already have helped the wealth development of more people than I’ll ever be able to help. How do we define the line between “yes, you’ve helped far more than me, and Joe, and ….. Jane all put together, but you haven’t helped as much as you ought to have,” and “thank you, you’ve done enough.”Report

              • I recall a brief discussion with Jaybird over harm a while back. I think libertarians in general want to highlight the idea of the state not doing harm, non-coercion and such. I’d tend towards a communitarian outlook that highlights both the rights of the individual as well as the responsibilities to the community. I don’t see so much wrong with the community asking some pretty tough questions of the unhelpful Olympic swimmer. Or put it this way, I’m comfortable with the idea of a pretty generalized duty to rescue. From the perspective of the drowning person, the Olympic swimmer is a jerk isn’t he?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic says:

                This sort of thing points out the fundamental flaw in Luck Egalitarianism, if you ask me.

                But I digress.Report

              • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

                I concur with the rest of us placing a duty or obligation of rescue on an Olympic swimmer. They should be ashamed, and I would loathe them for watching a child drown. I think social pressure is a healthy part of a good society. I think we should experiment with institutional solutions to shame greedy rich people to help more.

                I have a front page post I want to write on this very topic, called Philanthropy plates.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

                You must recall, Roger, that when I suggested how to be more helpful — without even proposing any shame — one would think I’d swatted a hornet’s nest.

                You are a braver man than I.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m willing to engage in the shaming and ostracization of rich people by never hanging out with them.

                Hell, I’ve been doing it my whole life.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Do I get to admire Bill Gates for trying to end malaria [1] instead of buying an island?

                1. If only he’d had the same attitude about malware.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Do you get to? Who’s going to stop you?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                You know, all the people who’ll tell me that if fighting malaria were of any real benefit to mankind, there’d be money in it.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Oh, them.

                Who are they, again?Report

              • Major Zed in reply to James Hanley says:

                The ones selling DDT before it was banned.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley says:

                And that’s setting aside the very real possibility that the billionaire, just through the business activities that made him rich, may already have helped the wealth development of more people than I’ll ever be able to help.

                And also the fact that billionaires are doing quite a bit of good just by reinvesting their returns.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Which reminds me…

                Someone above mentioned a 40 story residence for a single family in a developing countries.

                I wonder how many families the building of that residence fed?Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley says:

                This feels a bit broken-windowy to me. You could make a Keynesian argument that it would help during a period of high unemployment, but otherwise it’s just diverting resources away from other uses.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s the same, since the issue is our concern about what the rich man does for others, what good he is doing with his money.

                Of course any choice of spending/investment diverts that money from some possible target toward another, but if the guy buys a ski chalet in Aspen from another rich guy, he’s not doing as much for poor people as if he puts laborers in the developing country to work building a ridiculously huge residence.

                And it seems to me that by hiring labor to build the ridiculously huge residence he does fully as much good for others as if he had decided to forgo the residence and give the money to charity. (Not that I’m saying building the residence is somehow better–just that a priori either target of his spending seems to do a lot of good for other people, so “good done for others” doesn’t seem to provide much purchase for critiquing his choice, whichever it was.)Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                If he really cared about helping poor people, he’d build a sweatshop.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Have you seen working conditions for third world construction workers?Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                “If he really cared about helping poor people, he’d build a sweatshop.”

                In 500 years these sweatshop builders will be called “saints.”.

                Once we were poor, then Saint Nike came to our aid.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                It’s the martyrs who are called saints, not the the people who martyr them.Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                Giving someone a job is after all synonymous with martyring in your play book, no?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Immolating them is. I think that’s pretty standard.Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                Immolation requires either intention or omniscience, including omniscience of the future. Which are you suggesting these Saints are guilty of? Are they trying to burn their employees, or are they omniscient that dollars spent on fire safety will be better spent than dollars on something else?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                It’s wholly predictable that lack of fire exits will lead to deaths is a fire.Report

              • LWA in reply to James Hanley says:

                Actually Roger is correct here-
                Working in a sweatshop IS in fact preferable to not working at all.

                Just as confiscating all the wealth of the 1% is preferable to not being able to construct roads and bridges.

                Because those are our only two choices, right?Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:


                “Actually Roger is correct here-
                Working in a sweatshop IS in fact preferable to not working at all…
                Because those are our only two choices, right?”

                I don’t think anything in my argument depends in any way shape or form on there being an oversimplification down to an either or choice.Report

              • LWA in reply to James Hanley says:

                “And that’s setting aside the very real possibility that the billionaire, just through the business activities that made him rich, may already have helped the wealth development of more people than I’ll ever be able to help”

                As good a time as any to toss out the “You didn’t build that” argument.

                What exactly is the billionaire doing, that doesn’t require the public’s assistance, partnership, and cooperation? Why don’t we get any of the credit for the job creation and wealth building? Why aren’t we entitled to payment for services rendered?Report

              • Roger in reply to LWA says:

                Who the heck is this “we” exactly?

                Last I checked his teachers got paid. His county clerk got paid. The guy that repairs roads got paid. The employees got paid. The investors got their piece. The consumers got their goodies.

                I’m not sure exactly where this residual claim pops up from? Could you explain?Report

              • LWA in reply to Roger says:

                The investor creates wealth, only with the cooperation of others.
                Not just those who get directly paid, like his employees and vendors, but others more indirectly.

                I am working for a group of investors at this very moment, who are having me design an apartment buildingin downtown Los Angeles.
                They could have chosen any investment opportunity anywhere. They could have chosen any building site anywhere- Mississippi, the high deserts of Nevada, the vast unregulated untaxed expanses of RedState, USA.

                But they deliberately and consciously chose the highly taxed, highly regulated city of Los Angeles. Why?

                Because, in their words, it has a very dense concentration of highly paid young professionals, with disposable income; the project is situated near mass transit, freeways, a convention center, colleges;
                The building site is equipped with all the infrastructure that a modern building needs- sewer, water, clean streets, fire and police protection, etc.

                The previous owner had held the property and used it only for a parking lot- investing nearly nothing.

                But my investors paid a steep price for the land- the marketplace rewarded the previous owner, who contributed nothing, yet reaped the benefits of the economic progress and civil society that others had created.

                So why shouldn’t the previous owner pay a percentage of his capital gains back to the very society that did so much to create his wealth? Lets say, something like, oh, 28% of his capital gains? Why is that unfair?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                That’s a pretty fair point!Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

                the marketplace rewarded the previous owner, who contributed nothing, yet reaped the benefits of the economic progress and civil society that others had created.

                Really? How do you know the previous owner contributed nothing to economic progress and civil society? And who are these “others”? More folks who, as individuals you’ll never give any credit to?

                It’s always “others” who contributed to what “Joe Businessman” is benefiting from, but Joe Businessman never gets credit for contributing to what they’re benefiting from. That makes no sense, and it seems to me that it comes from the difficulty of tracing the benefits of economic progress from individual to individual, so there’s a tendency to fall back on the easy vagueness of “others.” But every single one of those “others” is an individual.Report

              • LWA in reply to Roger says:

                The previous owner had constructed only an asphalt parking lot.

                According to a highest and best use analysis, this usage of the property contributed only a tiny fraction of the economic benefit and tax revenue that a dense apartment building would have.

                So it is completely fair to say that the previous owner had contributed no (economic benefit of this property) to society.

                We can’t identify the “others”- thats my point!

                The vast population of educated young professionals, with their disposable income, were the product of literally millions of others- their parents, their teachers; the efficient city infrastructure of utilities and transportation were the creation of civic leaders, civil servants, private sectors businesses, and taxpayers.

                This marketplace which will bring benefit to my clients was created by all of society; and society (meaning the taxpayers) have every right to demand payment in the form of taxes for the wealth we have created.

                Joe Businessman DOES get credit- like, about 100%-28%=72% of the credit in the form of cold hard cash. He has no reason to complain.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                I invested in a parking lot in Detroit. Who can I bill for the loss I took on it?Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Are you saying that this is what you guys mean by “you didn’t build that”? That we can solve the problem by taxing long term capital gains on unimproved assets?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:


                I am at a loss, if you think parking lots contribute nothing to society, and if you continue to think the inability to precisely identify those “other” individuals logically allows you to deny the contribution of any particular individual.

                Yeah, we’ve all benefited from others-that’s the economic web. But we’ve benefited from the actions of individual others. I have an education not just because of student loans, but because of the businesses that hired me while I was in school, the people who wrote the books I read, and made the car I commuted in, the pens and paper I took notes with, and the coffee shop I studied in. They contributed to me in non-public funding ways. And I continue to contribute to the next generation in non-public funding ways. This occurs at the individual, not group, level.

                There is such a radical anti-logic at work in your response that my mind boggles. The most generous interpretation I’m able to make is that your preference for group over individual actively blinds you to the reality of individuals and their contributions. I find that weird because obviously you are one of those contributors. At any rate I am reminded why I stopped engaging you–not out of dislike, but because it seems futile. Folks who focus on the decisions of individuals and folks who focus on the group level just can’t really have meaningful discussions most of the time. So I’m checking out now, after feeling like I went down the rabbit hole, but there’s no hard feelings.Report

              • Reduced farm subsidies, increased humanitarian assistance, a Tobin tax, and multilateral action against tax havens, policy prescriptions all rooted in jealousy. Exactly.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Creon Critic says:

                Hey, we libertarians are so anti jealousy-based policies that we’ve done an about face and are now for farm subsidies!Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                I prefer charitable giving to sentient vegetablesReport

            • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:


              Seems like we are only talking about a matter of degree. You or I could probably only save or enrich a few hundred or thousand lives. I fail to see how the argument improves much once we grasp that even a single life can be saved by us giving up some silly luxuries.

              Today I paid some repairman a hundred bucks to fix the recliner mechanism on one of my chairs. I COULD have saved several kids from death by malaria.

              I am no better than your billionaire. Indeed to the extent he gained his wealth by producing things of value for others, he is empirically superior to me. He helped humanity more than I did.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                And to the extent that he has impoverished others, he is to be deplored.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                If someone pays me a dollar for something, it means it was worth more than a dollar to them. If you repeat this process a billion times it is still true. The difference between a billionaire and us in a relatively free market is they added more value to others than we did.

                Profit measures success in adjusting production activities to the demands and needs of consumers. It is the feedback of the economic system that generates the wealth you and I and seven billion other people depend upon. Eliminating billionaires requires diluting the feedback. It will make us substantially worse off than what we have now.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                You believe in the average billionaire’s honesty more than I do. I daresay the current crop is more along my line of thinking than yours. Wake up, this isn’t the 70’s anymore.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kim says:

                Bill Gates is history’s greatest monster.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Kim says:

                Look up Charles Wang sometime.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kim says:

                Imagine if a guy like Wang got his hands on the reins of government. The real value of the market may be giving people like him a less dangerous outlet for his psychopathic behavior.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Kim says:

                The best outlet for obscenely wealthy psychopaths is owning a professional sports franchise.Report

              • Creon Critic in reply to Roger says:


                to the extent he gained his wealth by producing things of value for others, he is empirically superior to me. He helped humanity more than I did.

                The extent to which an individual helps humanity is to be judged by one’s bank balance? So how successful one is at capitalism has 1:1 correspondence to how much one has helped humanity? Max Weber would have a field day with this, protestant ethic, Calvinism, and all that. I’d suggest that no, money does not signify helpfulness to humanity. Otherwise the ICRC would be an awful lot wealthier and Paris Hilton would be an awful lot poorer. I mean really, every instance of buying low and selling as a humanitarian moment, what an undeserved elevation of capitalist exchange into an ethos containing so much more than its rather pedestrian meaning.

                On to assessing our moral character for day to day luxuries. As you point out, if we ignore differences in degree (which I’d still contend are significant), then yes as residents of the first world with disposable incomes not spent on helping others we are somewhere nearer on the spectrum to the billionaire. I don’t think that’s something to celebrate, probably good reason why future college classes will tut tut at us.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Creon Critic says:


                I think Roger’s “to the extent that” isn’t well represented by “1:1 correspondence.”Report

              • Roger in reply to Creon Critic says:


                You quoted me carefully and then immediately redefined the argument around “one’s bank balance.” I of course agree that a person can get a bank balance in ways other than voluntary exchange for higher utility. There is no point in “going there”.

                My point also has nothing to do with the Protestant work ethic. It has to do with the inherent dynamic of voluntary economic transactions. In general, profit within a reasonably free market is a feedback mechanism that indicates our productive efforts were effective. Someone was able to oversee a process to transform resources into something of value to a consumer. When I pay $100 to fix my recliner, it is because I believe the repair is worth more to me than the C note, and it means that to the repair company, the inverse is true. We both gain by the transaction. It is a net gain for all parties directly involved. Oversimplifying, this is where economic growth comes from.

                All I am saying is that wealth acquired via free market interactions generally represents positive sum interactions of this type. All else equal, someone who was able to sell a hundred million value added services such as my furniture repair, has added more value than someone who did zero repairs, or ten or a hundred.

                Where I am going is that the demonization of profit or big profit is in effect also a demonization of large utility increases brought about via free markets. This is viewed as very dangerous and destructive by libertarians.

                Yes, when an entrepreneur figures out a new way to produce or buy low and sell high, she has made the world a better place (with exceptions that lead us astray). She has created value for humanity, and profit (and its inversee loss) is the incentive and feedback mechanism that directs this process.

                Note that charity and science are totally different systems which can also add value to humanity (and which ALSO can sometimes misfire). When we argue for free markets, we are not arguing against other institutional arrangements that may be more appropriate.

                This then builds to your final paragraph where you seem to agree that the same stick used against billionaires can be applied to us. It is a matter of degree. The crux of the difference betwween me and you is that I view the person who got rich by adding more value to others as empirically better than a person who did not get rich adding value to others (all else equal). If we do the sums, one added substantially more value to themselves and others than the other did.

                You seem to ignore how they got their money, and jump to the belief that more disposable income implies a greater moral obligation to donate it to charity (you may also be assuming any wealth achieved is taken from others, ie the zero sum fallacy, but I will assume you are not). I kind of agree that extreme wealth increases ones obligation to others. However, they can use this productively in various ways. They can donate it to philanthropy, they can invest in human knowledge, or they can invest in further economic development. Any of these three paths are value added to humanity, the latter may very well lead to them becoming a multi billionaire. I would have no concerns here. You probably would.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

                to the extent he gained his wealth by producing things of value for others, he is empirically superior to me

                Do we believe this if what he produced was cigarettes or heroin?Report

              • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

                No. I do not believe a distributor of street heroin is adding any net value to society.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Roger says:

                This is the difference between a sane libertarian and a crazy one.

                A crazy one would immediately start talking about the efforts of society to remove distributors of street heroin from society and how the question of whether distributors of street heroin are adding net value to society is a red herring to distract from the question of the net value of paternalistic social control.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

                Hmmm. I may be a crazy one then. If one corner dealer is providing a product that is cut with rat poison, and the other corner dealer is providing a pure product, untainted with toxins; and so one dealer is killing x% of his customers while the other is allowing all his customers to live while maintaining their addiction (or alternately, one dealer is charging a price that necessitates robbery to support the habit, while another is charging a lower price that can be afforded on a blue-collar salary, without resort to violence) – isn’t one of those dealers “adding value to society”?

                IOW, isn’t providing a “safer” (quotes intentional), more affordable product, to someone in need of that product (an addict being definitionally “in need”) adding value by reducing overall death and violence, even if it’s not via the methods we’d prefer in an ideal world?Report

              • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

                In my opinion, no. A safer distributor of uncut crack at a lower price and better service level is not adding value to society, on net. The long range effects are more lives ruined.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

                Roger, how do you avoid that same logical endpoint w/r/t Budweiser? Isn’t the end result of a Budweiser producer more alcoholics, on net?Report

              • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

                Possibly. I do not know if on net Bud Light makes the world a better place or not. Nor do I know if the manufacturer of land mines makes it better or worse. Or Vitamin Water.

                That said. I tend to lean toward allowing people the freedom to decide on their own. Not as some kind of categorical imperative, just as a pragmatic, free choice seems to work out better on net than the alternatives, nine times out of ten, kind of thing.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

                Come on, Glyph. Nobody’s going to cut heroin with rat poison.

                Corn starch is cheaper.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sounds like a man with industry experience!Report

              • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

                BB – not sure if you are being serious, and “rat poison” was just a hypo – but dangerous adulterants do in fact show up in illegal drugs, all the time, as a result of either attempts at profit-increasing; or rival sabotage or murder attempts; or just plain bone-headeness and mistakes made in the manufacturing/distribution processes (and not just adulterants: but also wildly varying doses, or one compound represented/sold as another, etc.).

                Ex.: Cocaine cut with levamisole, a pharmaceutical veterinary dewormer and a research immunomodulator:


                As a cocaine adulterant, levamisole is dangerous primarily because it suppresses the immune system of those who are exposed to it. It is also possible that levamisole interacts with cocaine’s stimulant effects and increases acute cardiovascular toxicity, though this is still speculation based on levamisole metabolites (such as aminorex [Erowid Note: December 2010, new research suggests this hypothesis is wrong. See 1.) that have been found to occur in horses. Such metabolites have not been confirmed in humans.

                Though it has been used therapeutically in humans for decades, levamisole can cause agranulocytosis (acute neutropenia), a blood disorder characterized by the disappearance of certain types of white blood cells necessary for the proper functioning of the immune system. Agranulocytosis/neutropenia can result in a wide range of problems associated with a weakened immune system including infections throughout the body, high fever, chills, swollen glands, painful sores, and wounds that don’t heal. Left untreated, the condition can result in death. Agranulocytosis can be treated if detected and diagnosed properly.

                Because the symptoms of agranulocytosis can be so wide-ranging, because it is an unusual condition, and because levamisole contamination of cocaine is a relatively new problem, it is essential that those seeking medical care for a condition like high fever be honest with their health care providers about the illicit substances they have taken, in order to improve their chances of being diagnosed properly and recovering quickly.

                It is likely that people whose immune systems are already compromised by disease or genetic background are more susceptible to the risk of agranulocytosis from levamisole exposure.

                To be clear, I would never recommend that anyone manufacture, sell, buy, or consume cocaine; but it seems to me that “value” being necessarily relative, a dealer who is providing – in a consensual transaction – a product that doesn’t kill or bankrupt his customers, is providing society more value than one who provides riskier and more expensive product (even if neither dealer is providing exactly the value we’d prefer).

                A user who doesn’t end up in jail for mugging passerby for drug money, or kick the bucket, is a user who may eventually kick the habit and contribute something useful to society.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

                I was joking. In retrospect, “Ant poison is cheaper” would have been a better punchline.Report

              • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

                “… it seems to me that “value” being necessarily relative, a dealer who is providing – in a consensual transaction – a product that doesn’t kill or bankrupt his customers, is providing society more value than one who provides riskier and more expensive product.”

                My question is whether someone who produces a doomsday machine more efficiently has done a service for mankind. I answer no. Efficiency is good, but more efficient destruction is not.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Roger, efficiency is a value free concept, one which itself can be valued. You’re argument is that efficiency is a value to strive for, not as an end but in service of achieving other ends (values). That being the case, Glyph’s attempts reveal a principled inconsistency are misguided – since you’re not taking a principled view of these things.

                {{I think of all the people at the LoOG, your views on rights, values, pragmatics, principles, etc., your views are closest to mine, so it’s odd that we end up disagreeing so much. }}Report

              • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:


                You are probably right on efficiency. Just to be devil’s advocate though, it seems that efficiency measures a fundamental benefit for action. It eliminates waste and is a better localized victory over entropy. Since life requires constant solutions to the problem of entropic decay, and good only makes sense to living things, then it seems there is something special about efficiency.

                Granted an efficient gas chamber isnt good. But neither is a “good” gas chamber.

                I am rambling though and have not even convinced myself…

                We certainly are both pragmatists. We seem to have different values and fundamental beliefs though. This must lead us to frequent opposite conclusions. You’ve noticed though that I agree with a lot of what you write.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Here’s how I’d cleave apart that distinction. The only value of efficiency is instrumental, so it has no value as an end in itself independent of the goals and aims of certain practices. It could be said, however, that the concept of efficiency is inherently value-laden since it’s defined in value-laden terms: cost, benefit, resources, etc.

                If that’s how someone views the concept of efficiency, tho, it isn’t a descriptive term but a normative one: maximizing efficiency is necessarily a good thing, come what may. So, designing a more efficient gas chamber is a good thing.

                To exclude those types of conclusions, I think the terms by which efficiency is defined need to be viewed as value-neutral. Cost isn’t a bad thing: it’s what’s traded away. Benefit isn’t a good thing: it’s what’s traded for. Values only enter into the discussion when we evaluate particular types of costs and benefits, some of which we reject and others we accept for reasons that have nothing to do with efficiency.

                That’s my take anyway. At least, my take on a snowy Sunday morning.Report

              • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:


                I find your argument persuasive. Well done.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Thanks for that Roger. That means a lot.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

                Well does the empirical superiority come from producing things of value for others or adding net value to “society”? If the latter is only the net sum of the former, then how are you deciding what is actually of value for people? You said this:

                “If someone pays me a dollar for something, it means it was worth more than a dollar to them. If you repeat this process a billion times it is still true. The difference between a billionaire and us in a relatively free market is they added more value to others than we did.”

                I took this as your marker of whether something adds value for an individual. Is it not?

                And what about cigarettes?Report

              • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Great points. Michael.

                I believe humans are capable of valuing things short term which add no value to them long term. Let’s call them utility traps. I see crack and tobacco and such as utility traps. I believe an entrepreneur working to increase the availability of cheap cigarettes and crack is effectively doing net harm to society. For the record I also believe that scientists can do net harm by creating dangerous inventions, and that philanthropy can sometimes do net harm by creating negative incentives.

                In general, free markets, science and philanthropy are value creation devices. Not always though.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Likewise CDOs, CDSs, and the other “innovations” which led to the recent crash. Which were far more profitable, as well as respectable, than crack.Report

              • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I might agree if I agreed with the underlying assumption. I doubt CDOs are really to blame though. But once again I am not an expert on the issue.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Just to be clear, I’m not interested in demonizing sellers of heroin, cigarettes, or CDOs. I’m just trying to promote a more morally neutral approach to commerce per se (i.e. knowing nothing else about what is being exchanged). That someone was able to provide some amount of goods and services to others who were willing to pay some quantity of money for them doesn’t alone, in my view, make her morally superior who someone who didn’t, or did so less, absent more information about what was provided. We can make moral judgments about specific acts of commerce, but in my view they ought to take all relevant specific facts about the substance of the trades in question into account, not relate just to the bare fact that the commerce took place.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …about what was provided *and how*, I might add.Report

              • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

                To the extent that both parties gained, value was created. This doesn’t make the parties inherently moral, nor does it make the act of commerce inherently moral. That said…

                Most mutually voluntary interactions between rational adults are positive sum, win win interactions. There are exceptions. But, as they say, the exceptions prove the rule. That said, the exceptions prove your final point too.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Michael Drew says:

                It’s quite possible (and easier the further the “good” is removed from reality) to create something of illusory value that the mark is eager to buy for slightly less than its perceived value (and far more than its real value) in what seems to be a positive-sum transaction. Even more so if the mark can sell it at a profit to the mark once removed. And since it’s in the interest of the marks not to realize that underneath the gilding is grade-A cow dung, this bubble can go on long enough to create immense damage.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:


                That’s why we rely on a combination (an inevitably uneasy and imprecise combination, unfortunately) of caveat emptor and laws against fraud.

                And of course what you say is possible is indeed possible. It’s also possible for governments to require forcible abortions on pregnant women. Which indicates that mere possibilities are not really the most relevant question here, no?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Recall that this conversation is/was about our estimation of people, not about how to govern them (or at least has been so far…).Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I think the crash of 2008 shows a few things:

                1. This goes well beyond possibility.
                2. The entities which control much of the world’s wealth are as much marks as any yokel. (More so, if it’s true that you can’t cheat an honest man.)
                3. Laws against fraud are for little people.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:


                In my mind it speaks directly to the estimation of people. Roger’s already conceded that merely having a large bank account is insufficient evidence, because it could have been gained honestly or dishonestly. So the question becomes, which is more frequent? Pointing to the possibility of gaining wealth dishonestly by a particular means does not really address the question of what happens most often in markets. (And that’s generously ignoring the inherent problems in the “perceived value”/”real value” distinction, which IMO is a thumb on the scale.)Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Governments forcing pregnant female citizens to have abortions goes well beyond probability, too. I’ll concede your point proves market-gained wealth is most often an indicator of dishonesty if you’ll concede that my point proves governments are most often evilly brutal.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Not sure why it becomes which is more frequent. Roger’s claim is about we can infer about one individual from his commercial record. You can aggregate that, but that wasn’t the point he made, nor was it what the rest of us were addressing. The point is that, in any instance you’d want to look at what someone does to earn money (even inside the category of producing things rational people will pay for), not just how much of it he’s done, to determine how “good” (“emprically superior”) he is. At the individual level. That’s what we were talking about – what can be concluded about individuals’ merit. Aggregate away, but that’s a new direction for the conversation to take. (And one, it seems to me, to become primarily interested in once one begins to think about policy implications, but maybe you have other reasons in mind.)Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Not sure why it becomes which is more frequent

                Mike’s argument doesn’t rebut Roger’s claim that we can judge someone from their commercial record. Roger agrees that a person’s commercial record could indicate activities we wouldn’t admire; Mike lists some. There’s no fundamental disagreement, but it takes the form of an argument, indicating some kind of disagreement.

                The disagreement would seem to be in how great is the likelihood that the commercial activities are unadmirable. That brings the frequencies of admirable and unadmirable commercial activities to bear on the question.

                Or put more simply, if you and I saw a rich man and decided to wager each other on whether he deserved respect or disdain for his activities, on which one would you place your bet? Or would you flip a coin?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Government are brutal and evil more often than not. So, by the logic of the material conditional, your point proves that, whether it’s true or false.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Well, that brings up further questions, about your particular commitments, but those definitely do take us off the course of the discussion, so I’ll leave them be.

                You know I’m thinking them, though. 😉Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Actually, I think I first made the point, although I think CC’s response suggests s/he may have been implying it(?).

                I don’t see where Mike’s comment says there must be disagreement if you in fact agree with what he said; what he said relates to possibilities that in a given instance absent enough info to disclose them. If you agree with him on that – that a person can have made a lot of money sellign goods and services in a way that fits Roger’s initial description but that providing those goods and services might not be something that we’d think makes him superior – then basically you just agree with us (even Roger now, if I am nost mistaken). if you’re moving the discussion down to something you think you’re able to isolate a disagreement about, or simply make a different point – i.e. how likely it is that any given industrialist would fit that description – then that’s what you’re doing, it’s not what Mike is doing.

                Again, if I have the comment you’re talking about right, Mike said,

                “It’s quite possible (and easier the further the “good” is removed from reality) to create something of illusory value that the mark is eager to buy for slightly less than its perceived value (and far more than its real value) in what seems to be a positive-sum transaction. Even more so if the mark can sell it at a profit to the mark once removed. And since it’s in the interest of the marks not to realize that underneath the gilding is grade-A cow dung, this bubble can go on long enough to create immense damage.”

                That’s a description of a possibility for one particular industrialist, or at most a class of them. He said it’s possible they’re out there; to know whether we should have high moral estimation of an industrialist, we need to know if he’s doing something like this or something else we wouldn’t give esteem to. If you agree, then you just agree. If your point is that there aren’t many of them out there, then that’s just the point you’re making, a separate point. In an individual case, we still want to know how someone made his money before we say that he’s empirically superior to us.Report

              • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

                We tend to say charitable people are good. However, we can each list out ways in which particular forms of charity back fire and cause net harm. In general I still view philanthropists as good.Report

            • James Vonder Haar in reply to Creon Critic says:

              This seems to me like quibbling over driving with a .1 BAC or a .2 BAC. One’s worse, to be sure, but you meet the threshold both legally and morally for immoral behavior. Your iPod is worth, say, 100 malaria vaccines. The billionaire’s car is worth 20,000. They’re both a grossly immoral misuse of resources.Report

              • Roger in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

                Yes, but we must consider the dynamic. The very existence of a society capable of creating, producing and distributing malaria vaccine is rooted in the invisible hand metaphor of Mr Smith. Namely, that we can design institutions so that self interested behavior produces value for others. The desire for iPods, can be achieved by working for others. Two hundred years later we have ten times as many people twenty times as rich living twice as long.

                If you undermine the invisible hand, you undermine the complex adaptive system which produces vaccines. Talk to the hand!Report

  18. James Hanley says:

    I have to quibble with the author. This question isn’t nearly as stupid as he told us it was going to be.Report

  19. Michael Drew says:

    I don’t have any idea. I do think, though, that some people are listing problems that people in the future will be angry at us about for being too stupid and careless to foresee and put the energy into solving that are hurting them badly, but that they may not see those failures as evil, precisely because they recognize capacity, technology, and collective action limitations prevented us from taking the necessary steps despite some degree of expressed concern about them until… they didn’t. In other words, I think they’ll tend not to see us as evil for not solving problems where there were more things holding back solutions than just the requisite moral revolution not taking wide enough hold. Could be wrong, but that’s my intuition.Report

    • There’s something to be said for reflecting on the question and not making excuses for inaction. Here’s Kwame Anthony Appiah considering a similar question What will future generations condemn us for?. His nominees: our (US) prison system, industrial meat production, the institutionalized and isolated elderly, and environmental degradation.

      The common themes Appiah identifies:

      First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.

      Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, “We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?”)

      And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn’t think about what made those goods possible. That’s why abolitionists sought to direct attention toward the conditions of the Middle Passage, through detailed illustrations of slave ships and horrifying stories of the suffering below decks.


      • Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic says:

        I’m aware of Appiah’s book. I’d be fine if we want to discuss this as a moral question – what practices that are currently commonplace actually are barbarous or near-barbarous. But if we’re going to frame it as a predictive argument, then I’m going to engage it that way. And I’m sorry, but I simply don’t believe people in 500 years are going to regard us as evil for not having figured out a way to successfully manage how people use antibiotics to the degree to where the offshoot consequences of deficient use become not that dire. (I didn’t say that everything listed is an improper candidate for real moral revolution. But if people are actually trying to answer the question, I’d invite them to consider whether they may have confused the two categories of blame I mentioned.)Report

  20. NewDealer says:

    To get in the more utopia spirit of the question:

    1. The War on Drugs (hopefully)

    2. Mass Incarceration as a way of dealing with crime (hopefully)

    3. Inequality (hopefully)Report

    • Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

      Same question to you on inequality as I gave to Creon…Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Roger says:

        Largely equality of opportunity. It is shameful that some public school districts can compete with the best private schools and others struggle to keep open for regular hours. Yet alone have extracurricular activities.

        Obviously your point on different goals are good. But people should have food, medicine, housing, and clothing whether they want to be a doctor or a barista.Report

        • Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

          Playing back what I am hearing …

          You are suggesting eliminating inequality of opportunity and poverty. I would strongly concur, especially to the extent we can guarantee the elimination of poverty in ways which doesn’t contribute back to inequality of opportunity due to adverse incentives.Report

  21. mark boggs says:

    Theoretical questions.Report

  22. Kim says:

    Pessimist here.

    Democracy and individualism as we now know it.

    I don’t believe that in 500 years, humans will still be both alive and sentient.

    So, who’s next? Once you know that, you know what they’ll object to.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kim says:

      I don’t believe that in 500 years, humans will still be both alive and sentient.

      Damn. And here I was thinking that I was a pessimist.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Kim says:

      Sure. I’m surprised how many people are answering the question with what they’d wish will be verboten. Here’s where my mind went:
      women showing bare arms in public
      disobeying a government official
      raising animals for non-food purposes
      not having tattoos on the palm of the right hand indicating tribal allegianceReport

      • Ryan Noonan in reply to Pinky says:

        Most of these assume a pretty strong reversal of trend. The animals one is strong, though. Possibly the government official one, although it’s unclear to what extent anyone has ever (including now) had the authority to disobey a government official.Report

      • Trumwill in reply to Pinky says:

        I’m surprised how many people are answering the question with what they’d wish will be verboten.

        I was about to comment on this. I’m not surprised by it, though. Not because of the League, but because it’s been baked in to whatever conversation I’ve had on the subject. An opportunity to say “History will vindicate what I presently believe!”

        Which it might.

        But nobody likes to think the answer is “We let anyone who wants to reproduce do so.”

        To me, the answer to this question is looking at what future technology will necessitate or make obsolete. Abortion becomes horrifying when we have a better way. Eating meat becomes horrifying when we can get that taste elsewhere. And so on.

        I am somewhat an optimist (which is why I don’t *think* reproduction will actually be there, but that could simply be my bias). I think future wealth will make how the poor live today horrifying. But it won’t be framed as inequality, because that’s something that is just going to get worse and worse. Rather, it’ll be looking at how the bottom half lives. Particularly the bottom half of the world.Report

        • Roger in reply to Trumwill says:

          I’m not following you… What is wrong with letting anyone who wants to reproduce, do so?Report

          • Trumwill in reply to Roger says:

            World resource strain. “Inferior genetics.” An accepted cost of a more generous welfare state being limitations on reproduction on the part of the “non-contributing members.”Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

              “We don’t mind having a safety net for people who need one. We object to people who need one making more people who need one.”Report

            • Roger in reply to Trumwill says:

              Odd. I assumed we were reproducing producers and innovators who would further enrich us.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Trumwill says:

              Reminds me of “Demolition Man”.

              I think that part of the current objection to limits on reproduction is that the means to impose them are severe. No birth control works perfectly. So to truly enforce such limits, you’re most likely going to A) see a huge rise in abortions, B) have to stop people from having sex, probably forcibly, or C) both.

              Sure, you could look at sterilization, but the permanence of such means that no one can ever move from the non-reproducing class to the reproducing class. And while there might be reversible forms (I believe a vasectomy can be reversed, for instance), you are looking at the costs associated with the medical procedures.

              If reproduction was such that it didn’t happen UNLESS an active step was taken and access to that step was limited, you’d have a stronger case. I’d still argue against it, I think, but it’d be less objectionable than any of the current enforcement mechanisms.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Trumwill says:

          But it won’t be framed as inequality, because that’s something that is just going to get worse and worse.

          I wouldn’t bet on it. First, “worse” is not a synonym for “mathematically greater” when it comes to income inequality. There are two very different kinds of inequality that can look very similar if you only look at Gini index. One is first-world inequality, where the poor are pretty well off, but the rich are very, very rich. The other is third-world inequality, where the rich are kind of rich, but the poor are very, very poor. Gini cultists don’t get this distinction, and consequently say ridiculous things like “Inequality is worse in the US than in Iran.” But in reality, it’s pretty obvious that first-world inequality is much better than third-world inequality.

          That aside, it’s not even clear that Gini inequality will increase. The global trend has been towards less inequality, not more, as developing economies have begun to close the gap with first-world economies. Gini inequality has been increasing only within economies. And it’s a pretty safe bet that consumption inequality will continue to fall.Report

    • zic in reply to Kim says:

      Well, I think they’ll be alive.

      And sentient.

      But sometimes I’m convinced they might be relative rare or, perhaps, primitive. Returned to being in the middle of the food chain. One future I see is a loss of support technology we now depend upon, particularly medical technology, and problems from our polluted gene pool. Lot of people with genetic predisposition to things that, without that technology, never got to breed. Lot of recessives for bad stuff being passed on.

      But one cannot have this discussion in polite company; we’d rather take a mass-murderer’s manifesto as sane.Report

      • greginak in reply to zic says:

        Pedantic and OT but i’ll toss this is anyway. The word “sentient” does a lot of heavy lifting here in and is animal rights discussions. However it really needs to be defined to be of any use. I know some people define it as feeling pain, which really doesn’t move me to care much at all. I believe a mosquito feels pain for an instant when i squish it, but i’m still smacking those little jerks.Report

      • Mopey Duns in reply to zic says:

        I am going for the long bet of dead, but sentient.

        I think in the early 2300 century, a scientist obsessed with the early 21st century depiction of zombies will find a way to create nanomachines that mimic the effects of a zombie pandemic, killing the flesh of those infected while leaving their minds partially intact. This will render them effectively immortal, always restoring their broken bodies to their undead state.

        Our minds will howl in the undying husks of our bodies as we wander the broken cities of our once proud world, screaming silently for a release that will not come.Report

  23. Mo says:

    Blowing your nose in public.Report

  24. Ryan Noonan says:

    500 years is a significant enough time horizon that I’m willing to shoot for the moon.

    Gender. We will still have some notion of biological sex, as it will likely remain a necessity (although 500 years is a long enough time that I’m not willing to put any money on that), but it will be a far more malleable characteristic. The idea that we once separated human beings into groups based on a biological category that only sort of mattered, and then prescribed (and proscribed) behavior on that basis, will look like what it is: evil.Report

    • Roger in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

      I will go with the exact opposite. In 500 years they will be amused at how we all fell under the spell of the obviously absurd paradigm that the different genders were the same or should be the same. They will chalk it up to more confusion on types of equality.Report

      • Ryan Noonan in reply to Roger says:

        Do you mean different sexes? Different genders are definitionally not the same.Report

        • Roger in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

          Beats me, this was supposed to be a bar fight.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Roger says:

            Does anyone of any sexual orientation really want all gender to disappear? I know I certainly don’t.

            It’s a fair inference that if no one wants a thing to happen, and if it’s not going to happen on its own, then it’s never going to happen.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              There are probably some hardcore “genderqueer”* people who wish the concept of gender to disappear.

              *I still don’t know what this term means. All I know is that I see it in San Francisco fairly often and once I went to a party with the warning “you won’t be the only person who identifies as male but you might be the only person who is biologically male.” The party was fine. The genderqueer movement seems purposefully silly and serious at the same time in ways that confuses me.Report

            • You can make it say “gender as an assigned rather than chosen role” if you like. I do honestly think gender will become – and will be understood to be – a continuous kind of thing. If you want to imagine it like the Kinsey scale or something, I won’t disagree. I’m sure men who look and act like Ron Swanson will always exist, but they certainly won’t be considered uniquely or authentically male in any way.

              As to the first question, I guess I’ll go with something that is more or less a yes. Most of the functions of gender are utterly perverse. Maybe I’m just more committed to human freedom than you are. 🙂Report

              • Dan Miller in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                One really good treatment of this is Kim Stanley Robinson’s book 2312. Essentially, genetic engineering allows people to choose from a broad spectrum of physical forms and social presentations of sex and gender specifically. Not a great book, but had lots of interesting parts of which this is one.Report

              • James K in reply to Dan Miller says:

                There’s also Iain M Banks’s Culture novel, where citizens of The Culture have an internal biological process engineered into them that lets themReport

  25. RTod says:

    OK, let me try again, and this time less Kansas, more Oz: In 500 years, people will look back on own physically reproducing as disgusting and immoral.

    The ability to have babies when you want, to order will be the way of things, and they will be able to gestate outside of the human body. The thought that we once touched that part with that other part will be considered gross, and the fact that we allowed women to go through the pain of childbirth – all while risking imperfect babies – will be seen as barbaric.Report

  26. George Turner says:


    Using computers that can’t tell if a cat is standing on the keyboard.

    Sending kids to physical colleges instead of a virtual 3-D environment.

    People with genetic and mental disorders. No more Down’s syndrome, dwarfism, schizophrenia, etc.

    People will also probably modify their bone and muscle structures since nobody wants to be the least attractive person in a room (vanity won’t be cured), so perceived ugliness will be gone, as will any physical signs of aging past a few gray highlights.

    Shaving will probably be gone (men still reject the idea of a drug that would render it unnecessary, but that might change if they’d never shaved in the first place). “They drug a sharp knife across their own face every morning!”

    And of course sporks. An idea that didn’t work out.Report

  27. MikeSchilling says:

    Technological progress and the ability for individuals to control their reproduction will make scarcity a thing of the past, leading to an economic system in which everyone is guaranteed a minimum level of comfort. The notion that the threat of privation is a necessary incentive will be treated as the moral equivalent of flogging.Report

    • George Turner in reply to MikeSchilling says:

      It’s impossible to make “scarcity” a thing of the past because desirability is linked to it. Scarcity has a value all its own, a concept which you could internalize by watching “Pawn Stars” ^_^

      “Um, it’s not worth anything because there are just too many of these out there. There’s no market for them.”

      “This is the only one of these I’ve ever heard of, so I have to have it. It will be worth a LOT of money.”Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to George Turner says:

        It’s also probably impossible to make scarcity a thing of the past because scarcity is linked to time.

        When all other things become abundant, time will become the thing with the highest relative scarcity. Our time is already becoming increasingly more valuable, and in the future it may be the most valuable commodity of all. What this would do to our society, I wouldn’t even venture to guess.Report

        • MikeSchilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I’d try to answer that, but I have a million things to do.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          That’s an interesting observation. The one constant I see throughout technological advances is the foreshortening of time-to-task: time is the one thing money won’t buy. With this comes the burden of staying connected. My phone has issues staying charged: I don’t want to keep it on the charger, having been told it’s hard on the battery. But let the phone die overnight, my girlfriend gets upset with me, with considerable justification.

          I’m developing to a new set of web services. I usually get nearly instantaneous turn-around from the developer at the other end: when I don’t get it, I get anxious. Sitting here, expecting all this infrastructure to Just Work, that pressure will only increase.

          The question for the future will be: how can we disconnect for a while? What right do we have to so disconnect, considering how interdependent we’re already becoming? I have to get out of this chair, just to think, half the time. I feel like a slave to my email inbox, my text messages, slave to updates, slave to evolving standards.

          Maybe we can delegate some of this to machines over time. I strongly suspect the future will feature human beings more bolted in to their work environment. Long commutes, where you could sit in traffic and listen to NPR and at least be alone for a while, however stressful driving might be — will look like vacations in the future.Report

      • MikeSchilling in reply to George Turner says:

        I know there’s a general assumption that the human appetite for stuff is infinite. As against that, I know people who no longer want of even accept things like birthday gifts, and who are more concerned with getting rid of the stuff they have and don’t need than in getting more. Today, this is a very upper-middle-class concern [1], but it won’t be always.

        1. As opposed to upper class, which in economic terms is defined as people for whom more and better stuff is the purpose of life.Report

        • ThatPirateGuy in reply to MikeSchilling says:

          As an example I raised 110 dollars in donations for the Red Cross as presents for my birthday last sat. I already buy what I want when I want to for the most part.

          So why accept presents?Report

        • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:

          I don’t think it’s that the appetite for “stuff” is infinite, in the sense of wanting an ever greater quantity, but that the appetite for “stuff” is infinite in the sense of wanting variety–each time a new thing is invented, people will want it because they’re interested in a new thing. Each time some thing we already have is upgraded there will be demand for it, and unless it’s available to everyone for free there will have to be a rationing system (whether it’s by price or some other rule). That reveals scarcity.

          Unless everyone can have whatever it is they want, when they want it, without any opportunity cost, there will be scarcity.

          Everyone could have everything they need, everyone being phenomenally well provided for in terms of food, housing, clothing, medical care, and education, and perhaps that’s what most people mean when they say an end to scarcity, but that’s not what economists mean by an end to scarcity. So at best the “Sci-Fi ‘no more scarcity'” folks and the economic folks are talking past each other, but I suspect there might be some basic conceptual misunderstandings at the bottom of that.

          And for the record, I find the “no more scarcity” claims and the “we’re already running out of resources” claims to directly opposed. Am I wrong about that?Report

  28. carr1on says:

    The death penalty.

    “You mean in 2013, ‘civilized’ people still allowed the State to execute their citizens? No way, Bezelbrox12…”Report

  29. zic says:

    Diane Rehm show today was on drones. Looking through your window scary.

    Made me feel like I’m stepping into an Iain M. Banks Culture novel.Report

    • carr1on in reply to zic says:

      I love Iain M Banks Culture novels…

      The sentient ships are the most interesting characters…Report

    • Boegiboe in reply to zic says:

      I just finished The Hydrogen Sonata yesterday. I love how, in each book, there’s always a point when I think “Oh, I know how this is going to end. I’m really going to be disappointed.” and How when I read the last page I think “…..Mind blown…..”Report

  30. Jason Kuznicki says:


    The future will look to our attitudes about aging as horribly barbaric. Once we’re finally able to cure that condition, there will be absolutely zero reason to romanticize the way our bodies gradually fall apart.

    We make a virtue of necessity by romanticizing this thing, when we ought to be fighting it with everything we have.

    But, like so much else, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal said it best.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I don’t understand people wanting to live forever. Yes a long and healthy life but there is also a lot of pain in life.

      Living forever sounds like a rather dreadful concept to me. And I am not even sure of the existence of an afterlife.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        then you’ve obviously stopped dreaming of Oz. There’s too many things I want to do in this life to fit ’em all in.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to NewDealer says:

        “Living forever sounds like a rather dreadful concept to me. ”

        Why? Don’t you want to see how it all turns out?Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Jim Heffman says:

          Good Gods in Asgard Above, no. How could it possibly end well?Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Great lawyers think alikeReport

          • Russell M in reply to Burt Likko says:

            being immortal less a physical wound caused death would force us to spread across the cosmos in a never-ending search for more living room sounds fun. to be forever going boldly is the dream man.Report

            • Michael Cain in reply to Russell M says:

              being immortal less a physical wound caused death would force us to spread across the cosmos in a never-ending search for more living room sounds fun.

              “Force” us to spread? Extending average lifespan to the point that we’ve got 7B people crowded onto the planet hasn’t even forced us to solve the problem of making trips to LEO routine and cheap. Rocketry is a balancing act between strength of materials, energy content of stable fuels, and enough safety that most of the people make it to their destination in one piece; it’s unlikely that the solution lies there. The alternatives to rocketry commonly cited would be trillion-dollar engineering efforts just to try.

              One of the significant trends in the last 60 years of “hard” science fiction involving space travel has been just how explicit writers have become about making it clear that routine shirtsleeve trips to LEO for people requires some sort of “then a miracle occurs” development. One of the more common has been controlled gravity of some sort. We don’t even have a theory that explains gravity in a way that would let us control it.

              A few months back Tom Murphy at Do the Math conducted an informal survey of people working or studying at physics departments about several bits of Star Trek-like technology. The general result was that the more physics a person knew, the less likely that they thought the tech was achievable, even in the long term. Some of that’s the infamous “science advances one funeral at a time” phenomenon. But some of it is also a matter of knowing enough to know how hard the problems are.

              Sorry to sound overly pessimistic. Must be having a bad morning.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Jim Heffman says:

          Not completely, no.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to NewDealer says:

        Virtually all the pain in life is due to its brevity, and will either disappear or be made ephemeral once aging is out of the picture. Tell me a tragedy, and I’ll tell you how the end of aging will mitigate it.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Last week a woman in my town was crushed between two cars as a man backed out of his space without checking his mirrors.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley says:

            Death is going to suck no matter what, of course. And when you’re dead, you’re dead. There’s no mitigating it for the person who actually gets killed. Of course, “Death sucks” is a pretty weak argument for eliminating the primary cause of death.

            Moreover, an end to aging would mitigate this tragedy for the survivors. According to the old saying, time heals all wounds, but it’s also slowly killing us; consequently there are setbacks from which we can never fully recover. With an indefinite lifespan, you can recover from anything short of death. If your spouse is killed, it’s a tragedy, but with eternal youth, you have all the time in the world to get over it and find a suitable replacement.

            Remember the tale of Solomon’s search for a magical ring that could make a happy man sad or a sad man happy. After months of searching, his minister brought him a ring inscribed with the phrase, “This too shall pass.” Such is the human condition. Even as the tragedies of the past fade into memory, the inevitable tragedies of the future draw ever closer.

            But it doesn’t have to be that way. Without aging, the passage of time becomes an unmixed blessing, as the sorrows of the past grow ever more distant and the sorrows of the future grow no closer.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I don’t know whether to be annoyed or pleased that someone beat me to this.

      I’m less outraged than baffled that we aren’t collectively pouring at least a hundred billion dollars a year into serious anti-aging research. What the hell is wrong with people? This is suicide by inaction.Report

      • North in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Because we need somewhere for all of those people to stand and something for them to do infinitely more than we need to defeat the only thing that balances the equation as long as life essential resources are functionally finite.

        Give me industrial mining of asteroid belts, artificial habitats, Martian colonization and some prospect of further expansion and I’d be all for defeating aging. Short of that it strikes me as a shortcut to some kind of abominable dystopia.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to North says:

          How does a gay man not see the obvious solution here? Just stop breeding.

          Actually, that’s not strictly necessary, since people will still die from accidents and violence. And to hear all the deathists talk, it sounds like suicide would be a pretty popular option, though frankly I think that that’s just sour grapes or Stockholm Syndrome, and that they’ll see the appeal of eternal youth once it becomes a real option.

          But certainly reproduction would have to be limited. And that’s a small price to pay for not growing old and dying.Report

          • North in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Hmmm I somehow doubt such a proposition would fly with the populace. Then again, assuming a mastery of the biological aspect of aging one could similarily assume a perfect form of birth control would be found. Still I suspect that’d just slow our descent rather than halt it.Report

    • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      We had better figure out a way to escape at least our Terran gravity well before we whup aging or else we’re looking at serious hell on earth.Report

  31. I might also suggest that this whole question — “Given the reality of human progress, what will the future think of us, anyway?” — is a very recent one, historically speaking. Examples of it from before the French Revolution are very rare indeed.

    Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s The Year 2440 is one of the few I can think of offhand, which is one of the things that makes him the most underrated author of the 18th century.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Your last sentence is not one that is seen everyday. Not many people have opinions on underrated 18th century authors.Report

    • James K in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      That because before that human progress was too slow to be observable. If you asked someone in the 15th Century that question, they’d have responded “What do you mean, human progress?”Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to James K says:

        I also wonder about whether the question will make sense to them in the future. My sense (and this could just be my own embedded position in my own technological moment) is that the existence of digital video records will render the cultural and philosophical distance between us and all future generations of humans miniscule compared to that between us and people one, two, or more centuries ago. There’s just so much footage of us explaining ourselves to ourselves, and thus to future onlookers, that we may not ever be the mystery to them that early American settlers or 19th century slaveowners are to us. There may just be a certain cultural continuity that sets in via trans-spatial and trans-temporal personal communication that doesn’t abate until a major disruption such as a Singularity-type event or major climatological or other environmental catastrophe.

        This could be wrong, but I wonder where the sense of distance necessary to come to look at an earlier generation as a moral or cultural curiosity is going to come from when so much of our own self-explanation will be readily accessible essentially until something major disrupts or discontinues our distributed information storage system.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

          …I guess mass-communication, I meant, more than personal communication. Or maybe both. The point is that it’s going to be archived and accessible like never before, unless I’m quite mistaken.Report

  32. NewDealer says:

    I love how your pic implies that future will have AI androids but can’t develop better luggageReport

  33. Shazbot3 says:

    What do we do now that isn’t considered so immoral that will be considered as very immoral in the future?

    I’m gonna go really controversial here (and be all conservativish) and say divorce where children are involved and one of the parents becomes uninvolved with the children. IMO, the evidence suggests that this is pretty bad for the kids, and we start to find anything bad for kids to be really immoral once it sinks in.

    I’m not sure how we’ll come up with new institutions to keep divorced parents together as parents even if not as lovers, but I think it will happen. Divorce will still be common and considered morally appropriate in lots of situations, but staying in the same region or something will be considered a strong moral duty.

    Maybe I crazy.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      I think this is plausible. Even when both parents stay around divorce is with kids is not a lovely thing.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        divorce with kids, that is.

        And I actually *don’t* think this is THAT clear of a moral issue, because parents’ well being counts too. But I can see the practice changing so much that people look back and wonder how people did it. I can also see it not.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        …I do think there will always be acceptance of it in some circumstances (spousal and child abuse obviously being prime examples). But the severity of the kind of circumstances thought to justify creating the experience for kids and the degree of stigma against those who divorce in circumstances that aren’t thought to do that I can see ramping up significantly. I believe it’s already happening, in fact.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      I think the specific case given is already consider immoral. Running out on your kids gets you a deadbeat dad label, something no one would argue is a good thing.

      Divorce, in general, might be. But I always have a problem with research on children of divorce. It seems that they compare that group to children who remain with parents in loving marriages. But that is not the alternative. The alternative is growing up in a household that is rife with anger and embitterment and/or devoid of love and emotion. I work with children now who are in homes like that… parents who might get divorced but don’t want to deal with the social stigma or what else they lose in doing so; they are largely in relationships of convenience. Those kids struggle. And I’d venture to guess they’d struggle less if the parents separated and created two healthy homes instead of one unhealthy one.

      I myself am a child of divorce and can say without a doubt that my life was improved by my parents’ decision.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        I am too, and cannot. But I do think my mother needed to divorce my father for her own well-being.

        I think the appropriate comparison is between all children of divorce and all children from intact homes. I’m unclear how a clean analytic distinction can be drawn between happy and unhappy two-parent homes, and I don’t think it’s clear that all marriages where divorce is considered and rejected will be unhealthily unhappy for a child to be raised in.Report

        • Kim in reply to Michael Drew says:

          To get to a point where you consider divorce means you married for lust anyhow. 75% of the time anyhow. Like matches don’t get divorced often.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:

            Or pregnancy.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              …Which is kind of the point.

              Anyway, I’m not strongly convicted on the point myself, like I said. But I think there has been some research or at least commentary relating to stigma going up around divorce. Especially, if I recall, in Charles Murray’s SuperZips (and, I’m going to guess, just PrettyGoodZips too).Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew says:


          Not all divorces impact folks the same. Fully conceded. My point is that there are a number of children whose lives are improved by their parents divorce. Not all, probably not most, but a not insignificant amount. I think the idea that we should shun folks for making a decision that has a reasonable chance of improving the lives of their children is wrong.

          I don’t know the specifics of your situation and won’t ask you to share anything that you’re not comfortable sharing. But while your life might have been worse after your parents’ divorce than before, how sure are you that your life wouldn’t have been even worse had your parents remained together?

          Let’s think of it like an equation:
          A = Pre-divorce life
          B = Post-divorce life
          C = Hypothetical life after point where divorce would have occurred but ultimately didn’t

          We know the value of A. We know the value of B. We don’t, and really CAN’T know the value of C. So while we can say that A > B, we can’t say with any certainty that C > B. It is quite possible that B > C. Or that C > B but only marginally so, such that the cost to the children is outweighed by larger gains for the parents.

          So while I don’t think divorce should be a step taken lightly, I would be really uncomfortable stigmatizing people for exercising that choice. Especially since there is already a great deal of stigmatization surrounding divorce, which itself is likely a cause of at least SOME of the harm felt by children of divorce.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

            There’s never certainty about the path not taken, that is certain. And I don’t disagree that, “the idea that we should shun folks for making a decision that has a reasonable chance of improving the lives of their children is wrong.”Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew says:

              That is largely what I was responding to, since it seemed folks were making the case that divorce when children are present might be something we will/should view as immoral in the future (if not now). If I misread that, I apologize.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think we should think people who get divorced lightly, thinking that the evidence isn’t al that great that divorce harms kids, should be stigmatized for that approach to the decision.

                But what I said was just that I thought it was plausible that the view that divorce somewhat more broadly, but still with understanding for a range of compelling circumstances, would come to be thought of as somewhat close to unthinkable, would take hold.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …The way that would cash out for me is that, if there’s any doubt in a parent’s mind about whether their family situation is such that a divorce would ony improve his children’s short and long-term well-being, he ought to assume it will harm it. That said, if a spouse is truly miserable in a marriage, it’s isn’t taking divorce lightly to let that be a factor. As I said, the parents are themselves people too, and their well-being counts in the equations. But I do think that going around saying that divorce is, eh, on balance probly about as likely to help a kid as hurt her …is happy talk absent really compelling evidence that it’s affirmatively the case (as opposed to there just not being compelling evidence that something else is the case). It seems like a question that must be extremely difficult to disambiguate as a research matter from all the other things that determine how good an upbringing that a child has is, but about which there seems to me to be good reason to follow a predispositional intuition that on balance you’d rather not have your parents divorce while you’re young. I realize there is no consensus about that even among people who experienced it, but that is my strong view.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …When kids are involved, of course.

                Now, I can see that co-evolving with a tendency toward affirmative single parenting (just deciding to do it Murphy-Brown style), affirming joint custody outside of marriage, and just a trend away from marriage – or even a trend toward communal parenting of the kind Boegiboe describes.

                The break-up of the stable parenting couple, married or not, will probably be looked at roughly similarly. But generally, I think the stigma against bringing elective fundamental change to the basic structure of children’s families once they’ve been established is likely to increase at least in the more affluent classes. As I say, I think that trend is already underway.Report

  34. Shazbot3 says:

    Also, reality television.Report

  35. Jaybird says:

    Depictions of graven images and other forms of idolatry.Report

    • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird says:

      I was thinking exactly along your lines.

      For all we know we may be in the darkest timeline. Perhaps blasphemy will be punishable by death again?

      Taking it somewhere else I can easily see private ownership of firearms/laser weapons being banned and considered barbaric in 500 years. I can’t see it happening while I live though.Report

  36. Jim Heffman says:

    I always did like the idea, in Herbert’s “Dune”, that a societal memory of a time when there was a civilisation-wide computer crash is what resulted in the Mentat and the ban on thinking machines. Like, it’s not a “Terminator” thing, it’s more like keeping kosher.Report

  37. Kolohe says:

    A little over 500 years from now, the names Zagar and Evans will be considered curse words.Report

  38. KatherineMW says:

    I would guess that the fact that most of our stuff is made by sweatshop labour, child labour, and in some cases (chocolate in particular) slave labour and that we mostly just accept it will be seen as horrific in future years.

    Factory farms are also a possibility.

    Both, like slavery in the early-to-mid 19th century, qualify as things that are major components of our economic system, the removal of which would be very difficult, go against powerful vested interests, and have substantial implications for our lives. They’re terrible, but they’re convenient, so we accept them, choose to regard them as unavoidable, and some try to rationalize them (the “sweatshops are making people’s lives better” free-marketers).Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to KatherineMW says:

      I’d like to think that the protests against so-called “sweatshops” will one day be looked back on with disdain, but I just don’t have that much faith in humanity.

      I do have some hope that anti-outsourcing sentiment may one day be looked back on the way we now look back on “No Irish need apply.”Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        You’re the people I was mentioning at the end of the sentence.

        The people who are making things that we need or want (our clothes, our toys, our chocolate) are making a minuscule fraction of the money that is made from selling those things. The question isn’t “where would they be if those things weren’t being produced?”; the question is “how much better off could they be if the money spent on those things actually went to them, and if prices went up to a level necessary to give them a decent wage”?

        People claimed the slaves were better off in America, being fed and clothed, than they had been in Africa, too. Rationalization is easy when it serves your interests.Report

        • Kim in reply to KatherineMW says:

          You’re asking this, at a time when meatloaf is unaffordable to the American working class?Report

        • Roger in reply to KatherineMW says:

          I would argue that sweatshops make the workers lives a hell of a lot better. Economic naïveté is easy when it makes you feel morally smug as human beings starve.

          Sound of breaking whiskey bottle and bar stool…Report

          • MikeSchilling in reply to Roger says:

            Till they get burned to death or die of smoke inhalation, anyway.Report

            • North in reply to MikeSchilling says:

              Maybe an unless instead of a until?Report

            • James K in reply to MikeSchilling says:

              Better than them and their children having to prostitute themselves or starve to death.

              And yes, that is the alternative.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James K says:

                A better alternative is fire exits. They’re a one-time expense, and as such don’t materially affect profitability. That we all agree that of course sweatshops won’t bother with such things says everything that needs to be said about why they’re evil.Report

              • Roger in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Fire exits are not free. Nor are smoke detectors. Nor routine fire drills, automatic sprinkler systems, local fire departments, fire plugs every 100 yards.

                The question of evil misses the point completely. The question is about tradeoffs, and WHO gets to decide. Some of us think first world rich people are not best qualified to make this decision. We would rather leave it to the actual employers, employees and local institutions involved.

                I am pro safety. I just refuse to believe my judgment should trump those directly involved in voluntary transactions.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


                Are you arguing that employees should be free to voluntarily work in needlessly* dangerous situations if they see fit? I want to make sure I fully understand you before I respond.

                * I say needless because there are a number of professions which have a certain inherent danger to them, which can’t be mitigated or eliminated. I don’t know if we could make king crab fishing much safer without having huge negative impacts on the industry. I do know we can and do make factory jobs safer without having huge impacts on the industry, at least as I understand it. Factories that forgo such safety standards are what I consider “needlessly dangerous”.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:


                When I was a bike messenger I never wore a helmet.

                Was that needlessly dangerous? Was my employer evil/immoral for allowing me to voluntarily accept an increase in the danger of an already dangerous job? Should the the state have required me to wear a helmet? Is that situation analogous or different than the a lack of fire exits?

                Those are questions, not arguments. I don’t have committed positions on any of them.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think a helmet is different than a fire exit because, ultimately, you have TOTAL control over the matter.

                If the company forbade you from wearing a helmet, that would be an issue, I think.

                With a fire exit, suppose a handful of employees decided they wanted one and took to work knocking down a wall to achieve it. Do you think that would go over well?

                A factory that operates without a fire exit is telling its employees that they may not have a fire exit. And maybe we should allow that! I’m not necessarily arguing otherwise. My questions, like yours, are genuine questions. I want to make sure I understand Roger fully before responding.

                I made the distinction between “needless” danger because I think that is an important distinction to make. I would argue strongly against someone telling you that you can’t be a bike messenger because sometimes bike messengers have accidents; accidents are unfortunately a danger inherent to bike messengers. But forbidding people from wearing a helmet, to me, is different, because a bike messenger can presumably perform his job just as well without one, thus the danger imposed by not wearing one is needless (though shouldn’t necessarily be forbade).Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:


                I am saying, all else equal, I trust the judgment of those actually closest involved. I do not know the tradeoffs of whether an incremental dollar should be spent on sprinklers or wages or longer lunch breaks or another safety device.

                The best to decide tend to be the employer, the employee and local institutions and regulations. For us to decide from afar is ridiculously presumptive.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Kazzy, if the issue is imposing a helmet requirement as opposed to a moral or practical judgment about the risks of not wearing a helmet, then there are two types of arguments that make sense. One is that preventable head injuries incur preventable costs that are born by other people. The other is what our libertarian friends like to call “signalling” behaviors: that passing a law requiring helmets signals to everyone in society that there’s a new social norm in town. The first argument makes lots of sense to me, the second one less so but it still carries enough weight that I don’t think it can be dismissed out of hand. (This is exactly where Jaybird’s arguments come into play.)Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:


                I am saying, all else equal, I trust the judgment of those actually closest involved.

                Sure. All else equal, that’s a pretty good paradigm to work on. I don’t think it’s the end of the story, tho, since the decision-making of those directly involved can lead to both all sorts of immoral and/or irrational outcomes.

                Another way to say it is that all else equal, putting fire escapes in large factories is the right thing to do. The values expressed by those two ceteris paribus conditions are necessarily, it seems to me, inconsistent.Report

              • LWA in reply to Kazzy says:

                Re: fire exits, sweatshops, bike helmets and who-should-decide:

                Doesn’t the public have a stake in the outcome of these decisions?

                When a fire destroys a business and kills the employees, isn’t the general public harmed? When a bike messenger suffers a brain injury or paralysis, doesn’t the public end up paying?

                It isn’t possible to so neatly segregate the harms of these outcomes into “public” versus “private”- private decisions have public effects.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not arguing against fire escapes, smoke detectors or automatic sprinklers. I am arguing that the decisions of how much to invest in these are better handled by them than those of us four thousand miles away with completely different values, needs, goals and utility tradeoffs.

                A a general rule safety devices are good. But safety devices have costs and tradeoffs, and I believe they can usually judge these better than we can.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                The general public argument basically leads to those in charge telling us how they want us to live. I so totally reject it… I can’t even put it in words.Report

              • LWA in reply to Kazzy says:

                Actually, I would agree, if someone were to follow the line of argument to the absurd conclusion that all private decisions should be made by the public.

                But that would be like shouting “SOMALIA!” in a crowded thread; dangerous, and not a form of protected speech.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                “A portion of your wealth, property, and even personal sovereignty belong to the community, simply by virtue of your living in the community.”

                Are you surprised that the work this argument does keeps going even after you wanted it to stop working for you?

                I submit: you shouldn’t be.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                Obviously it’s false then. True arguments cannot be misused.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not saying it’s false. I’m saying that when you start using it as a justification for making people live according to a certain set of societal standards, you shouldn’t be surprised when a large enough group of someones points out that, no, you need to start living according to this new and improved set of societal standards.

                Making appeals to privacy and jurisdiction and all of that libertarian bullshit might not work as well for your position as you’d like.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not saying it’s false. I’m saying that when you start using it as a justification for making people live according to a certain set of societal standards, you shouldn’t be surprised when a large enough group of someones points out that, no, you need to start living according to this new and improved set of societal standards.

                I’m not sure I understand this. There’s no logical connection between my expressing a true statement and other people expressing false statements or ones I disagree with. Why should I (or anyone for that matter) refrain from expressing a true statement on those grounds?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Because there are matters of taste and there are matters of morality.

                Trying to codify matters of taste into the culture and force people to live according to this taste, or that one, will very likely result in people being imprisoned (or worse) for something that was not a matter of morality in the first place. Or, in cases of questionable morality, resulting in immorality to fight questionable morality.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                If you want to say true statements about objective reality are the result of taste, then have at it. But from my pov, if it’s objectively the case, then taste is no longer a relevant part of the discussion. It either drops out as irrelevant or is part and parcel of objectivity. I don’t think you can have it both ways: subjective and objective.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                It depends on how much objectivity you see in “making people live according to a certain set of societal standards”.

                No doubt statists (for lack of a better word) see more than anarchists (for lack of a better word).Report

              • RTod in reply to Kazzy says:

                Huh? How do you figure?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Jaybird, you admitted the earlier claim we’re discussing was true.

                I really don’t know what you’re arguing here.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                Thanks for clarifying. I agree with your sentiment regarding presumptuousness. There are a lot of things that folks rail against as evils that actually benefit the very people those folks seek to help. However, I also think that the notion of “voluntary” is a tricky one when you are dealing with great imbalances of power and/or information. Ultimately, these things are far more complicated than most “bumper sticker” sloganeering imply.

                Where I think your position gets stuck in the weeds a bit is when you set up a potential false dilemma between funds being utilized for safety, wages, or price lowering. What I am uncomfortable with is companies eliminating safety protocols under the guise of offering better wages OR better prices, when in reality neither of those things is impacted by the savings on safety and instead that money just goes to increased profits. Whether or not we should legislate against that is one thing, but it is hard to argue that we are seeing morality on full display when such situations go down.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Jaybird, you admitted the earlier claim we’re discussing was true.

                Did I? I thought I merely said that it wasn’t False.

                In any case, the claim will just as likely bring you to Bowers v. Hardwick as often as it will bring you to, oh, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

                This fact strikes me as a very, very good reason to not use “a portion of your wealth, property, and even personal sovereignty belong to the community, simply by virtue of your living in the community” as justification for any given policy that makes the whiny start yelling about rights, or privacy, or jurisdiction.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Ooops. This:

                I thought I merely said that it wasn’t False.

                Jaybird, I give you full points for chutzpah.

                If you really want to follow the line of reasoning you’re proposing to it’s logical conclusion you’ll undermine pretty much every argument you’ve ever made on this board.”

                should go here.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                I agree completely that money not spent on safety could be applied to some combo of the following. Higher wages, lower wholesale price and/or higher profit.

                When I follow through on the long term ramifications of any of these outcomes I still come to the conclusion that employers, employees and local regulators are better deciding the tradeoffs than you or me.

                Higher profits, for example, leads to increased pressure for other firms to capitalize on the above market profit levels. In other words it attracts more employers, or more shifts or factories for the existing employers. This plays back into supply and demand by raising wages and or safety requirements (if one assumes workers prefer safe conditions and are willing to trade some wages for it).

                I see sweatshop employers making shirts or shoes to be doing more good in paying market wages than you or I are doing by not employing people. Hiring one person at three dollars a day is better than hiring none, and hiring ten thousand is ten thousand times better.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                This comment has been edited.

                I assure you.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                “Actually, I would agree, if someone were to follow the line of argument to the absurd conclusion that all private decisions should be made by the public.”

                Well to be more specific then, I don’t think middle class college educated busy bodies should be making many working condition decisions for people living in a different socio-economic climate. I think we are extremely likely to make major errors, especially ones that surprisingly help special interests in America. For example special interests of domestic producers, employees and unions.

                Of course I could reject your argument from a progressive standpoint too. What if the public rejects my freedom to marry another guy or use birth control or to not wear a burkha or whatever?

                I understand public pressure toward common decency. I worry that intolerance is best kept to a minimum, and I suggest the usual libertarian arguments on managing the dynamic. (exit rights, competition, opt outs, super majorities, tolerant pluralism and sunset provisions)Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Roger says:

                And who are we to say people shouldn’t be able to sell themselves into slavery, so long as they do so voluntarily?Report

              • Roger in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                Your retort is a good one. As a general rule, my default position is to entrust those rational adults closest to the situation and directly involved and affected to make the decision. This is a good rule of thumb, like don’t steal or murder people. However, there are extraordinary situations which would lead me to over ride my rules of thumb.

                I believe liberty is a damn good idea. It is not a categorical imperative woven into the fabric of the universe. Allowing people the freedom to permanently sell away their freedom seems a bad idea to me, in that it will lead to worse results than prohibiting voluntary servitude. I could be wrong, of course.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Your retort is a good one.

                That’s bound to happen once in a while.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Here is my argument against selling oneself into slavery, even voluntarily:

                (I wrote it a million years ago)

                You have the right to sell yourself into short-duration slavery (that is, for a year, or for two weeks with a perpetual option to renew the contract, or whathave you) but to do it in perpetuity is to sell your future self down the river.

                When I was 15, I was someone very different than when I was 25. When I was 25, I was someone very different than when I was 35. If I sold myself into slavery at age 15, I’d be actively harming my 25 year-old self and positively destroying my 35 year-old self.

                If, however, I was willing to sell myself, on a limited basis, for 3.75/hr… most libertarians would be fine with that. They might even be okay with a contract of up to a year or so… I can’t see them being okay with much longer than that.

                Your future self is someone else entirely. Treat him gently.Report

              • greginak in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                “Your future self is someone else entirely. Treat him gently.”
                In slightly different wordage I’ve seen that very same sentiment from many environmental types.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                You can use that as an argument for seatbelt or helmet laws too, since it’s future self that has to live with the damage.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I’ve no problem with laws for the rules that children have to follow. Make them wear Thudguards until they’re old enough to join the army!

                Adults, however, ought to be allowed a little more leash.Report

              • Roger in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Interesting argument, Jaybird. I don’t have one that is any better other than on utilitarian arguments, but I’m not a utilitarian.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                Beyond helmet and seatbelt laws, that same logic applies to drugs, alcohol, fatty foods, and sun bathing. There might be some immediate costs to any of those activities, but most of them are foisted upon our “future selves”. What separates slavery from what any of the members of the “Jersey Shore” cast did during filming?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Are there any folks who, historically, have had to deal with the fallout of slavery who could answer this question for us?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Voluntary slavery? No. Probably not.

                That IS what we are talking about… Yes? Voluntary transaction costs on our future selves?Report

              • There’s a fair amount of literature on the concept of voluntary slavery, as it was used as hypothetical about the essential nature of fundamental rights.

                (Right now, Nob feels like a voluntary slave to himself and his books as he returns to unpacking…)Report

              • As a more fundamental thing, self-sale isn’t exactly a novel concept. It was pretty common in antiquity, particularly as a settlement for debt, and it persisted well into the middle ages as a form of contract dispute.

                It’s only in the last 50 years or so we’ve had economic conditions where the hypothetical could be asked as mere rhetoric, rather than a reflection of reality.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                I thought I merely said that it wasn’t False.

                Jaybird, I give you full points for chutzpah.

                If you really want to follow the line of reasoning you’re proposing to it’s logical conclusion you’ll undermine pretty much every argument you’ve ever made on this board.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:


                When we’re talking about matters of taste, it’s inappropriate to say that they’re false, wrong, or what have you.

                In that same vein, it’s equally inappropriate to say that they’re true, right, or, in this particular case, appropriate for legislative action due to the amount of investment that society in general has made on your behalf.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Jaybird, this right here

                “A portion of your wealth, property, and even personal sovereignty belong to the community, simply by virtue of your living in the community.”

                is the comment that you think comes down to “taste”. But that just confuses things. (Intentionally, it seems to me.) It’s a description of reality. It’s either true or false. And as a matter of fact, you happen to agree with it since you think that welfare for the poor is justified as well as the circumscribing of rights for individuals in a community.

                So … you seem to want it both ways: subjective and objective.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Also, notice that if you want to split hairs on the meanings of normal English terms, you can’t object to the same splitting when it comes to constitutional language.

                So, again, you seem to want it both ways. Or this is more accurate: you want it the way that fits your preferred views.

                I think there’s a term for that.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                So I get to ask you this: Was Bowers v. Hardwick decided incorrectly?

                If the answer is “yes”, I get to ask “why?”

                I mean, I know why *I* think it was decided incorrectly. I’m a libertine, though.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


              • Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

                “So I get to ask you this: Was Bowers v. Hardwick decided incorrectly?”

                No, and I think Lawrence v. Texas was – even though I’m not a libertine.

                My answer to your question is contained in my question back to you… How does the existence of Bowers – upholding laws and common opinion that were mainstream since the founding of the Republic – AND Lawrence not beg a living Constitution – especially if you found the traditional Bowers to be the incorrect one?Report

              • Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                Not trying to send us off on a tangent, but it is very possible for something to be both subjective and objective. This comes about because there are three or four definitions for each term, and only some of the definitions are mutually exclusive or antonyms.

                On topic,what defense are the liberals presenting for an objective argument that living in a community demands that the community has a claim on wealth, assets or personal sovereignty?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:


                I’ve enough chutzpah to note that you didn’t answer the question.

                I’ve also re-gone over this sentence of yours: “you happen to agree with it since you think that welfare for the poor is justified as well as the circumscribing of rights for individuals in a community.”

                I think that welfare for the poor is justified for reasons other than “well, someone else has enough stuff to pay for it and they didn’t build that.”

                I’m also willing to say that I’m not, in fact, down with the circumscribing of rights as a general rule. I might be cornered into saying that something or other isn’t a right in the first place… but when it comes to circumscribing the rights of others, I’m more likely to write an essay about how, in practice, this will mean that this will be a law that will screw over the poor, the minorities, and the (insert group here) far, far more than it will circumscribe, say, *MY* rights.

                At which point I can probably be accused of being a white male or something.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                “So I get to ask you this: Was Bowers v. Hardwick decided incorrectly?”

                No, and I think Lawrence v. Texas was – even though I’m not a libertine.

                Are you sure you phrased that right? I ask because Bowers upheld sodomy laws between two guys and Lawrence overturned them if they didn’t apply equally to a guy and a gal.

                How does the existence of Bowers – upholding laws and common opinion that were mainstream since the founding of the Republic – AND Lawrence not beg a living Constitution – especially if you found the traditional Bowers to be the incorrect one?

                In the same way that the fact that the founders owned slaves at the time of the writing of the Constitution doesn’t mean that they weren’t violating the Rights of the people they claimed to own.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Tod meant that Bowers was decided incorrectly even tho that was the prevailing norm at the Time of the Founding, and how does that reflect on your views of a determinate meaning of constitutional terms.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

                Ah. So you’re saying that you choose to interpret the Constitution differently than those that wrote it obviously intended?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                but it is very possible for something to be both subjective and objective.

                No. I don’t think that’s true. It’s true that an individual’s subjective views overlap with objective reality, but in general, the idea that an individual view is “true” is rebutted by objective facts.

                If we think the two collapse, it’s because we’ve eliminated the concept of facts from our language and thought processes.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I don’t know what they “obviously” intended.

                I only know what they said and what they did.

                We aren’t the first society to say “you know, what they are saying isn’t lining up with what they are doing.” Will we align ourselves with those who say “we should pay more attention to the bar that they set!” or will we align ourselves with those who say “we should pay more attention to the example they made”?

                If what they did happened to not live up to the lofty heights of what they said, what conclusion ought I reach?

                That I should expect to be treated the way they treated others?

                That I should hold myself to a standard where I treat others the way the founders said that they should be treated?

                I mean, I thought that Bowers was a softball.

                Should I have instead picked Dred Scott?

                Because, seriously, I’d be delighted to argue against that all day.Report

              • Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                I think you are looking at the issue a lot deeper than I am. I am simply stating that subjective can mean

                1) pertaining to a subject, or
                2) Existing in the mind, or
                3) unduly affected by ones moods, desires or opinions

                It is possible for something to objectively pertain to a subject. Tigers objectively like to eat meat, this is an objective fact about a subjective topic using the first definition of subjective, not the latter two.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                If you just mean that it’s possible to objectively describe someones subjective experiences, then I agree. But I think you agree that the distinction I’m making holds, yes?Report

              • Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yeah. I was in no way arguing with you. Just adding a tangentReport

              • Brandon Berg in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                They’re a one-time expense, and as such don’t materially affect profitability.

                A bit of historical context here: Prior to the invention of door alarms, unlocked fire escapes did materially affect profitability, because workers would use them to slack off and/or steal things. In the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, at least, a supervisor on the floor had the key, but he escaped through another exit that was later blocked off by flames.

                Now, as it turns out, making the supervisor a single point of failure for getting the fire escape unlocked was a bad idea. But the facts are that:

                1. There was a fire escape.
                2. Leaving the fire escape unlocked had real, ongoing costs. It wasn’t locked just because the owners were jerks.
                3. There was a plan in place to get it unlocked in the event of emergency.
                4. There were also multiple unlocked exits*, through which 40% of the workers were able to escape.

                *No, Mike, I’m not talking about the windows.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                unlocked fire escapes did materially affect profitability, because workers would use them to slack off and/or steal things.

                Of course they were. You know what Those Sort of people are like.

                Seriously, is there any evidence of this other than the unsupported assertions of people who would do things like lock fire escapes?Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Look up “stock shrinkage”.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                It exists. It is not generally dealt with by endangering the majority of the employees who are not thieves.Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Locked fire escapes are obviously unacceptable the same way that cars without airbags are obviously acceptable.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                And then those people could be sent to jail for theft. Maybe burglary.

                It does not justify poor and unsafe working conditions.Report

          • KatherineMW in reply to Roger says:

            You are responding to an argument I didn’t make. I am not saying that the things these
            people are making should not be made; I am saying that the people should be paid decent wages for making them, instead of being paid minuscule amounts of money while vast profits accrue to the companies they work for.Report

            • Roger in reply to KatherineMW says:

              Yeah, I know.

              Our argument is that wages should be allowed to go where supply meets demand. Not because economics gives us pleasure, but because we believe it will lead to more jobs and capital being pulled into third world countries. Competition will lead to higher wages and more capital investment in a virtuous cycle. In a few generations they will be wealthy like us.

              We believe the decentralized path which respects economics will lead to better results, ESPECIALLY FOR THE POOR, than the alternative.Report

              • LWA in reply to Roger says:

                You believe this, despite the lack of any empirical examples?Report

              • Roger in reply to LWA says:

                I thought I had a couple of billion empirical examples.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Roger says:

                I’m curious how many sweatshops operate on such a thin profit margin that basic health and safety accommodation would turn them unprofitable.Report

              • As a general point, I’m kind of just sick of seeing “sweatshop” be used as a synonym for low-skill production labor in undeveloped economies, but to answer your question:
                Most textile/garment production is done on a basis of where the producer is not the company doing the final labeling or distribution, but rather as a supply chain where Nike buys x amount of shoes from factory A, and then turn around buy y amount from Factory B.

                Information and power asymmetry are the key words in this relationship, as gigantic multinationals go looking for the best way to fill their needs through competitive bids.

                Now, as giant multinationals (e.g. Nike) don’t actually run the factories themselves, the working conditions for the most part are a black box. They only know through the bidding process of who provides the cheapest goods for the buck they’re trying to spend on sourcing their garments or shoes.

                This backfired terribly in the 80s and 90s when investigative journalists (remember those?) looked into the working conditions of the factories that provided garments for Nike. They found that the reason these factories were used was because they were systematically abusing their workers, because presumably they were lowballing bids that and in turn had to slice margins so thin in order to get those contracts.

                Stung by these revelations and fearing for their brand value, Nike led the industry in the giant CYA project known as supply chain verification. Essentially they started actually auditing their suppliers to make sure their goods were sourced in a way that customers don’t find repugnant. You can find their basic “Code of Conduct” for suppliers here:

                In the end there are two power asymmetries at work here.
                1. The relationship between factory owner and their employees.
                The absolute poverty in the factory location allows the owner to choose and impose conditions that for the most part are egregious and often morally offensive. They can do this of course because the alternative to working 15 hour days in a factory with no bathroom breaks or meals is preferable to digging around in toxic dump heaps looking for sellable scrap.

                2. The relationship between Giant Multinational Inc. and the factory owner.
                Because the MNCs are so large as to create an oligopsony (as in few buyers) situation vis-a-vis the factory owners, they can if they wish to, impose substantial improvements to working conditions. They only do so of course when they find that their brand image is being threatened, but if they find value in it they tend to go after it with gusto.

                Now, remember that the costs imposed by 2. are very rarely likely to be in the realm where MNC decides to stop sourcing material to third-world economies. It’s not as if Nike has packed up its purchases from SE Asia and set up shop in Canada.

                If anything will be looked askance in the future, it’s likely that the act of taking third world factory owners at their word for semi-humane labor conditions will be one thing. As certification schemes and supply chain verification techniques improve, the hope for me at least is that people will continue to reward companies for doing the right thing.

                Ethical consumption isn’t impossible, and in my own Whiggish way I tend to think when given a choice people will choose the more humanely produced good. Moreover, MNCs will want customers to regard them as good guys, and that to a large extent they will internalize the costs of verification.

                Nike’s market share hasn’t suffered for picking up verification. Nor for that matter has Starbucks when it moved more aggressively into Fair Trade certification. (So their profitability did get hurt, but not over its arabica sourcing)Report

        • North in reply to KatherineMW says:

          I’d submit Katherine that the various peoples of the future will probably look back on sweatshops in their respective pasts much the way we look back on sweatshops in the developed west’s past: as unpleasant artifacts of the time that eventually their economies outgrew.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to KatherineMW says:

          The question isn’t “where would they be if those things weren’t being produced?”; the question is “how much better off could they be if the money spent on those things actually went to them, and if prices went up to a level necessary to give them a decent wage”?

          So…basically, the question is “How much better off would they be if foreign investors had less of an incentive to invest there?” Not very. At least not in the aggregate; I suppose that those lucky enough to get the few good jobs available would be better off.Report

          • KatherineMW in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            So everyone in the developed world would sudden stop needing shoes if wages went up?Report

            • Roger in reply to KatherineMW says:

              Supply and demand. More shoes will be demanded at a lower production price all else equal. But that isn’t his main point. At a higher wage, there will be less incentive to build factories in low wage countries (rather than here). It is the lower price and/or higher profit margins which attract entrepreneurs into these areas.

              Assuming the factory is already built doesn’t help the argument against sweatshop wages either. The reason here is that at an above market-clearing wage, what you are effectively doing is allowing the employer to cream the labor market by setting higher and higher skill requirements. You will effectively make the least skilled unemployable, thus condemning them to the alternatives.

              We believe efforts to do work arounds to the market determinated wage will backfire for the workers, the employers and the consumers.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Roger says:

                The company is capable of paying the workers more while maintaining decent profit margins. The company chooses to put their workers in miserable and unsafe conditions, pay them barely-survival wages, and work them until they drop because they can make more money that way. I believe future generations will look back on that choice as immoral.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to KatherineMW says:

                So what are you doing to help them?Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                I mean, since you’re trashing people who are actually doing something to give workers in the third world better opportunities, you must be doing much, much more to help them, right?Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                They are GIVING them nothing. If someone makes something that sells for $100, and you pay them ten cents for doing it, you’re stealing $99.90 from them, not giving them money!

                And it’s something that requires a ton more systemic change that purely individual action can do. I do my best to buy fair-trade chocolate. I encourage others to buy fair-trade coffee (don’t drink coffee myself). There’s a lot less available in the way of fair-trade options for clothing and electronics, so I don’t know what to do about that, besides calling out corporations that are revealed to be acting in an egregious exploitative manner and harming their employees. I support NGOs and political parties that advocate for requiring our overseas companies to uphold basic ethical standards. I donate to development NGOs that carry out health, education and economic development projects in the third world, and I hope to work for one of those organizations myself when I graduate. But this isn’t going to be solved by one person’s commercial choices any more than Britain’s sugar boycott alone was sufficient to end the slave trade.

                The idea that moral obligations exist to treat people like human beings and not like factors of production to be used up to the last degree possible is entirely lost on you, so this conversation has nowhere left to go.Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                If they’re able to make the shoes themselves, then why weren’t they already doing it? Why did they need me to say “go make shoes”?Report

              • Roger in reply to KatherineMW says:

                “I believe future generations will look back on that choice as immoral.”

                I disagree. I think they will look back at your argument and see it as mistaken, and that this type of economic oversimplification delayed the advance out of poverty of billions of people for generations.Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to KatherineMW says:

              You have to think on the margin. If outsourcing to the third world is insanely profitable, why isn’t there more of it going on? Well, there are different degrees of profitability. At any given wage level, there are some projects that are just barely profitable, and some that are just shy of being profitable. Raise or lower the wage level, and you end up with more or fewer projects that are profitable.

              But let’s be clear about this: Paying above-market wages is charity, not something that’s owed to workers. And if we have a moral obligation to third-world workers, it’s one all of us share. The idea that employers of third-world workers have some kind of special obligation to give them charity just because they employ them is a complete non sequitur.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Paying above-market wages is charity, not something that’s owed to workers.

                The fuck it is. The workers are the ones doing something of value. The people employing them are just the ones taking most of their money.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to KatherineMW says:

                All right. I think I’m done here.Report

              • Roger in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                I think a fellow progressive needs to step in…Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Why? Katherine’s response amounted to a question regarding why the people who actually do the work are discounted from the equation. Your view seems to be that people who provide goods and services are entitled to treat people who actually make the goods as replaceable parts. But why think that? It’s actually an interesting question.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

                Because she’s made it clear that she doesn’t understand the contributions of labor and management to production. That’s going to require more remediation than I’m inclined to do.

                Also it’s sunny outside and what the hell am I doing in here on a sunny day in February?Report

              • Fellow Progressive in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                My ears were burning while I was out running with the dogs…

                This business about “the market” constantly ignores that the market is an artificial construct, endlessly rigged and tilted.

                Outsourcing exists entirely as a creation of government policies- tariff agreements, tax laws, treaties on international laws and so on.

                Tinker with any of those laws, and what is wildly profitable today becomes instantly unprofitable.

                We don’t need to insist that companies pay above market wage. We can simply manipulate the genetic code of the marketplace to give workers a stronger hand in the negotiations.Report

              • Roger in reply to Fellow Progressive says:

                My wife and I were just walking our dog too. Like BB, we were trying to soak up some rare February rays.

                I will gloss over the artificial construct stuff, as this gets back into the prior conventions are imaginary or “mere” morass again. They are useful conventions.

                I have no concerns with giving workers a stronger hand in the negotiations as long as it doesn’t restrict the entrance of other workers from competing or distort market pricing signals. My guess is you won’t go along with these conditions though.

                In other words, I believe minimum wages and prohibitions to employment absent joining a cartel will backfire.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Paying above-market wages is charity, not something that’s owed to workers.

                All normal conception of morality excluded, of course.

                I mean, this is a totally accurate and inarguable expression of a principle governed by market principles. That you haven’t yet realized that market principles are being disputed here, well … then I don’t know what to say.

                Also there’s this: if market principles are so expansive to as to include people’s views (preferences) or market activity (which it is on a preference theory) then those concerns are built right in to the market analysis you’re rejecting.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                OK that was pretty unclear. Here’s another try at it: if your analysis of “markets” is limited to a complete description of people’s preferences, then this is what you get.Report

              • Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                I am still not getting your argument SWReport

              • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Heh. {{Damnit.}}

                If preference theory (subjectively determined utility, etc etc) is the framework we’re gonna analyze market transactions within, then it’s no surprise that people would prefer workers to receive compensation that accords with their preferences.

                The point I’m making here is a dig at preference theory (subjectively determined, etc etc) as a grounding of economic systems. Lots of people seem to prefer that sweatshops provided fire escapes and what not. Insofar as those argument are countered, then it’s either because of an arbitrary restriction on what constitutes “economic” preferences, or because their are objective properties that come into play.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

                Lots of people seem to prefer that sweatshops provided fire escapes and what not. Insofar as those argument are countered, then it’s either because of an arbitrary restriction on what constitutes “economic” preferences, or because their are objective properties that come into play.

                I think you’re conflating the market and government into a single economic system. When you argue for fire escapes for others because you prefer those others to have them, you are neither paying the costs for the fire escapes nor receiving their benefits. There’s neither arbitrary restriction on what we count as an economic preference nor any objective properties. If you want others to have fire escapes, and you want that expressed as a market preference, organize some like-minded to pay for them or boycott companies without them.

                Your policy preference is still an economic preference, sure. Since economics is about choosing between alternatives, the concept of a non-economicoreference wouldbe meaningless. But if we’re talking about preferences as expressed in ways where you are paying the costs and receiving the benefits of your choices, then it’s necessarily markets we’re talking about, not policy.

                You can talk about either, but you do need to make sure you keep the analyses distinct.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Good response James.

                There’s neither arbitrary restriction on what we count as an economic preference nor any objective properties. </i

                If economic preference just collapses to preference, then there’s no distinction. If there is a distinction, then it’s objective.

                If you want others to have fire escapes, and you want that expressed as a market preference, organize some like-minded to pay for them or boycott companies without them.

                Which is exactly what people are, and have been doing, plus or minus, isn’t it?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                There’s some closure issues in that comment…Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:


                When you ask for it as a policy issue, then, no, you are not paying for it.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

                No, it’s more fundamental than that. The employer is making the workers better off. There’s no reason I can see why in doing so he should incur an obligation to help them even more.

                It’s one thing to say that those of us who are lucky enough to live in the first world have a moral obligation to help those in much poorer economies. That’s a tenable position.

                But the idea that employing third-world workers gives the employers some special obligation above and beyond what the rest of us have…I don’t even know where that comes from. What’s the basis for that proposition?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                above and beyond what the rest of us have

                Yer gonna have to explicate that. Don’t all of us in the USA in general receive what liberals are arguing for?Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

                My phrasing wasn’t quite right. What I meant was that I don’t see that people who employ third-world workers have an obligation to help them above and beyond the obligation that all of us lucky enough to live in rich economies have by virtue of our good fortune.Report

              • kenB in reply to Stillwater says:

                So I just thought of this illustration — maybe it will help clarify, or maybe not:

                Imagine a community of three people — two millionaires M1 and M2, and one poor person P. P has no money and no options for work beyond what M1 and M2 might provide. M1 and M2 each have a farm. M1 is happy enough to do all the farmwork without any help, but M2 decides to hire P to do it all for him; but because he knows P is desperate, he offers P only $2/hour, and P accepts because he considers that better than his current situation.

                Now from a conventional moral POV, we’d say that M2 is taking advantage of P and seems like a rotten person; but on the other hand, M2 is making P materially better off, while M1 isn’t doing squat for P. If we demand that M2 pay P more but don’t ask anything of M1, how is that fair or reasonable? And if the result of our demand is that M2 decides to do the work himself instead, how have we helped P?Report

              • Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                Since BB is arguing with you in a different direction, and he is much more eloquent than me, let me just focus on this tangent.

                I think you are saying that the adoption of market principles is a value judgment and that there are other values that can come into play. For example, we can choose to override market mechanisms when it comes to selling sex and organs. Is this close?

                If so I do not disagree. I would warn people to be judicious in how much and how they do this, but that is a reasonable thing for a society to do. I’d let the people of Vietnam or whatever decide that though.

                I totally respect the folks in Vietnam to establish fire codes (or not).

                Now it seems to me you will argue either that this allows a race to the bottom, or that huge multinationals will use their influence to distort these codes.

                Oddly, I won’t find these arguments persuasive though, because longer term I don’t think it matters too much. Wages and safety precautions will rise together over time as the market dynamic plays out to the extent we allow the dynamic to work out. A hundred and fifty years ago, we faced the same conditions, but we became wealthier via our productivity. This raised wages, capital. Productivity and so forth in a virtuous cycle. The key ingredient to third world poverty is to allow the cycle to play out there too.

                I totally reject that better wages and working conditions come about by government or union decree.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Roger says:

                Unions don;t decree: they negotiate. I wholly reject the argument that workers gathering together to gain more negotiating power is cheating.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That isn’t my argument, Mike.

                To the extent unions negotiate voluntarily with workers and employers I think they are great. Better working conditions and better worker preferences can be negotiated.

                My key word was decree. I was not suggesting that unions have to decree, just that to the extent that they do via coercion over employers that they are not raising overall wages. They are effectively exploiting wages from others (specifically including the less skilled or less incumbent).Report

              • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Yeah plus one on this. The humane pleasant working conditions of the first world were not handed down by benificent corporations; they were seized first by unions in pitched bloody battles, later by voters through the government and then finally and very lastly by businesses bowing to the new realities of the labor environment.

                That industrialization, capitalism and the like brought about the self awareness and level of prosperity necessary to demand a better share of the pie is a credit to those things but we don’t need to be painting angel wings on corporations either.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I would say angel wings miss the mark across the board. The only benefit of bloody battles was to offset prior coercion by employers, thus leading to an imperfect truce on coercion from either side.

                Higher wages come from higher productivity within a market dynamic of profit begets competition, which increases demand for labor, which encourages capital investment, etc etc.

                Better living standards come about not by angels, nor by “demands”* nor by battles but by the institutions which aim self interest in socially constructive directions.

                *Better living standards DO come about by demand, but not by demandsReport

              • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Higher wages come from higher productivity?
                Then why didn’t wages rise in the last recession?Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                This was covered in the rest of the sentence.Report

  39. Major Zed says:

    Wasting a large fraction of your life driving (driving? yourself?) to and from work.Report

  40. Damon says:

    Nuclear Fission and the poisons they created, and ofc the use of atomic weapons and their construction.Report

    • North in reply to Damon says:

      Fossil Fuel use and all the poisons it created while we allowed baseless fears of nuclear fission to keep us from developing it into the clean practical power source it could be.

      But nuclear weapons, I think I could agree.Report

      • Fnord in reply to North says:

        On the contrary, as conflicts with non-state actors sees use of conventional explosives by both terrorists (targeting civilians) and anti-terrorism forces (which are sometimes not too picky about “collateral damage” in their targeting killing of terrorists), combined with several brief conflicts between major powers where the use nuclear weapons against mostly-automated space facilities result in astronomical property damage but relatively few deaths, they’ll consider our current towards conventional versus nuclear use of force hypocrisy of the worst kind.Report

  41. Bob2 says:

    500 years into the future, they’ll wonder why we were so squeamish about genetic engineering as the new Birdhuman peoples and the Fishhuman peoples combine to fight off the advance of the deep-sea glow-in-dark cat/fish people after global warming cascade destroyed habitable life on the surface for 200 years.

    The 500 year timeframe is way too long of a timeframe. If we go back even 25 years, the majority of people then didn’t approve of interracial marriage.Report

    • Bob2 in reply to Bob2 says:

      Hell, I think about this all the time, but 15 years ago, who would have known how ubiquitous cell/smart phones and mp3 players would be and that pay phones would be all but dead. Or how much the Internet has affected our day-to-day lives in the speeds at which we can transfer information. So much so that it’s increasingly difficult to filter out bad information. Or that passwords would be all but useless now against brute force techniques from computers with so much processing speed that they can run most every password in a reasonable amount of time.

      In 500 years (okay just a tad more), chilis, tomatoes and potatoes have gone from the Northern hemisphere to the entire world. The potato was responsible for the stabilization of food and hunger in Europe until the potato famine, which likely wouldn’t have happened had they had several varieties of potato. The tomato has been added to foods in India and become a staple in Italian cooking. Hot peppers of all sorts are now standard cultural foods in Korea, India, China, etc.

      I’m shocked no one’s mentioned Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity in this thread 😛
      Think about potential space travel or colonization by then. Or genetic engineering. Or diseases being eradicated and manipulated at will. Or longevity. Dystopian futures. Cyberpunk. etc.Report

  42. Patrick Bridges says:

    God, what boring, non-controversial picks.

    One word:


  43. Boegiboe says:

    It will be seen as immoral for parents to insist on raising their own children. It will be seen as much healthier for kids to be raised in loose groups of 10-20, with easy mixing between groups. Or, that may happen in 100 years, and then everything switch back after another century.Report

    • Chris in reply to Boegiboe says:

      This is a common position among radical feminists (I mean actual radical ones, not the ones that often get called radical by people of a certain political persuasion), but I wonder how likely it is to come about, and how effective it would be. My worry is that such a setup would be problematic from the perspective of human psychology, but I haven’t thought about it that thoroughly.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        Kibbutzniks have done this. doesn’t seem to have hurt their kids much.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        My worry is that such a setup would be problematic from the perspective of human psychology, but I haven’t thought about it that thoroughly.

        It’s an interesting question. I know you don’t like evo psych, but bear with me. Natural selection has made us, like so many other species, sex happy baby makers. The pleasure of sex is really just to lead us to reproduce more, whether reproduction is our actual intention or not, because roughly speaking those who reproduce more will see their descendants come to dominate the population in comparison to those who reproduce less. But that doesn’t mean we always want to reproduce, and it also means that when we do, there can be an advantage in paying fewer of the costs–having to engage in less paternal investment.

        Likewise, our psychological attachment to kids will also be in large part (perhaps not in total–culture does matter) a product of natural selection, because as a general rule paternal investment will pay off, so those who are more attached to their kids will put more into paternal investment and be more likely to successfully rear more offspring to reproductive age (I can’t remember where, but there’s some interesting research on an indigenou population in, iirc, South America, where woman often sleep with someone besides their husband, to confuse paternity and get investment from both. Possibly the investment of each is less than they would give if paternity was certain, but collectively they tend to provide more for the kid than a single father does, as determined by a comparison of the caloric intake of children with one vs. two fathers).

        So we have on the one hand a real incentive to not have to endure the cost of investment in offspring–especially for women who traditionally have had much larger investment costs (for men, the low end is a tablespoon of semen, while for women the low end is normally 9 months of pregnancy and the attendant health risks, and that’s not even including the common disparity in tending to children from birth through adulthood)–but on the other hand there are probably some evolved psychological dispositions that compel most of us to want to invest some in our kids.

        Who knows how that would all play out? We do know that as people have fewer kids they tend to invest more heavily in each individually. If birthrights continue to decline, that might suggest people would become even more loathe to give up on raising their own kids. Maybe. Perhaps.

        But Chris’s question might also have been about the psychological effects on children, and there I’m much more at sea. I think it’s clear that children can attach to non-biological parents as fully as to biological ones, particularly if that relationship starts early, and it’s also clear that kids mostly love to be in groups of other kids. But do kids need to have some particular, limited, set of adults to which they can attach themselves psychologically, or would being loved and hugged by all the adults around be sufficient for their happiness and mental well-being? (Assuming, in all this, that the collective child rearing operations were top notch and designed by people who really understand children’s psychological development, not Soviet style orphanages.)Report

        • Boegiboe in reply to James Hanley says:

          I based this idea on Aldous Huxley’s vision of ideal parenting in Island, where a small group of families bond together to help care for all the group’s children. I know from personal experience that young children who have bonded with adults from infancy find it very easy to bond with additional adults. I also see how much my daughter would like her cousin and her friends to be with her more, and I remember feeling the same way.Report

        • Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

          “The pleasure of sex is really just to lead us to reproduce more, whether reproduction is our actual intention or not, because roughly speaking those who reproduce more will see their descendants come to dominate the population in comparison to those who reproduce less.”

          If only humans were so pure and simple. A good 33% of the population’s pleasurable feelings surrounding sexual arousal come at the expense of reproduction — from homosexuals to footfetishists to people into heavy bondage.

          Many of the folks who are the best child-rearers share something of a mental kinship with (a certain type of) child abusers. Repressing sexuality may sound like it’s out of Freud, but it needn’t be terribly weird (or abnormal, or even wrong).Report

    • Trumwill in reply to Boegiboe says:

      This is an interesting idea, Boegiboe. It almost seems like we were headed in that direction a while back when putting a kid in day care was increasingly seen as the responsible thing (even apart from today’s “it allows both parents to work” rationale).Report

  44. Boegiboe says:

    It will be seen as sad, though not entirely immoral, that in our day we are not able to choose to change our biological sex, with total functionality, with little hassle. Depending on how much hassle the procedure is and how much bone structure can be changed along with organs, it may be seen as morally imperative to put adolescents on hormone treatments to slow the development of secondary sexual characteristics.Report

  45. Boegiboe says:

    Eliezer Yudkowski wrote a sci-fi piece in which, just to demonstrate how alien the future really will be to us, human society finds our outlawing non-consensual sex to be barbaric. I don’t see things going that far, but I find it entirely plausible that society will have an expectation that people’s default answer to “Will you have sex with me?” ought to be “Yes,” and that refusal without good reason will be met with general opprobrium.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Boegiboe says:

      Isn’t that essentially “Brave New World” (it’s been a while since I read it, and IIRC it was sort of govt.-mandated more than organic culture, insofar as these things could be separated)?Report

      • Boegiboe in reply to Glyph says:

        I almost pointed out the Brave New World link, too, but the way Yudkowski describes it, just as a one-off, plot-unrelated comment actually allows for a lot more possibilities than the particular scenario in Brave New World.Report

    • dhex in reply to Boegiboe says:

      that makes no sense at all. what if you’re busy buying groceries or something? and you’ve got your hands full with oranges and whatnot?Report

  46. James Hanley says:

    Our obsession with equality. I predict future generations will look back on our conceptions of humans as deserving political and legal equality as a most perverse notion. Having rediscovered Plato (again) after finding the only extant copy of The Republic in the ruins of a Ventura, California, bookstore that had been buried in a mudslide, they will realize that there actually are different classes of humanity, and will proceed to reorganize society so as to better serve all types, instead of insisting that the lesser types are equally competent and expecting or demanding more from them than they could possibly give. Debates will rage among orthodox Platonists who insist there are precisely three types, and critics who will call them essentialists and argue that there are actually 4, 5 or more types. But they will all agree in calling our generation’s views the hard bigotry of high standards.Report

  47. Michael Cain says:

    Fascinating range of suggestions here.

    Background for my own guess. Global population stable at 1.2B, constrained by available supplies of electricity from renewable sources. A dozen or so population concentrations of 100M each (give or take some), each one dense in one or two quite large cities and getting more sparse out to a thousand miles or less away from the city. The urban/rural divide that Will Truman and I talk about will still exist. Generally empty buffer space in between (eg, except for wind turbines, the North American Great Plains will look like the Poppers’ vision of the Buffalo Commons). Each “center” will be largely self-contained economically, most trade will be in terms of ideas, not goods and services. Biggest differences in tech will be in biological engineering. The hyperbolic AI “singularity” will turn out to have been hyperbolic in the amount of power consumed also, so we never got there.

    An entire range of types of government. At least one will have an hereditary aristocracy (for governance, not necessarily for property ownership), at least one will be pure democracy, lots of things in between. Any theocracies will have reached accommodations with their engineers. I’d bet that after 500 years, each of them looks pretty homogenous in terms of population, but substantial differences across them (ie, the Northern European group looks Scandinavian, the group in SE China looks Chinese, etc, but that there are darned few that look Chinese in Northern Europe). We won’t have settled the solar system — the rest of it is turning out to be much more hostile than we think.

    Median level of education will be considerably higher, resulting in higher level of tolerance for lifestyles and such. Biggest overall change in attitude is recognition that it’s a finite world. If I’m picking one thing from today that would be considered barbaric, extremes of economic inequality: “You let people accumulate how much of the wealth? You let people be how poor?” Biggest piece of recognized ignorance: “You really had no idea about how economics functions in the long term, did you?”Report

    • yenwoda in reply to Michael Cain says:

      “Background for my own guess. Global population stable at 1.2B, constrained by available supplies of electricity from renewable sources.”

      I think that fusion will solve the electricity generation problem handily. I agree with a relatively stable population but I guess that it will be closer to 100B than 1B. Global warming will again be a pressing problem, not from greenhouse gas emissions but due to the waste heat needed to power a global economy with so many people. Technological innovation will largely focus on agricultural efficiency and energy efficiency. Practical off-world living will still be out of reach.

      I agree that there will be a diverse range of governments with more countries than exist today. I expect one of the popular models will be extreme (to us) technocracy with restricted civil rights, pervasive state involvement in citizens’ lives and very low crime. Generally I think the next 500 years will not be good for libertarians in most ways. Crowding and a growing stigma against wasteful consumption will erode property rights. The size and role of modern armed forces, and tolerance of developing-world poverty will seem especially barbaric. The extent of child abuse and neglect in countries with comfortable standards of living will shock our future selves.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to yenwoda says:

        I think that fusion will solve the electricity generation problem handily.

        Fusion is an… interesting bet. ITER keeps sliding its schedule — first plasma is now planned for 2020 and start of deuterium-tritium operation in 2027. ITER is testing things that could be game-breakers — like whether the structural materials really hold up as predicted after sustained exposure to the kinds of neutron flux involved. The follow-on DEMO system that would actually product electricity is scheduled to begin operation in 2033. After sufficient operating experience with DEMO, the planners think they’ll know enough to do an actual commercial design, PROTO. I’m a pessimist and believe there’s an electricity crisis coming before fusion will be ready, and the crisis will push us along a different path. I’m willing to entertain small bets that PROTO never gets built.Report

  48. rexknobus says:

    Looking at it somewhat back-asswards:

    I think back 60 years to 1953 (I am a toddler, but this is still within my lifespan). A survey is circulated asking for predictions (in this survey “Never” is a permitted answer):

    When will:

    – smoking be outlawed in bars and restaurants nation-wide
    – there be a Negro (sorry, it’s 1953) president
    – your entire music library can fit onto a postage stamp that you can listen to privately on the bus.
    – rayguns correct your vision
    – everyone have a personal walkie-talkie that receives/transmits sound and pictures world-wide instantly.
    – computers became smaller than buses and every automobile and wristwatch has at least one
    – rayguns cook your dinner
    – dirty movies outsell Hollywood
    – that walkie-talkie with the pictures doo-dad can now hold all your books, too

    any more?

    (and, back to the topic at hand, I am certain that x years in the future, children will be looking at the evidence of fossil fuel burning and cry out: “But, Daddy, didn’t they know?” “Yes, honey, they knew, but they would not, could not stop.” We will be seen as villainous and backwards as slave-owners.)Report

  49. Zac says:

    Five hundred years from now, humanity will be living in a kind of “voluntary” version of the Matrix; we will live in a virtual world that will be the “real” world for most people, with “meatspace” being an unpleasant little detour people have to take when they need to eat or relieve themselves. Automated caretakers and “matter processors”, the logical nano-assembly endpoints of today’s 3D printers, will take care of our material needs. Each person will have their own personal “bubble” in the virtual world, which can be connected to a communal “consensus space” where people can interact under standard “real-world” physical conditions. The combination of unlimited free time, creative power and control over one’s own attributes, along with the collapse of physical distance as a social force, will cause people to revert into voluntary groupings I will dub Dunbar tribes (after the Dunbar number), groups of about 100-250 members based on like-mindedness and other commonalities of the psychological and creative variety. Since the population density this arrangement allows for would compress most of humanity into areas that take up a small fraction of our present sprawl, most smaller cities and rural areas will be largely abandoned; only the tiny portion of humanity that is able to resist the siren call of such a lifestyle will live outside of the major metropolises, in a kind of Neo-Luddite/Amish lifestyle.Report

  50. James K says:

    Honestly, I find it impossible to conceive of what humanity will be like in 500 years. There’s a significant probability of a Singularity-type event occurring on that timeframe, and if that happens all bets are off.

    There’s a line from a science fiction author I read once that described the difficulty of writing science fiction in the far future – that portraying the dramas and concerns of the 24th century to a 21st Century audience would be like explaining the Microsoft antitrust suit to Joan of Arc.

    The people of 2513 might as well be a different species for all that I’ll be able to figure out what they’ll want. Hell, they may actually be another species.Report

  51. wooby says:

    Actually, the last bee died in 2016, and the human race lasted about ten years longer. In five hundred years, the earth is just beginning to heal itself.Report