Sunday, September 26, 2010

Princeton professor chides our "strategic ingorance", and lists the practices that future generations will judge us harshly for

The Washington Post has a futurist article today by Kwame Anthony Affiah, philosophy professor at Princeton (“The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen”) has a “disturbia” piece in Outlook Section B of the Washington Post today, “How future generations will judge us: Which actions today will seem appalling tomorrow?”

We play Dr. Phil and say “what we people thinking?” when we look at our own history, with practices in the past that are now seen as shameful. One of the obvious ones is slavery, followed by segregation. Affiah talks about “strategic ignorance”. You could apply that to today’s trade problems. When we buy “cheap” imports (that in a different system might have been made at home with union labor), we don’t think about working conditions and exploitation half way across the world.

Affiah lists four big wrongs:

(1) The prison system

(2) Industrial meat production. Those who saw the movie “Babe” know what he is talking about

(3) The institutionalization and isolation of many of our elderly. In poorer cultures, extended families stay together, and splitting off is not a valid choice. This issue is just now running away from us, with smaller families, and extended life spans; the individualist solution (even on Oprah with Dr. Oz) has been to demand that people be responsible for their own health habits lifetime. But the religious right has been able to tie this issue to “demographic winter”.

(4) The environment, and probably peak oil – the traditional “inconvenient truths”; Al Gore was only the beginning.

Others will come up with more items, such as financial ponzi schemes, tolerating the pre-existing conditions problem for health care, or gross homophobia. Or maybe that the tobacco industry was so powerful for so long. In fact, all of these issues are linked, in some way, to “culture wars” and “family values”, and perhaps to hyperindividualism. Both the far Left and the far Right demand that everyone have their own personal skin in their communities, and in various ways trying to implement such requirements (on individual people, making sure that nobody “gets out of things”) can bring back totalitarianism or at least authoritarianism. (I often speak about the Vietnam era draft with the deferment problem as a typical example – when today we debate “don’t ask don’t tell”.) But even hyperindividualism (which much of his article amounts to) can lead us to very disturbing end points.

Something else, too: most of the “abuses” of the past have indeed occurred in a “family based” society, where family values, lineage, and religion could be used to cover up other problems. Back in 2004, another Princetonian, David Callahan, showed us a lot of this in his book “The Cheating Culture”.

The link is here.

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