GOOD

What's the Present-Day Equivalent of Slavery? (UPDATED)

People used to keep slaves and hang homosexuals and beat their spouses. And it was socially accepted. Are we doing anything now that's just as bad?


Last week, in an opinion piece at The Washington Post, the Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah posed the question: What will future generations condemn us for? He points out that some pretty barbaric practices, such as beating a spouse or trading in slaves or hanging homosexuals, were once common and socially accepted.

Looking back at such horrors, it is easy to ask: What were people thinking?


Yet, the chances are that our own descendants will ask the same question, with the same incomprehension, about some of our practices today.

Is there a way to guess which ones? After all, not every disputed institution or practice is destined to be discredited. And it can be hard to distinguish in real time between movements, such as abolition, that will come to represent moral common sense and those, such as prohibition, that will come to seem quaint or misguided.

\n

So what current practices will we one day regard as totally immoral? Appiah has four candidates: our prison system, industrial meat production, the institutionalized and isolated elderly, and our treatment of the environment.

Many other writers weighed in on the question, though. Ezra Klein goes with industrial meat production. So does Matt Yglesias:

I’m least certain about the environment and most certain about meat. Mike Tomask’s uncertain that future people will all be vegetarians, but Ross Douthat has this right—technological improvement will lead to the creation of better alternatives to animal slaughter and that’ll be the end of it.

\n

Ross Douthat suggests abortion:

I would (predictably) nominate abortion as a presently-tolerated evil that will one day be generally deplored. After all, it fits Appiah’s rubrics pretty neatly: The moral arguments against the practice are well known, its defenders are increasingly likely to defend the social necessity of abortion rights (often along “women’s equality depends on legal abortion” lines) and the impracticality of an outright ban than they are to defend the justice of abortion itself, and the pro-life movement spends a great deal of time trying to confront Americans with the physical realities of abortion, whether via ultrasound images or grisly photos of fetuses held up at protest marches.

\n

Over at The Economist, Will Wilkinson says that, of the various candidates, he is "most confident that we will one day find today's criminal-justice system abhorrent."

For my part, I agree with Wilkinson. My prediction is that as brain science and genetics advance, educated people will start to adopt a much more mechanistic view of human behavior. From that perspective, criminal behavior will look more like a physiological or chemical defect than a moral one. That will undermine the rationale for retribution and hurting wrongdoers for the sake of causing pain will fade as a purpose of punishment. Instead, we'll focus on what's humane and socially pragmatic.

UPDATE: I've noticed that a number of people on Twitter mention that slavery itself still exists. That's true. But Appiah is asking which current, socially sanctioned practices will be eventually be regarded as barbaric. We still have human trafficking, but there's broad agreement in society that it's morally wrong, so it's beside the point vis a vis Appiah.

Articles

The global climate change strikes on Friday are said to have been the largest protest for climate change in history. An estimated four million people participated in 2,500 events across 163 countries on all seven continents. That included an estimated 300,000 Australians, but a total of zero were in Hyde Park in Sydney, despite a viral photo that claims otherwise.

Australian Youth Coal Coalition, a pro-coal Facebook page, posted a photo showing trash strewn across a park after what appears to have been a large event. "Look at the mess today's climate protesters left behind in beautiful Hyde Park," the photo was captioned. "So much plastic. So much landfill. So sad." The only problem is, the photo wasn't taken after a climate change protest. It wasn't even taken in Australia.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via GOOD / YouTube

Last Friday, millions of people in 150 countries across the globe took to the streets to urge world leaders to enact dramatic solutions to combat climate change.

The Climate Strike was inspired, in part, by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who has captured worldwide attention for her tireless work to hold lawmakers responsible for the climate crisis.

The strike gave people across the planet the opportunity to make their voices heard before the U.N. General Assembly Climate Summit in New York City on Monday.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

As world leaders meet to discuss new ways to tackle climate change at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, they might miss one very big part of healing nature – nature. In a new short film, youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian, talked about how we need to use nature as a solution to climate change.

There's a huge push to curb emissions, but it's not the be all end all of handling climate change; we also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While we don't have technology to do that for us, there is another solution. "There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It's called a tree," Monboit says in the film. Researchers found that we could get rid of two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that we've emitted during the industrial era just by growing trees. That amounts to 205 billion tons of carbon. Right now, deforestation of tropical forests is responsible for 20% of current greenhouse emissions.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Climate Action Tracker

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change by taking action to curb the increase in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and what steps they're taking to implement those plans. Now that the countries are coming together again for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, it's worth taking a look at what kind of progress they've made.

The Climate Action Trackerkeeps tabs on what each country is doing to limit warming, and if they're meeting their self-set goals. Countries are graded based on whether or not their actions would help limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

According to a recent article from National Geographic, The Gambia, Morocco, and India are at the head of the class. "Even though carbon emissions in The Gambia, Morocco, and India are expected to rise, they'll fall short of exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius limit," the article reads. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, on the other hand, get a big fat F. "Projected emissions in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States are far greater than what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Screenshot via Sweden.se/Twitter (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet