Long ago, people were dirty and mean and ignorant. They would crap in a bucket and throw it in the river. They would burn people alive if they wanted them to die, and tell them swallow mercury if they wanted them to live. They were barbarians, in other words. Here are eight reasons why future generations will see us the same way.
Right now, we call artificially grown meat “shmeat,” which depending on who you ask is short for “sheet” and “meat” or “shit” and “meat” — but with any luck, that will one day change. On that day, meat will involve a lot less of certain things. It will involve less wasted plant matter, that’s only used to grow inedible bone and sinew in farm animals. It will involve less land. It will involve less over-use of antibiotics. And it will involve less cruelty.
But it will also involve more of certain things. Sure, you’ve tried chicken, but what about hummingbird? If you’ve tried buffalo, what about rhino? Lab-grown meat would allow future generations to eat the kinds of meat that we couldn’t possibly farm. They could have a diet more varied than we can imagine. Just like our nostalgia for the Old West diminishes when we think about cowboys dining on beans and dried meat every night, our descendants may shudder at the knowledge that our terribly limited meat selection doesn’t include pangolin and kiwi.
Experimentation on non-human animals might be necessary in the future, but it probably shouldn’t be legally required, as it is now. This change will take two steps. The first step will involve publishing all the “breakthroughs” that have worked on animals but turned out not to work on humans. Publishing all of this data will let the public know how little some animals have in common with humans, but this will take a lot of paper. One study showed that, out of five hundred drugs that were effective stroke treatments in mice, only two were effective in humans.
The second step will involve finding models that are better than the ineffective animal models we currently have. Sometimes these models will be made of shmeat, although this time it will be human shmeat. Companies can already make human skin and liver tissue. Soon we may be able to grow entire human organs.
We can also test drugs using computer models, which can show us a simulation of the entire human system. If we do this right, in the future people will look at us as not just cruel, for testing drugs and cosmetics on animals, but stupid for not coming up with better models on which to test our drugs.
Rat Image: Jason Snyder
And speaking of drugs - recreational drugs are bad. They can hurt your body, alter your consciousness to cause you to make bad decisions, and make you an addict for life. Let’s have a drink and talk about that.
Our drug policy will look dated to future generations, because every drug policy always looks dated to the generations that follow. This is inevitable — partly thanks to the nature of scientific research. Some studies will have more alarming results than others, and those studies tend to shape policy. It’s only further study — and often further societal experimentation — before we get an idea of what a drug does to people, and to the civilization they live in. So when we make decisions about drugs based on existing research, we look ignorant because, compared to future generations, we are ignorant. But that, by itself, doesn’t make us seem barbaric.
What makes us seem barbaric is when, despite our ignorance, we dole out harsh penalties. When, during Prohibition, the government started poisoning alcohol to keep people from drinking, it was barbaric, and it did not stop people drinking. When people get twelve-year prison sentences for selling thirty-one dollars worth of marijuana, it’s barbaric and it doesn’t stop people from smoking pot. Meanwhile, tobacco use has steadily declined via taxation and annoyingly self-righteous ad campaigns — neither of which future generations will call barbaric.
This might be the most utopian item on the list, because it presumes that we, as a planet, will make a great deal of progress. Then again, the current system presumes a few things as well. It presumes, for example, that if I am born in America, or if one of my parents is American, I should think that certain forms of speech, however ugly, should be legal. This is not the case in other countries. Many nations have laws against Holocaust denial, and against denial of other instances of historical genocide. Some have laws against hate speech. Others have laws against all kinds of speech. Perhaps I feel that another nation’s government more accurately represents my political philosophy.
Too bad. Economic differences and military rivalries make it impossible for people to freely choose allegiance to whatever government that suits them, and migrate to its territory. Right now, it doesn’t look like that is going to change. The global economic system is complicated, but there are still huge differences in the standard of living in different nations, which complicates immigration immensely. That might change. In theory, most people seem to be on board with the idea that eliminating poverty is good, and that economic equality is a goal worth working towards. Once people can move from nation to nation not as a way to trade up economically, but as a way to throw their support behind a political philosophy, the world may get a lot freer. Perhaps future generations will look back at the concept of being born a citizen of a particular country the way we look at being born the serf of a particular lord.
Flag Image: Cesar Expo, Wiki Commons
Megacities look like grim, industrial hellscapes in Judge Dredd comics, but it doesn’t have to be like that. City people are less likely to drive, they consume less heat, and they buy fewer bulky appliances. Despite their urban setting, they tend to live greener than people do when they have a little house out in the country but drive to work every day. Cities are becoming more and more desirable. People, in recent years, have been trying to move into cities, rather than out of them. Of course, this poses a problem for current city residents, who get priced out of their homes.
This is both an infrastructure issue and a social issue, and, hopefully, both can be addressed. On the social side of things, perhaps we should look at city living the way we look at tax dollars and social services — if you pay in to the system, you deserve to collect on the benefits. In other words, if the reason cities are desirable places to live is their cute cafes, and weird art spaces, and funny little shops, and interesting restaurants, then the people who work in those cafes and shops and restaurants should have access to the city that they help make great. They shouldn’t have to commute an hour, in order to improve someone else’s city.
Once access to the city for all classes becomes paramount, the infrastructure has to change. We’ve covered how megacities will rely more on public transportation, will build between current buildings, and will find new walkways for pedestrians. If it works, in a century, someone walking through the streets of mega-Manhattan will reflect on how awful it was that once the poor had to commute for hours every day just to serve coffee to the rich. And for those of you thinking that, at a certain population level, a city will always become an unmanageable hellscape, here’s another way that future generations will consider us barbaric.
To be honest, I can’t believe we haven’t changed this already. According to a recent survey, twenty percent of pregnancies are unwanted and thirty-one percent are mistimed. And that’s a survey of women, who at least have the theoretical option of chemical birth control.
Of all the items on the list, this one may be closest to completion. A daily birth control pill for men was, as of 2014, being tested in Indonesia. A gel that would block the vas deferens is in animal testing, and researchers hope to see it released by 2017. The release of birth control for men would revolutionize health care for women as well as men, since neither the pill nor the gel relies on hormones. It would change the population growth of nearly every nation on Earth. And for people in the future, it would completely change how they saw the past. Accidental pregnancies, or pregnancies intended by only one person, might be unthinkable — a drama they only see in period pieces.
Think of how you feel about an era in which people had no access to soap, and knew that they were covered in fleas. That’s how future generations will feel about us, and the fact that arachnids live in our faces.
I don’t think that future generations will totally wipe out the bacteria on their bodies, either. They would probably see that as another form of ignorant barbarism, a little like the way we think about past generations’ uses of pesticides before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring came out. In the future people could find out which bacteria are helpful, and cultivate them. For example, it looks like there are many strains of Propionibacterium acnes. Some are associated with acne-prone skin, and some with very clear skin. Meanwhile, our underarm bacteria, when spread on the rest of our skin, is associated with better wound healing and blood vessel dilation. Sure, they make us stink, but perhaps genetic engineering could change that. Future generations may consider bacteria bars as essential to health and sanitation as we consider soap and deodorant today.
Of all the items on this list, this is the one that is most morally ambiguous. I’m not saying that this is a good thing, but I do think it’s a sure thing. Looking back through history, especially recent history, there are very few times when humans passed up the chance to locate each other, or to let other people know where they were.
This information has two components, identity and location. Whether it’s personalized tracking chips, or fast ways of locating DNA, or satellites scanning our retinas from space, or analyzing your word choice and typing speed using it to figure out what computer you’re on, there will be increasingly accurate information on your identity and your location at all times. There will be good aspects of this, and there will be bad aspects. Because of the former, and despite the latter, the fact that people today sometimes just didn’t know where their friends or family were will be a special kind of baffling to the population of the future. It will be like when there’s a black out and you keep circling back to the light switch because your brain can’t comprehend that light isn’t available whenever you move your fingers. I’m not saying that people won’t ever be able to sneak around. They will. But from day to day, it will take a system-wide “black out,” for people to even begin to understand what it is like for us now.