Each generation wishes it could go back fifty years and shake some sense into those people who were so bound by unnecessary customs, and so blind to the options they could have chosen and the changes that loomed on the horizon. As I said on Tuesday, this was Edith Wharton’s theme when she wrote in 1920 about the 1870′s, and it’s the theme of Mad Men, written in 2010 about the 1960s.
I invited you on Tuesday to speculate about which of our own quirks will trigger this sort of bittersweet nostalgic frustration among our descendants fifty years from now. There were some great responses in the comments.
Here are some predictions of my own that I think are least plausible — some moreso than others, but I’ll throw them out in no particular order.
- Future generations will look back with bemusement on a time when airline passengers couldn’t pay extra for a flight that’s guaranteed first place in the runway queue, and more generally on our odd reluctance to embrace prices. They’ll be unable to imagine why we thought it was better to let people die of liver disease than to pay organ donors, or why the “net neutrality” cult had a problem with Internet content providers being able to purchase resources to serve their customers better.
- Future generations are likely to be appalled by the moral blindness of either their pro-life or pro-choice ancestors, though I’m not sure which. Like slavery, this issue will eventually be settled, whereupon the losing position (whichever it is) will start to seem not just wrong but unthinkable.
- Future generations might look back tenderly on the naivete that led us to believe we (meaning, say, middle-class Americans) could go on much longer leading lives mostly untouched by violence.
- Choose a random movie made before, say 1990, and the odds are good that all of the plot complications could have been resolved in the first five minutes if only somebody had a cellphone. Choose a random movie made today and the odds are good that all of the plot complications could be resolved in the first five minutes if only the characters were polyamorous. (Of course, then there would be a whole new set of complications.) As incomes, lifespans, and the quality of communication continue to improve, I expect that our societal fixation on monogamy will wither, and our grandchildren will look back in wonder at their ancestors’ blindness to the lifestyle options they could have chosen.
- The moral circle will continue to expand. As we look back in horror on our ancestors’ harsh treatment of slaves or of Native Americans, our descendants will look back in horror on our treatment of immigrants and our reluctance to trade with foreigners. Slogans like “Buy American” will strike our grandchildrens’ ears the way “Buy White” would strike ours.
- Our treatment of animals might seem almost as horrific as our treatment of foreigners.
- Our descendants might well wonder why so few of us chose to be cryonically preserved (or to put this another way, why so many of us chose to die), and wish they could come back and shake some sense — and some life — into us.
Which of these strike you as likely, and which don’t? And do continue to add your own.