Some practices accepted as normal and traditional in earlier eras and nations of Western history would be condemned as unjust or inhumane in those same countries today. A few examples include punishing male rapists by having them marry their single female victims; the use of physical torture such as thumbscrews in trials; and the owning of slaves.
When people of the future look back at these times of our own, what will they think? Are there any practices or behaviors that, taken for granted or considered normal today, are likely to be considered uncivilized by later generations? Do we deal with each other in ways that our posterity will judge barbaric?
This is not a question about practices already highly controversial in today’s society — such as gay marriage, consensual abortion, or the separation of children from parents at national borders. Rather, it’s about behaviors our society considers ‘normal’ when it comes to established cultural norms, and how we relate to our fellow humans, other living beings, and our environment.
What are the ethical “blind-spots” or emotional disabilities that occasion our engaging, without even thinking, in practices that a more enlightened future society would view with dismay?
Are there any contemporary practices or behaviors that you find troubling but that seem to slip by “under the radar” seemingly unnoticed in our world of today?
What is the underlying reason for certain behaviors’ being acceptable in one age while likely to be judged uncivilized — and therefore unacceptable — by subsequent cultures?
Please share your thoughts below.
A nation is accountable for its actions just as an individual is. No nation has been perfect and without sin just as all of us are imperfect in heart, intellect, and will. I think the future will look back upon this time in wonderment of how little concern our society had for seeking an awareness of how our Creator has worked and is working now for peace and all the cooperation that stems from that pursuit. The Pilgrims story gave hints of God’s working. The Founding Fathers spoke often of the hand of Providence in the creation of America, and Abraham Lincoln brought spirituality to politics that has not been matched. God had to work with all these well-intentioned but imperfect people to bring a nation into existence. Looking back, so much attention is given to the ideas of men while so little concern is given to God.
I think the primary ethical blindspot that our country suffers from is an over emphasis on individualism, resulting in insufficient emphasis being placed on familyism. An example of a resulting the practice that this allows us to accept as normal is open access to on-line pornograpy. Acceptance of easy access to on-line porn in the name of “free speech” has resulted in a public health crisis in this country, and in many others. Its impact on intimacy in male-female relationships, on marriages, on families is known to be horrendous.
Thank you for your essay Dr. Ellison. I would love to see follow-up comments on this point I am making.
Gay marriage and consensual abortion are not “highly controversial” for a majority of our society, and indeed are legitimized legally in most countries, with more countries supporting those rights every day. So I would put them in the “normal” category, acknowledging that a minority disapproves of one or the other. I also am not sure that the explanation for changes in cultural norms is that future societies are necessarily “more enlightened” than their predecessors. Society itself changes, and culture changes with it. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
My view would be that history is “teleological”, that is, history is moving (or lurching) forward and making progress towards an ultimate goal. As you have said, not every change is for the better. We can see historcial changes that are a move backwards, but those are eventually corrected and slowly healed). The overall thrust of history is in the direction of human spiritual liberation. In that context, I think that there is an overall gradual (and very uneven) enlightenment underway.
We have to know where we are headed.
The future is predicted from past data.
People who do not comprehend how we got here; how can they predict?
Hello Mark. Could you kindly expand on one or more of these important but vague points. We would appreciate hearing more from you…..
This may be controversial, but I think that the practice of sentencing our children to suffer through 12 or more years of public education in a regulated and tested environment designed to instill conformity and common standards will one day be a thing of the past as parents will take on this role more and individualized and customized curricula will be available for learning.
In addition, the whole idea of a 9-5 job where you go to a building in a neighboring city to sit in a cubicle or office will quickly disappear and become much more flexible as remote work and the ability to set your own hours becomes more widespread.
The question isn’t “can we evaluate our culture in the future”. Obviously, we can. The question is, can we do so justifiably.
The answer to that is an obvious no.
Can we judge Jacob who had two wives and two concubines from today’s point of view? Yes we can. Can we find him wanting and therefore unworthy of praise for what he accomplished for God? No.
So, too, we should refrain from judging others, and our society, based on our own sense of morality. Let’s simply look inward and improve our own behavior, and let God take care of the rest.
This is a very important point Craig, and perhaps a worthy follow-on conversation if you are interested and willing to write it?
I believe this is the problem we are facing in our country now. Public statues and monuments are being desecrated and names of prestigious institutions are being changed because the past is being judged by the standards of the present day. Is this okay? Is it sometimes okay? Is it never okay? Perhaps you could start a converstation on Higher Purpose Forum on this question.