‘Real historical understanding is not achieved by the subordination of the past to the present, but rather by our making the past our present and attempting to see life with the eyes of another century than our own.’ Herbert Butterfield, 1931
So perhaps I should qualify. These are things things we do today that will seem absurd or even barbaric, to future generations.
Whilst this might feel like an easy target I’m not talking about the whole profession. You just need to take a step back and look at what is involved. There is a lot of drilling, cutting and pulling. The dental tools of old are still recognisable today.
Advancements in dentistry that can be seen already are more likely to take the form of tooth regeneration and better treatments to harden and restore damaged teeth. With the processes getting so good that teeth and gums will be brought back from the brink of total destruction with chemicals, lasers and cell therapy. Good news for those with a fear of the dentist. As long as they still make sure they go regularly.
2. Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.
Yes I know this is a lifesaver. And I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of those who shun the best cancer treatments on the market to rely on ‘alternatives’. Chemotherapy basically takes you to the brink of death, destroying your immune system to try and kill the cancer at the same time. In many instances is the best we have. But future generations will ponder how long it took us (because hindsight is a wonderful thing) to cure cancer using the already very successful treatment out there: our own immune system. In many senses we are already riddled with cancer. But cancer cells are destroyed by own own immune system. We are ‘diagnosed with cancer’ because this system fails. Future generations are likely to have treatments that enhance our existing arsenal rather than destroy it and to do so in the warped lens of our history will appear misguided and cruel.
The slight variation on the above is a kind of ‘vaccine’ but instead of injecting a (typically ‘dead’) version of the pathogen in order to prevent cancer it will be cancer fighting viruses that get injected. Cancer isn’t really just one disease which is why we are close to claiming that some cancers are ‘curable’ whilst others are many, many years of research away.
So let’s just take a moment to consider the entire basis of our justice system. You do something wrong, in the eyes of the establishment, and that same establishment takes away your freedom: A basic human right. When you look at the demographics of those who are imprisoned it is disproportionately ethnic minorities and this is very pronounced in the US. Is this because these people are fundamentally ‘wrong’ themselves. I can’t believe that. Instead I prefer to think that no system is perfect and that our system fails some people with more frequency than it fails others. When someone has failed to uphold the agreed upon values of common decency they are ‘punished’. Whilst not always the reality the punishment is intended to be consensus ate with the crime. ‘An eye for an eye’ is a Babylonian/Old Testament belief that ‘justice’ is about hurting someone as much as they have hurt you. Rehabilitation rates in the UK and the US are poor. This means that once you have transgressed societies norms, we are very poor at teaching you the error of your way, perhaps not surprising if the bulk of the lesson is ‘eye for an eye’. It is my belief that future generations will see the error of their ways and invest heavily in those groups (abused children, marginalised sectors of society, the rich) times ensue that they are far less likely to commit crimes. Assuming this must fail occasionally, take collective responsibility for rehabilitating them to be productive members of society. With imprisonment seen as a distasteful last resort of ‘enforced therapy’ for the good of society which may or may not have an end and would perhaps look more like the Scandinavian model and maybe even appear ‘cushy‘.
The science is there but not all societies are ready to let go of institutionalised revenge.
4. The death penalty
Requiring special mention but probably not special explanation, this is eye for an eye justice taken to the extreme. We have to look to the US as the only example of a developed democracy that still executes people. I say ‘people’ but I may as well say ‘black men’ as it is practically a statistical truth. Why a special mention, because over and above inprisonment it signals loud and clear ‘we have failed’.
So here is the first contact sport. Don’t get me wrong I actually enjoy watching boxing. But I see it as a guilty pleasure. I realise that there is something innate in my that appreciates the physical one-on-one contest. I have always dabbled in martial arts so this may seem hypocritical but I have always shied away from full on contact sport (not full on contact) partly because I know I wouldn’t be very good, but also because it doesn’t seem like a very enjoyable way to spend my time, where as sparring to score points and occasionally get smacked by mistake is quite fun.
There are always those calling for boxing to be banned. And I tentatively distance myself from them. I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that it will evolve or we will slowly move away from it as a society. Firstly because it carries risks, albeit not as many as other sports, but the risks are innate because the intention is to hurt, and I think this will be less palatable in the future. Also because it is still form of violence and that is not something we will want to condone in future. I think we will accept that some violence is occasionally a symptom of a healthy in-repressed society, but that doesn’t mean it should be in sport.
People say that the sport is designed to be as safe as possible and has no no moral dissonance. Exibit A: Back in the day people fought bare-knuckle and there is a suggestion that the legitimising and professionalising of the sport has made it simultaneously safer and more dangerous. Rules around lengths and suspension after KO are making things safer but massively padded hands stop the hands from breaking (which could end careers quickly) but allow boxers to punch with full force. So it is currently a sport, that whilst doing things to reduce some risks has, to extend careers and dare unsay it increase purses, promotion money and sponsorship, made it easier to damage the brains of participants.
The advocates will probably point to disadvantaged people saved by the sport. But why this sport? Persuit of risks? Yes. Familiarity with fighting? Possibly. Accessibility? Definitely. So surely, since almost all sports have a sense of risk it is about making them more accessible, and generally strengthening society, not pinning all our hopes on the boxing ring to save people from crime and poverty. Besides in my utopian postpostpostmodern future there is no crime and poverty. 🙂
6. American rules football
Talking of damaging brains due to increased padding. Far less concussion in rugby.
I’m mainly talking from a male face-shaving perspective. There are all sorts of skin problems associated with shaving. Alright so perhaps barbaric is a little far but let’s just test a conversation with an alien on the subject:
Alien: What are you doing?
You: hmmm. We scrape blades across our face to take the hairs off.
You: To feel clean, I guess. We think it looks better, maybe.
Alien: But it clearly hurts….You just cut yourself….Not everyone shaves….Surely just washing will make you clean….
You: Can’t you just invade or something?
So we await a pain free, cut free and preferably less than daily way of removing hair for men. There are creams, lasers etc. but somehow they haven’t quite made it into the male regimen. Either because of convenience, cost or ease. Perhaps the solution is a combination of the machine and the chemical. I for one await the day that I have a viable alternative to the methods depicted in cave painting without risking looking like Ken doll (without the six-pack).
More specifically use internal combustion engines and human effort to get from A to B. This will be an indulgent antiquated activity like riding a steam train.
I already have to face the fact that my children (who admittedly are quite young) might only have a theory test to get an ‘autonomous car’ licence: Know what do do in case of a breakdown, basics of charging a car etc. It would be a restricted license (like ‘automatics only) but a lot cheaper to learn and insure. My kids become driving age in 2028-ish and these commercial vehicles will likely beat that by a long way.
Electric cars are getting more affordable by the minute (almost literally it seems) with battery innovation and charging technology as well as the car efficiency itself improving it can’t be long before it is viable, and desirable alternative for all but the remotest locations in Northern Europe and US. Besides the more countries ban new petrol cars the faster the change will happen.
“Hey grandpa tell us about when you used to drive your car and all this grey smoke would come out the back.” *sniggers* “Yeah, tell us about the time it rolled down hill because you forgot the finger break”.
I hate my grandkids already.
What didn’t make this list and should have? I’m sure I’ve missed something.
If all of the above is seen be future generations as ridiculous or cruel. Doesn’t that question how we judge times gone by?