http://www.sina.com.cn   2010年09月27日 20:11   环球时报

  Once, pretty much everywhere, beating your wife and children was regarded as a father's duty, homosexuality was a hanging offense, and waterboarding was approved. Through the middle of the 19th century, the US and other nations in the Americas condoned plantation slavery。

  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. Still, a look at the past suggests three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation。

  First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they're complicit. With these signs in mind, here are four contenders for future moral condemnation。

  Prison system in US. Roughly one percent of adults in US are incarcerated. We have four percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners. No other nation has as large a proportion of its population in prison. What's more, the majority of our prisoners are non-violent offenders, many of them detained on drug charges。

  Industrial meat production. Of the more than 90 million cattle in our country, at least 10 million at any time are packed into feedlots, saved from the inevitable diseases of overcrowding only by regular doses of antibiotics, surrounded by piles of their own feces, their nostrils filled with the smell of their own urine. In the European Union, many of the most inhumane conditions we allow are already illegal or will be illegal soon。

  The institutionalized and isolated elderly. Nearly two million of America's elderly are warehoused in nursing homes, out of sight and, to some extent, out of mind. Some 10,000 for-profit facilities have arisen across the country in recent decades to hold them. Other elderly Americans may live independently, but often they are isolated and cut off from their families. Is this what Western modernity amounts to -- societies that feel no filial obligations to their inconvenient elders?

  The environment. Of course, most transgenerational obligations run the other way -- from parents to children -- and of these the most obvious candidate for opprobrium is our wasteful attitude toward the planet's natural resources and ecology. Desertification, which is primarily the result of destructive land-management practices, threatens a third of the Earth's surface; tens of thousands of Chinese villages have been overrun by sand drifts in the past few decades。

  Let's not stop there, though. We will all have our own suspicions about which practices will someday prompt people to ask, in dismay: What were they thinking? Even when we don'thave a good answer, we'll be better off for anticipating the question。











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