About a week ago I watched the film Green Book, a story in which ”a working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South,” and it rekindled my interest in a question that I have pondered for some time.
What is the slavery of today?
The film portrays a disturbing reminiscence of racism and racial segregation in the American South, yet not limited to it, almost a hundred years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The underlying moral callousness and blindness of much of the in other ways decent people angered me. I thought to myself, what were they thinking? How come they haven’t given up their racist attitudes? I brought the modern 2019 moral zeitgeist to their time.
And then it hit me again.
You know the feeling when you would love to slap your old self? Well, as I wanted to slap all the racists in the film I thought to myself, what if there is something I am doing, what if there is something that I believe, right now, for which in fifty years I would love to slap my old self?
Then I asked it more generally. What is the thing we are doing as a human race, what is the belief we have, today, for which the future generations will want to punch us in the face?
I loosened the if from there, because the historical track record is clear. It is naive to think there is no such belief or action.
For thousands of years, slavery was in the majority taken as a completely acceptable practice. The moral compass of human civilization was insensitive to such appeals as equal rights for all people, regardless of their class and color. The idea of abolishing slavery was unthinkable for most of civilized human history. Slavery was deeply ingrained in the way societies functioned.
Yet we were able to break its shackles, although one might argue the reminiscence hasn’t faded completely. And although we still have some work to do, we have made great progress.
A similar story can be said about women’s rights. Women, who for the majority of human history were considered second class citizens, were also able to break free and make it apparent, that men and women are equals. Again, although one might say there is still work to be done, we have made great progress.
So where are we progressing now?
What is the slavery of today?
What are the current moral sentiments we will frown upon the future?
What is the belief or action, that we will be ashamed of in the future?
Keeping the past track record in mind I think it is safe to doubt that we have reached the peak of the moral mountain. We are still very young, we have much progress ahead of us as a species, capable of moral reflection.
If you think this is not so, I would love to hear why.
What I see as a good candidate for the “slavery” of today is the act of eating meat motivated by human appetite.
I realize this sentiment is quite fashionable today, more and more people are jumping on the wagon of veganism or at least of vegetarianism. If neither, then at least many are starting to be more conscious of how much and what kind of meat they eat.
So the rustling is there, however, I also think there is a solid philosophical foundation behind this movement. One of the famous guys, who laid the foundation for the concept called speciesism, which essentially claims that disregarding the interests of other animal groups based on irrelevant physical features is akin to racism, is Peter Singer. He wrote the book called Animal Liberation, where the upshot is that discriminating against non-human animals is unethical. Since published, this book has persuaded many to adopt a different stance towards meat-eating.
I am personally yet to persuaded that eating meat is always wrong, but I see a good argument to be made that meat-eating cannot be justified merely by our appetite, by our desire for the taste of animal flesh. Eating meat is no longer necessary for the livelihood of billions of people, we have other options to choose from. And it is this choice, this ability to flourish without meat, that leaves many of the other reasons as a weak justification.
Whether you are persuaded by the vegan/vegetarian claim, I want to invite you to suggest what might be the other beliefs and actions that we are blind to today.
It can either be things of controversial nature, where the side will overtime tip to the side of condemnation, where most of us will agree that what we were doing, what we have believed, was morally reprehensible.
Or, the more difficult to find option, is something which most of us find complete acceptable, or wich most of the human population believe/does, and which will in time fall into the trash bin of things of the past we are ashamed of.
I really want to invite and start a conversation about this, not only because I find it difficult to think of more examples of this sort, but also because of its overall importance. Finding the morally infectious limbs of humanity and cutting them off is admirable. The same way we admire the first who spoke against slavery, discrimination, inequality in the past, we can start to identify new areas for possible improvement.
So, if anything comes to your mind, please do not hesitate to share it in the comments.
Until next time, Andrej