Looking back on now

Interesting and thought-provoking op-ed in the Post earlier this week about what sort of things we do now, the citizens of the future will look back upon in horror in 100 years.  The whole thing is quite good, I found the part about our prison system especially compelling:

Our prison system

We already know that the massive waste of life in our prisons is morally troubling; those who defend the conditions of incarceration usually do so in non-moral terms (citing costs or the administrative difficulty of reforms); and we’re inclined to avert our eyes from the details. Check, check and check.

Roughly 1 percent of adults in this country are incarcerated. We have 4 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; even China’s rate is less than half of ours. What’s more, the majority of our prisoners are non-violent offenders, many of them detained on drug charges. (Whether a country that was truly free would criminalize recreational drug use is a related question worth pondering.)

And the full extent of the punishment prisoners face isn’t detailed in any judge’s sentence. More than 100,000 inmates suffer sexual abuse, including rape, each year; some contract HIV as a result. Our country holds at least 25,000 prisoners in isolation in so-called supermax facilities, under conditions that many psychologists say amount to torture.

The other 3 examples are our industrial meat production system, our institutionalization and isolation of the elderly, and our treatment of the environment.  Personally, I don’think we’ll have dramatic attitudinal changes about the elderly, but I hope he’s right about the other 3.  I’m far too un-creative a thinker to have any ideas of my own– though it’s a really cool topic to speculate about.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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