To be future oriented does not simply mean using high-tech or attending conferences on Space colonization or transliving all over the planet. To be futurized above all is to have enlightened values and ethics. People who are truly future oriented are profoundly humanistic. Because the more we advance into the future the more compassionate we grow— the more we value the preciousness of each and every life.
(In my forthcoming book Countdown to Immortality I attempt to show that there will come a time in the twenty-first century when even humaneness will not be humanistic enough. There will come a time decades from now when we will evolve beyond humanism.)
The evolution of life has profoundly heightened our appreciation of human rights. This sensitivity to the value of life is obviously uneven within each society and across the planet. There is still much violence everywhere.
But the trend in the world is toward nonviolence.
There is less violence in the world today than at any time in our past. Everywhere violence is declining.
Violence is declining in relations between parents and children— between women and men—teachers and pupils—employers and employees—leaders and citizens—society and the emotionally ill— society and the criminal.
There is also less violence among nations—among religious groups—among races. There is even less violence toward animals.
If at times it appears that violence is increasing in the world it is only because we are now better informed more interinvolved more humane.
"My own belief is that there is less violence today than there was one hundred years ago, but that we have a much better press and communications to report it"—wrote Dr. Karl Menninger in his pioneering book The Crime of Punishment.
We are not only better informed—we are also more sensitive to injustice and inhumanity. What a modern society condemns as violent or criminal was at one time socially accepted—the norm.
Here are some examples of changing norms:
• At one time children were routinely subjected to beatings and humiliations. This was considered "good upbringing." Today we angrily condemn this as "child abuse." In fact a common complaint these days is that parents are now too permissive.
• By today's morality most women in traditional societies were victims of rape. Girls fifteen or sixteen years old brought up in sheltered environments were suddenly required to submit sexually to husbands to whom they were "given" often against their own wishes. Forcible marriage is institutionalized rape.
• At one time everyone walked around openly displaying their weapons: daggers—swords—muskets—pistols. Today many countries have banned the ownership of firearms. In countries such as the U.S. some gun control measures have been passed. But no one is allowed to display weapons publicly.
• The farther back we go in history the more brutally we dealt with crime. Ancient laws were mostly based on vengeance. In England as late as the eighteenth century women—and twelve-year-old children—were hanged for petty theft and pickpocketing. In North America— Europe—Asia—elsewhere people were routinely executed in public squares. Today the trend in the world is toward the complete elimination of the death penalty. All West European countries and many other nations on all continents have already banned capital punishment. More and more people everywhere regard the death penalty as murder— murder committed by the state.
• At one time people routinely hunted animals for food. Today only the most insensitive among us still go hunting and fishing. Thanks to the vigilance and outcry of "animal rights" organizations hunting of some species of whales and seals and some land-based animals has decreased or even stopped. In fact in modern communities if you pull your dog's ears you may be penalized for "cruelty to animals."
• Until the twentieth century the majority of the people of the planet lived in rural areas. Household members routinely slaughtered animals and poultry for their daily meals. In modern societies today people do not see much less take part in the slaughter of animals. They let the butchers do the dirty work for them. Meat is sold packaged or even precooked or frozen. The connection between the packaged meat and the gory cruel manner in which it got to the dinner table is often lost. Nevertheless more and more people—particularly in the U.S. and in Europe—are waking up to the fact that the steak or hamburger or chicken that they put in their mouths is the dead flesh of an innocent animal that had been slaughtered.
In the U.S. there are now around fourteen million vegetarians. True many of these people have stopped eating meat for health reasons. Still many others are vegetarian because they have arrived at the awareness that eating meat is an act of violence.
• The rule of force is also phasing out among nations. For thousands of years—up until early in this century—conquests—invasions—land grabs—annexations—empire building were commonplace all over the world. A strong nation would send over troops or a few gunboats and openly invade a weaker state. Just like that. No declarations of war— no warnings—no explanations. Aggressions evoked no sense of shame or guilt or public outcry—only pride and exultation over the acquisition of new territory and wealth and power.
The wave of decolonization that swept across the planet in the 1950s and the early 1960s undid much of the usurpations of previous centuries. Today there are only a handful of occupied territories in the world.
Conflicts among nations are now mainly ideological and economic. Major powers have difficulty even maintaining "spheres of influence"—let alone conquering weaker states. The age-old drive to invade and colonize has given way to efforts at winning alliances—markets— coproduction ventures. To win special favors major powers often have to send over foodstuffs or high-tech. This is a new phenomenon in relations among nations.
Two quick observations about violence in today's world:
1— Violence in the more advanced societies is mostly committed by the backward and the disadvantaged. A few years ago the U.S. Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence reported that "the poor, uneducated individuals with few employment skills are much more likely to commit serious violence than persons higher on the socioeconomic ladder . . . Violent crime in the cities [of the U.S.] stems disproportionately from the ghetto slum."
The point here is that as people advance socially and materially they are less impelled to resort to violence.
2— Some of the violence in the world today is sparked by the collision of social classes—religions—races—nationalities coming together as never before. This unprecedented convergence of peoples of the world has helped bring to surface age-old prejudices and grievances while accelerating rising expectations. As I see it this violence is transitional—the beginnings of communication among peoples who previously had had no contact.
To sum up: There is still much violence in the world—but the trend everywhere is toward nonviolence. The norms are changing.
There are evidences of a refining process everywhere.
More and more societies disallow child beatings (child abuse).
More and more societies now have strict laws against wife beating.
More and more societies have done away with the death penalty.
More and more societies have strict laws against the ownership of firearms.
Sweden and all East European nations have banned professional boxing. Other nations are now considering such bans.
Sweden and Finland have banned the sale of war toys. There are persistent outcries against such toys in Western Europe and in the U.S.
Sweden discourages the public showing of violence in films and on television. There are more and more protests in other countries against violence in the media.
"Animal rights" organizations and activities are proliferating—particularly in North America and in Europe.
Peace movements and disarmament efforts have spread to all continents.
Global telecommunication and convergence are helping speed up the spread of new values and ethics.
In a few decades—say around 2020—there will probably be no death penalty anywhere in the world. We will look back aghast that until the final years of the twentieth century some people in so-called advanced societies still supported executions.
Hardly anyone will hunt.
In advanced societies fewer and fewer people will eat meat. Such eating habits will generally be viewed as barbaric.
Boxing will probably be banned everywhere. American football will be rid of all the violent tackling and hitting—which today cause an estimated 60,000 bodily injuries every year.
Violence in our entertainment media will be discouraged—if not altogether disallowed.
If trends of recent decades continue there will be no invasions of countries.
The nuclear arms race will probably long before have phased out.
We will certainly have our share of problems—interpersonal and global and extraglobal. But we will increasingly deal with problems in nonviolent ways.
We will hardly even notice our relatively nonviolent environments. Just as in modern societies today we are hardly aware that we have steadily outgrown violence in more and more areas of our lives.
What I want to stress here is that the more backward we are the more violent. The more we advance the less we are disposed to violence.
Our level of humanity is one of the clearest indicators of our level of individual and collective growth.