The end of the year is a good time for reflection, and usually in column form, it means taking stock of what the past year has meant for politics, or society, or what have you. I’ll leave that to others this year. Instead, I’ll take a crack at predicting a few things our descendants won’t understand about how we lived. Good, bad, or ugly, below are a couple things I suspect will befuddle the coming generations.
Developments in food production and agriculture during the 20th century had huge positive benefits, to include the fact that they helped prove Malthusian warnings about population growth wrong. Developments in animal husbandry and the production of meat went too far, however. Here, we went from making animal protein far more abundant, to expecting it at every meal, to expecting certain cuts at every meal. This required enormous environmental despoliation and sickening mistreatment of animals.
Instead of treating animals as containing any moral worth, they became another commodity to simply be produced with as much efficiency as possible, without any consideration of their indisputable pain and suffering.
Led in part by ethical arguments, in part by food fashion using snout-to-tail cooking, and in part by plain revulsion at the practices of factory farmers, I suspect the strides taken away from factory farming will speed up. Overall meat consumption will decrease, more people will eat bone marrow, offal, and other parts of the animal that seem exotic today, and consumers will place increasing emphasis on the treatment of the animals and their surrounding environment. Our children will look back at the videos surreptitiously taken of factory farms and wonder how we shuffled through our lives refusing to look at the barbaric charnel house that provided our calories.
This one sounds counterintuitive, as the NFL is the most prominent and profitable professional league in the United States, and college football is wildly popular as well. But though the research on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, is in its infancy, I suspect the data will continue to pile up, showing that continual blows to the head over a period of decades has important negative health consequences.
I suspect our children and grandchildren will look back and wonder how it didn’t occur to us that a sport involving men who weigh 300 pounds and can run the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds chasing one another and wrestling each other to the ground with bad intentions might have lasting, negative health effects.
Paradoxically, as with mixed martial arts and boxing, I think the protective equipment that gave the illusion of safety will prove a culprit here. If, for example, players had not been able to wear helmets–or boxers had not worn 16-ounce gloves–the sports would have had to evolve in ways that prevented the repeated blows to the head that helped produce CTE. I would bet on long, drawn-out lawsuits, controversies from Pop Warner to the NFL, and a white-hot national debate about whether or why CTE is related to football.
There are many more things I think younger generations may puzzle over–the drug war, hour-long suburb-to-city commutes, telephones you talk into, the concept of privacy–but if I had to bet, put my money on Smithfield and the NFL.