How to Predict the Future with Taboos

by Travis Hellstrom

I really enjoyed this article by Paul Graham, What You Can't Say.

"It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

It's tantalizing to think we believe things that people in the future will find ridiculous. What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say?"

I love this idea, to think into the future and imagine what people might consider ridiculous.

Ridiculous Now

Here's a quick refresher on things that, if you said them, would have been social heresy not too long ago:

  • The earth moves, not the sun (400 years ago)
  • Slavery is inhuman and should never be allowed (150 years ago)
  • Of course women should be able to vote (100 years ago)
  • Racial segregation is terrible and should be illegal (50 years ago)
  • Interracial marriage is wonderful and should be legal (40 years ago)

These things, some of them within our parents' time, are easy to look back at now and say, "Oh yeah, of course these are ridiculous."

It's much harder to identify ones in the last 20-40 years, since that is still in our lifetime.

Even harder still is to run ahead in our minds and try to predict the future, to "be on the side of history" as they say.

Future Ridiculousness

Here are some examples of what could be seen as ridiculous years from now (with some likely questions from grandkids):

  • Global warming - "People really didn't think that was happening?"
  • Dependence on fossil fuels - "How could you not always run on renewable energy?"
  • Religion and politics - "Why was it unthinkable a non-Christian should be President?"
  • Power - "What do you mean everything had wires? Wireless power is so much better!"
  • Gun Control - "Why didn't people do something about the mass shootings sooner?"
  • Third World - "Why did America always insist on being better than everyone else?"
  • Homosexuality - "So a majority of people thought homosexuality was morally wrong?"
  • Healthcare - "Why was education free and not healthcare?"


Being Fashionable

As Paul mentions in his article, it would be nice if outdated moral fashion were as easy to see as regular fashion.

Look back at your photo from 10 years ago and everyone says the same thing, "Wow, we dressed like that?"

We're all guilty of being a little unfashionable in hindsight.

I wish things happened that quickly with social progress.