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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, April 18, 2014

Strange Social Practices of the Future

As the future carves out a new and different world for us to live in, we will no doubt change our social practices and attitudes. But in what ways will our customs and attitudes change? Below are a few possibilities.

Work Rationing

Work rationing will be what happens if society discourages people from working more than a certain number of hours per week. We could easily see work rationing if advances in automation cause a big increase in unemployment. Imagine if more and more people are losing their jobs to computers and robots. There could then be new laws that strongly discourage people from working for more than a particular number of hours per week – perhaps 40, perhaps 35, or perhaps 30.

The simplest way to enact a work rationing program would be to enact wage laws that would require not just time and a half for overtime, but double pay or triple pay for overtime. Overtime might be defined as anything more than 40 hours per week, 35 hours, or 30 hours.

Energy Rationing

The last thing anyone wants is to go back to a system like that followed during World War II, in which everyone was issued coupons that had to be produced in order to buy gas. But a practice like this may come back, if dire predictions about Peak Oil come true. The practice could be updated by giving everyone a gas card with a magnetic strip, one that would have to be produced whenever you buy gas. A more general energy rationing program would be one that also rationed air travel. Each citizen might be issued an air travel card entitling him to no more than a certain number of miles of air travel per year.

Drug Legalization

We currently have the huge problem that many millions of Baby Boomers are nearing retirement without much money saved for retirement. Many millions won't be able to afford travel or golf during their golden years. Perhaps the government may deal with the problem by encouraging drug legalization, and encouraging drug use by the elderly.

One can imagine how a cold government bureaucrat might think such a policy was good. From the government's standpoint, it is a tragedy when a young person dies from a drug overdose, because that means a loss of tax revenue. But from the government's standpoint, it is no tragedy when a very old person dies, as that saves the government costs in social security and medicare payments. We can therefore imagine a future government (with grave financial problems) encouraging not just drug use by elderly citizens, but also drug use that involved a high risk of accidental overdose. Will future state-sponsored television commercials ask: had your heroin today, Grandpa?

Robot Wives and Robot Children

One major problem that may plague the future is overpopulation. We don't see its effects all that dramatically in the United States, but in nations such as China one can see the grim effects of overpopulation in cities that are typically covered in very thick smog.

If overpopulation worsens, we may see the encouragement of novel social practices designed to minimize reproduction. We may see a social acceptance of men living with robot wives rather than real wives. We may see a social acceptance of married couples living with robot children designed as substitutes for real children. Perhaps the government might even give a free robot child to any couple who promised not to have a real child.

Vegetarianism as the Norm

Currently vegetarians are in the minority in countries such as the United States. But as global warming worsens, and people realize what a large percent of greenhouse gases are produced in order to support meat eating, then we could see a reverse of present attitudes. Meat eaters might then become an ostracized minority, somewhat like cigarette smokers are today. We can imagine a future in which meat advertisements are forbidden on television, and meat eaters have to wait to be seated in the relatively few restaurants that still serve meat.

Assisted Suicide

Currently only three US states have laws allowing physician-assisted suicide: Washington, Oregon, and Montana. But what if overpopulation problems worsen, and what if the nation starts to be bankrupted by the economic costs of supplying retirements benefits and health care for the very aged? We might then see something like vending machines that dispense suicide pills. In order to use the machine, you would have to swipe a credit card. The software in the machine would check that you are over a particular age, such as 80 or 85. The software might also be linked with a central medical computer, which might allow anyone to use the machine if that person had a diagnosis of a fatal disease.

Lawsuits About Whether Someone is Dead

In our society death is something with very significant legal ramifications. Whether you are dead may determine who is the owner of your house and other investments, and it may determine whether it is or is not the time for an insurance company to make a payout. But what if the status of your death is blurred by technology? What if you have uploaded your mind into a computer or a robot? Are you then dead, or not dead?

We can imagine relatives battling out such issues in court. One relative may argue that dear old Dad is dead, because his body has been buried; therefore, his will should now be executed. But maybe his surviving wife argues that Dad is not really dead, because he has had his mind uploaded into a computer. 

 A news story of the future