On the Airtran flight from Atlanta to Boston (we traveled to Minneapolis via Atlanta), I noticed the various hues of the passengers. Some black, most with various shades of brown, a number of mixed marriages, and of course a number of people like myself — clearly white. I realized that this era of having different racial groups and distinct differences in features and skin color is probably a very short era of early human history. That got me pondering the future — the far distant future.
Humans have been on earth 60,000 years; various dinosaurs spanned over 100 million years. For all but the last 5000 or so years humans were primitive hunter-gatherers. Right now more people are alive than lived before in the entire history of the planet. If humanity includes every person alive or who ever lived as a human, over half the population is alive on the planet now. The percentage will go down quickly as time passes. If humans make history, we’ve only just begun to make it.
This first very primitive era (one which we’re still a part of) saw humans evolve in different ways depending on their environments. Moreover small breeding stocks meant that groups would develop their own traits relatively quickly. With minimal contact between groups, distinct racial appearances were created.
Now that travel and technology brings people together across the planet, skin color and other features will average out. After all, is Barack Obama a lightened black or a darkened white? Features within “races” will also mingle, and future humans will probably be a shade of brown with distinct Asian characteristics. When that day comes, assuming our primitive digital information systems or print media survives in some form, historians will no doubt study this period of ancient earth history when people had different skin colors and features different enough for one group to think they could justifiably enslave another, or one group to try to exterminate another.
It’s not just our physical appearances which will change, but the way we interact with each other. Right now people live very repressed lives, conforming to social norms and hiding most of their thoughts, deep desires, fears and feelings behind a veneer of socially correct banter and behavior. We conserve, but we don’t say what we really feel, that’s unacceptable. We fear the consequences of honest communication.
It is a justified fear. Most would react to intense honesty with anger or perhaps a law suit. We are so constrained by our social norms that we judge and fear those who are willing to break them. But how much easier would life be if people could be perfectly honest with each other without fearing judgment from others? How much healthier would we as humans be if we did not have to suppress thoughts, hold back saying what we want to say, and force ourselves to adhere to social expectations. My image of future humanity is one where just as racism and warfare will be looked at as a prehistoric relic, so will the need to hide ones’ thoughts, emotions and ideas. If people are all honest, then everyone will be in the same boat, and they’d realize that NOBODY truly lives without the kinds of thoughts, reactions and feelings we now keep hidden.
Anger will not be repressed until it comes out in rage. Communicating freely and honestly, humans will get along better, develop far deeper friendships, appreciate each other more, and be able to avoid having conflicts turn to violence. Jealousy, envy, depression and anxiety come form the inner torment humans have trying to pretend they aren’t as fully human as they are. Our repressed taboo laden cultures will be an anthropological oddity, and the field of “psychology” will be seen less as an inquiry into the nature of the human mind and more as a necessary field in a world of humans so enslaved by culture and fear of shame or being ostracized.
Finally, I don’t think future humans will end up as the blobs of fat able to nonetheless quickly operate electronic remotes to text and give orders to machines (we won’t be like the humans of the film Wall E). Think about it — wealthier humans tend to want to get in shape, eat well, and feel good. They’ll even have expensive, dangerous surgery to remove fat or change the shape of their noses. Our era will be seen as one in which humans poisoned themselves with chemicals added to their food and utensils (our use of plastic may look to them as bad as the Roman use of lead tableware looks to us). The way advertisers manipulate both our products and our desire in order to get us to eat food that causes obesity, disease, discomfort and ultimately high social costs will be seen as a kind of mass insanity. How could people do that to themselves!?
This, I think, will be one of the first changes. As the costs and consequences of our high fat, high chemical, highly engineered diet become ever clearer (and the evidence is already out there for those who care to read it), changes will be made that yield a healthier more vibrant human. So I see future humans as able to move freely and smoothly, but without all the aches, pains and illnesses we suffer. They’ll be grossed out not only by images of obesity, but by the idea of a runny nose. Just as we wonder how people could live without dental care and eye glasses, they’ll not understand how we could manage with the aches and pains we cope with daily. I don’t think this will be chemically induced; rather, a mix of exercise, knowledge of how the body works, diet, and evolution will push us in that direction.
So future humanity — the ones who will see us as barbaric primitives — will have one race (though will still embrace diverse individual appearances) and be completely honest about every aspect of their lives, not hiding their thoughts, feelings or emotions. They’ll do that because they know they won’t be judged by others; others will understand. As such they’ll be psychologically healthier, happier and less repressed/constrained. They’ll also have bodies that are fluid, healthy and strong. I also doubt the ideological divides and political turmoil we deal with will matter to them; they’ll be above that.
Of course, they’ll have their problems too — problems that will be as serious to them as ours are to us. But at this early barbaric period of human history, I’m too ignorant and primitive to be able to conceive of what those problems will be.