No newsy impetus for this post, just a prediction of what the next big social issues (I hate that terminology, in point of fact, but what can you do) are. Obviously there could be other ones, but I think these three will definitely be thorny national debates.
Now that gay rights seem all but inevitable (though the Supreme Court could throw a temporary wrench into the gears), issues surrounding the place in our society of transgendered persons will become more visible, and I think they will prove more difficult to digest for our existing institutions. Delineating between sex and gender is hard for a lot of people, and most will go simply by the former, making it hard for transgendered persons who have not undergone sex change operations to fit in. Think about how many of our institutions are gendered – public restrooms, locker rooms, airport pat-downs, prisons, sports, many educational institutions – and how determining how transgendered individuals fit into them can quickly get tricky. Who makes that determination? This doesn’t even get into religious institutions.
This is obviously already a substantial and bourgeoning issue, but we may be nearing a tipping point in which various trends – environmentalism, animal rights activism, widespread pet ownership (especially as the average ages of marriage and childbirth occur later and later), vegetarianism, veganism, ethical eating movements, and more – converge into demands for vastly expanded rights for animals. This would apply both to creatures commonly consumed as well as companion creatures, who are often barred from entry to most public places. The role of non-humans in human society will prove tricky, as animals can never participate in our institutions but our moral intuition is growing blurrier about what distinguishes humans from non-humans from an ethical standpoint.
Internationalism v. Nativism
I’m not exactly what to call this one, exactly, but it basically refers to whether scarce resources should be devoted to alleviating domestic poverty or international poverty. This tension is already growing but as the absolute standard of living in the United States continues to grow, the divergence between absolute living standards between America’s poor and the poor of the developing world will continue to grow and become starker. This is not to endorse, by any means, the lazy conservative arguments that because America’s poor have cell phones that they are not poor; it is to suggest, though, that on a social scale the tension between helping those people in your own nation who are least well-off and those in the world who may face substantially graver circumstances – say, malaria – will increase.
No conclusion here, either. Just thoughts.