I09 has a post about architecture that changed the world.
Some of it is really fascinating:
But lots of it was built with slave labor (ancient stuff), underpaid child labor (more modern stuff) or at other social cost (various current-ish things). The cost of these marvels, which have changed our society, in many cases for the better, are based, not entirely, but perhaps significantly, on bad and evil practices.
The question is how much do we judge the past by today’s standards? How much of morality is absolutely wrong given our current standards of ethical behavior? This is an important question to which many people take absolute standards, while others take entirely relativistic perspectives.There are simple counter examples to both absolute time-independent standards and total relativity. Child labor was undoubtedly part of early human history (I’m thinking even hominins here, as well as hunter gatherers, etc). Play was likely something to teach juveniles how to survive as adults. Can torture ever be justified – even if was standard societal practice. Is slavery absolutely wrong? Is child labor absolutely wrong? What about eating meat? Cannibalism? And all of our views that we have reached the pinnacle of correctness (as some of my smug vegan friends would say), how much will they change- will we come to think that eating any living thing is wrong (and survive, ugh, on plastics)?
This is important as we think about what to do about people who are bearing the burden, today of bad and wrong stuff that occurred in the past. Do we judge equal opportunity programs on correcting past ills? Is the stronger justification about changing the future? There are lots of different views, depending on where you and your ancestors sit relative to the evil and wrong things. I don’t know. I really don’t. But every time I read about the wonders in history, I wonder about the back stories of the unsung who made it possible.