Lindsay’s post about the halfwitted prediction that humanity will split into two subspecies in the future makes many good points about why this divergence won’t exist. But one point it doesn’t make is the overall trend of greater convergence, especially greater equal rights.
In 1400, rights were accorded to kings, emperors, sultans, and maharajahs. Now, they’re accorded to a larger group; not all of humanity, or even all of the first world’s citizenry, but certainly a larger circle than in the past.
In terms of equal rights, what we have is about the closest thing that could practically exist to uninterrupted progress. Backlash or no backlash, women in stable democracies are less discriminated against than they’ve ever been. The status of ethnic minorities is gradually improving (much of Western Europe seems to be undergoing a fit of racist hysteria, but it’ll calm down eventually). The rise of religious fundamentalism is a short-term phenomenon that will evaporate in 20 years if it doesn’t create a theocracy by then, as cultures secularize.
I won’t be so optimistic as to predict full equal rights even in my lifetime. I’m not going to even guess when the equal rights era we’re in will end to within a century; I suppose it’ll be in this millennium, but even about that I’m not sure.
Right now, the liberal project’s main aim is equal rights. It has enough philosophical depth and political breadth to metamorphose into something similar when that is achieved – for example, pure civil libertarianism, or opposition to legal codification of cultural traditions – but it’ll necessarily change.
Rawls’ conception of maximal equal rights will remain, but the conception of what “equal” means will have to change. Since income inequality and greed are natural parts of the human condition, there will always be some inequality to level; but whereas right now leveling the playing field is primarily about gender, race, and nationality, and even intranational, intraracial class differences mimic racial inequality in certain ways.
On the other hand, since a lot of people already believe we’re in a post-equal rights era, it won’t be so utopian as I’m making it sound. The best modern approximation of such an era – it’s impossible to get a real sense of what it might be like since cultural norms change extremely quickly – is the life most American TV characters lead, minus the dramatization. So the fact that American TV shows inadvertently function as socio-cultural science fiction helps us predict how things might be like when all the inconvenient facts of life television brushes off are really eliminated.