For centuries, the main concern of women and men has been to conquer new freedoms in either the formal or real senses. It is how, through struggles, democracies and human rights were created—though in far too few places in the world. Political and social rights.
In the future, other struggles will take place to expand these freedoms; other rights will be demanded and conquered: the right not to be connected, the right to privacy, the right to die with dignity; and even: the right to have a gratifying job, the right to have children through surrogacy (human or artificial), the right to have simultaneous relationships with several consenting adults, or even, perhaps, the right to have a legal union with clones or virtual avatars.
Conversely, certain freedoms have been curtailed, in particular the freedom to do what may harm others. Thus, for example, the rights to exploit or martyr someone weaker than oneself, have sexual relations with one’s parents or children, mistreat animals, have all been called into question. At least in theory.
In the future, other freedoms will be called into question; today, behaviour that is considered to be a display of freedom will be denounced as a crime. Here, too, freedoms are under threat.
Behaviour that is already prohibited in many countries but is still too often tolerated, such as slavery, paedophilia, violence against women, children and animals, and harassment in the workplace, will at last be seriously and universally condemned and prosecuted. Bearing arms, like the death penalty, will perhaps one day, even in the United States, be stored away in the shop for immoral and ineffective accessories.
Other forms of behaviour will be banned, other freedoms will be curtailed.
First and foremost, in the name of morality: thus, any action that is perceived as an attack on the dignity of a minority will be progressively prohibited; and not just the living but also the dead will be judged by this standard; in particular, it will lead to the rewriting of history books and masterpieces of literature, in the scrapping of countless works of art, for their content or for the conduct of their authors. More generally, courtship and related manners that are welcomed today will be generally criminalized because it will be considered offensive, degrading or aggressive in the future.
Freedoms will then be called into question in the name of safeguarding everyone’s health: it will be forbidden to eat sugar or salt, remain inactive, drive private cars, and many other things.
Finally, other current freedoms will be called into question in the name of safeguarding the planet: we will rightly ban excessive consumption of meat, fresh water resources, excessive usage of pesticides and fertilisers, and the compulsive purchase of consumer goods. Some will even go so far (they already do) as to prohibit humanity from reproducing, in order to protect the rest of the living species from the havoc caused by the irrepressible needs of liberty of human beings.
Predictive behaviour technologies, artificial intelligence, video surveillance and genetic analysis will make it easier to implement these prohibitions. It will come to (or rather it will return to, as in the oldest dictatorships) the point of even considering individual freedoms as the exception and prohibition as the norm, to describe human rights as the enemy of civilization, and to glorify submission.
Some of these extreme challenges to freedom will be necessary; and of course we should not give up on banning the intolerable; and in particular, we should not stop protecting the weakest from the consequences of the excessive freedom of the strongest.
But we must not , however, reduce to nothing such hard-earned freedoms. Human rights, as it is defined today, must be regarded as an intangible asset of humanity.