h/t to Trolley Problem Memes (Facebook):
Now, to be fair, you’d also have to shoot the trolley driver with (at least) a fast-acting tranquilizer dart. For that to work, you’d also have to add, hypothetically, that you – the moral philosopher with job anxiety – are also a crack shot. Unless the trolley is parked, which then adds yet further hypotheticals…
This is getting complicated. You come across a trolley car sitting at a stop on a track that soon branches, driven by a perfectly alert and capable operator. No one is tied to the tracks. Using the above picture as a reference, in order to create in the minds of the gullible a picture of morality that permits, nay, demands that we make choices to slaughter some people for the benefit of other people, you’d need to, at least,
- back up the trolley to get up a good head of steam as it heads into the switch;
- render the operator unconscious, dead or absent;
- tie assorted people to the tracks;
- if anyone else is on the trolley, they must be likewise incapacitated to remove the possibility that they might notice the lack/incapacity of the operator and might therefore be able to pull the brake at a moral-quandary-spoiling moment;
- set it all in motion as you sprint to the switch lever.
This may seem extreme, but remember, jobs are at stake! Which is Very Important, unless they are coal mining jobs or jobs for which no one is willing to pay minimum wage. Those sorts of jobs deserve to die, even more than the one guy tied to the tracks along the spur, who is just one man, and one man should die to save 5.
You did pick the right guys to tie up, right? The one guy should be some sort of ragged looking dude, you know, to assuage any pesky guilt that might arise from deciding to kill him. But what if you screwed up? What if, hypothetically, that one guy is a Nobel Prize winning genius saint, while the five normal-looking people tied up on the other track are just bankers? Shouldn’t the bankers die? Running them down is really just cutting to the chase.
But what if two of those bankers work in funding projects in underserved areas, routinely give blood and work as volunteers in the third world a month every year? Is that enough to outweigh a Nobel Prize?
Let’s expand on this: That Nobel Prize winner has just recently converted to Christianity and is know to think Islam is not quite as peaceful as a Carmelite monastery, so maybe he should die after all. But those bankers who volunteer every year are known to hold unpopular views about human sexuality, so they should probably die. Except that the other three bankers have attended the gay wedding of a coworker, and wrote thoughtful and comforting things in the guest book, which means we should spare them, even though all three of them are in the 1% and thus by definition deserve to die for their crimes.
Even Vizzini would have trouble with this! Best if I just spread my mutant wings, swoop down and lift the trolley off the tracks to safety! Hey, it’s my hypothetical! And, frankly, there’s nothing about me having mutant powers that is any more preposterous than me having instantaneous perfect knowledge of the state of affairs in the trolley car and on the tracks. Noticing how ridiculous this whole set up is defeats its purpose, which is to convince us that people with better knowledge than us may need to decide that some people must die for the good of the other people.
What does this parable mean? We are the people on the tracks. Our betters see a Crisis with perfect clarity. Some people must die to mitigate the Crisis. Our betters get to decide.
It is never our betters tied to the tracks, at least until the Committee for Public Safety decides they’re not our betters after all. The Trolley Problem is not just a parable of Socialism, it’s a metaphor for the French Revolution!