I watched The Dark Knight yesterday, and it got me thinking about some interesting questions. If you haven’t already seen it, I suggest you do, because it’s a great movie. It poses some intriguing moral dilemnas, which force you to think what you would do in that scenario. The only other thing I really have to say about the movie is that after seeing a few of his films, Christopher Nolan is a God.
Here’s the scenario in question that got me thinking. The Joker cut power to two ships out in the sea. One ship is full of criminals, the other of innocent citizens. Each ship has a ton of explosives, and at midnight both ships will be blasted back to the stone age. If anyone tries to leave the ships, they’ll both be immediately demolished. Each ship has the detonator to the other ship’s bombs, and if they blow the other one up, they’ll live. What do you do?
When I saw it, I knew right away what I would do. If I was on the ship with the civilians, I would instantly detonate the other ship. I don’t think I’d even question the decision. Not only am I ensuring my survival, the people I’m getting rid of are a bunch of hardened criminals too. Killing two birds with one stone, right? Why even challenge the decision? Still, it must be hard to make that kind of decision. But in this case, I would do it. Without a doubt.
But moral dilemnas are confusing, as their name rightly implies. Never an easy decision, and more often than not it’s a lose-lose situation. Even by not doing anything we are making a decision and abiding by it, so there really is no way of escaping the onus and consequences of a moral dilemna. I’ll consider a few here, to guage just how foolishly noble or cruelly heartless I am. I will say that all my decisions are based on some simple, well-meaning conditions:
- I like living. Who doesnt? So if I can, I’ll almost always choose to save my skin.
- I’m a good guy. Whenever I can minimize the amount of casualties, I will. Unless…
- If I need to choose between a plethora of hardened criminals surviving and a single honest civilian surviving, I’m choosing the latter. Sometimes you need to consider who you’re saving, and if it’s worth it.
So let’s pick a couple moral dilemnas, and see what would happen with the set logic.
One of the more popular moral dilemna seems to be the simplest one. It’s a good one to begin with. Let’s say a train is hurtling towards a group of people, and they’re going to die if it hits them. The only thing in your power is to pull a switch and make the train alter its course and instead hit a single person instead. What do you do?
This one’s fairly easy for me. You need to minimize the casualties, so you have to make the train chage its course. If that horrifies you, then maybe killing a group of people will horrify you more. People are going to die in this situation, that’s a given. If you have the ability to minimize the number of people who die, do it. And for everyone who says they’d do nothing and let chance work its thing, you’re still making a decision by not doing anything. It’s up to you how many need to die. Terrible though it is, you need to save as many people as you can, and if that means the loss of fewer people, remember that life is nasty, brutish, and short anyway.
Now how about one that’s more practical, and may conceivably come to use someday? Your town has been flooded, and people have lost access to clean drinking water. You have a months’ supply of bottled water, but no one else does. The problem won’t be resolved for at least a couple weeks. Do you share the water, or do you keep it?
Again, I don’t think I’d struggle with this one. If I have the choice between saving myself and saving someone else, unless that someone else is someone I know or Einstein, I’d save myself. Call me a soul-less bastard, but wouldn’t you do the same thing? Or at the very least consider it? Like I said, I rather enjoy life and all it encompasses, so if I can, I’ll save myself.
Those ones were (for me) relatively easy, so now let’s make it more challenging. And by more challenging, I mean make it as hard as it gets. The kind of questions I sincerely hope no one ever has to face in their lives, but sometimes it’s fun to just think about it.
And all it takes is adding a stipulation to any moral dilemna. What if it isn’t just the lives of complete strangers you’re contemplating when you make the decision? What if it concerns choosing between family members, friends or yourself? Not as easy, is it? Not at all. My answer to any moral dilemna such as the ones presented above but with the addition of people I know would be one of cowardice and inaction rather than choosing. I know by not acting I’m still subconsciously making a decision, but I would rather take the blissful route of ignorance and write it off in my head somehow that I couldn’t have done anything. Which, I think I know is impossible, but what would you do?
Let me take back what I said, it isn’t fun at all to consider moral dilemnas when the hypothetical lives of people you know are on the line. When it’s strangers, though, it is interesting how your true colors come to light. Happier thoughts to come soon!