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The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics. The general form of the problem is this: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:
-Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
-Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice? Wikipedia


Content warning for various injuries.

The summer after I turned one, my parents took me to their friends' vacation house in Moscow region, and the next day, together with our hosts, we sent swimming, or bathing in my case, in the shallow river that ran nearby.

The adults were having fun, and thought that I was, too, until a stranger, one of the many who were also bathing in the river, cried, "She is drowning on you!" and pulled me out of the shallows where I was bobbing up and down.

(I am retelling this event from my mother's words, because I have no memory of it. I have bathed in that very spot when I was older though, and can confirm that the current is deceptively slow and shallow there.)

The summer after I turned six, my mother, my brother, who was then four, and I rented a summer house of our own in the Moscow region, and while there, we bought fresh cow milk from the residents of a local village.

The first visit to the cow owners to agree on the price and the amount of milk (three liters twice a week) did not go as planned, however. My ever-curious and fearless little brother spotted a calf in the back yard of a house, and rushed in to meet it. This intrusion on her territory did not sit well with the guard dog in the front yard. She jumped my brother, seized him by the thigh and started dragging him toward her hut!

But not a second later, my mother ran after my brother with a loud battle cry. Luckily, the dog was cowered, released him and hid in the hut herself.

After telling me to turn around and not look, mother checked the wound, determined that she needed to take my brother to the hospital a few train stops away, and gave me a choice of either returning to the house with our neighbours who were also present, or going with her. I chose to go with her, and had to carry her handbag to help; it was unexpectedly huge and heavy. My brother was left with a large scar.

When I was nine, I was taken to the children's teeth clinic that had just opened nearby to straighten my teeth (they are too large for my jaws and very crowded). The first year that I went there (teeth straightening takes a while) I was accompanied by my mother, and one visit in particular I will never forget. We had just left the clinic and were walking home when there was a screech of tires behind us; mother looked back, quickened her steps and told me to follow and not turn around, but unlike the time with my brother's thigh wound, I did look back.

A man had just pushed a kid who had run out into the street from in front of a coming bus and was hit himself. It happened fast and ways down the road, but I can still see the man falling as if in slow motion. (Although I am not completely sure I am not imagining it, or that the image was not a psychic imprint of the emotions of people on the bus stop where it happened who also saw the accident.)

Several years ago, this time in winter, I was returning home from work. It so happens that the metro stop I usually get off on is the next one after the metro train terminus. (The terminuses are not, like one may believe, situated at the very end of the metro lines.) Every evening after the rush hour ends, part of the trains run only as far as the terminus station, their passengers having to get off there and wait for the next train to continue their journey. That day, I had to do just that, and was slowly walking up the platform of the terminus station toward the middle of the train that is usually less crowded when a drunken man nearly walked into me. He'd obviously just been woken up by the metro workers and made to get off the same train as I.

I gave into the natural reaction of avoiding collisions, and drunks, and watched the man stagger on across the platform when he was intercepted, I think, by the same metro worker who'd made him get off the train. She caught him by the arm, steadied him and made him get his bearings. Her face was pale, and it was only then that I realized that in his disoriented state, the man could have walked right off the opposite end of the platform.

In December last year, I returned home quite late one night, and had just went out with the dog when and older lady sitting on the bench near the house addressed me and asked where the nearest first aid station was. I replied that I did not know but that I was going to ask my mother at once, hurried back home, and learned that it was about six bus stops away. Coming back, I told the lady the address, confirming what a young man who was with her, her grandson, had already found on his phone.

And then I somehow stayed with them, called them a taxi after learning they did not have any taxi company numbers, and waited until it arrived, making sure that the lady stayed conscious (she had fallen and most likely broken her arm, it turned out), even as she was getting worse before my very eyes. I wonder if I should have called emergency services instead, and hope she was all right.


I am sure that for every little story I have just told, you could tell me several of your own, but to me, all of them serve to illustrate that the thought-up moral dilemmas the like of the Trolley Problem have little to no bearing on real life for the simple reason that you do not know how you will react to an extreme situation until it is upon you.

Will you freeze? Run away? Be a bystander, like I so often have been, like the old lady's grandson was? Will you be able to take charge? Will you take charge and not make matters worse?

Only first-hand experience will tell.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
kehlen_crow
Feb. 21st, 2017 10:21 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome (and so are stories that prove or disprove my reaction to the trolley problem :) ).
roina_arwen
Feb. 21st, 2017 10:44 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you've had many interesting (and in some cases scary) experiences! You make a good point about not knowing how you'd react - the Trolley Problem is typically very "in the moment", and how you might react today might not even be the same as you'd react tomorrow!
kehlen_crow
Feb. 22nd, 2017 03:33 pm (UTC)
Exactly. Also, it makes you feel guilty over a hypothetical situation, and does not take into account the morality of even asking such a question, of making you choose, for example.

(I was tempted to add at the end of the entry that if you find yourself in a real life Trolley Problem, your real challenge is subduing the psycho who put you in such a position and is playing with you :) )
eternal_ot
Feb. 23rd, 2017 01:28 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting point you make about the person putting you in that situation.
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:22 pm (UTC)
I do not like no-win scenarios. :-)
majesticarky
Feb. 22nd, 2017 12:22 am (UTC)
Wow intense! You've been a part of so many life and death scenarios. It's a very good point to bring up, that you never really know how you will handle a runaway trolley unless you're actually there...
kehlen_crow
Feb. 22nd, 2017 03:29 pm (UTC)
Interesting that you say so, because I have collected practically all situations of this kind that I remember in this entry, and I don't think that 5 in 35 years are really that many :)
majesticarky
Feb. 22nd, 2017 03:31 pm (UTC)
I've been a part of 0, and I think that's the case with most people, so I think 5 is a lot!
eternal_ot
Feb. 23rd, 2017 01:30 pm (UTC)
I totally agree that you cannot predict your reaction and it may vary with the timeline and situation. The stories made an interesting read.
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

I think that mentally preparing for emergencies helps, but thought experiments that involve deaths, however imaginary, make my skin crawl.
rayaso
Feb. 23rd, 2017 09:16 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed the vignettes very much. While I was reading about the Trolley Problem (also Wikipedia), I had the same thought, that this was a very impersonal presentation of a very personal problem, in that in real life, so much would depend on being there. These types of conundrums may be fun to discuss and you may think you know what decision you would make, but all speculation can fall apart under the urgency of the moment.
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:25 pm (UTC)
True, and also I do not think that thought experiments that involve deaths, however imaginary, are particularly ethical.
my_name_is_jenn
Feb. 23rd, 2017 11:15 pm (UTC)
It is so true that you never really know how you'll handle a scary or difficult situation until you're actually in that situation.
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:41 pm (UTC)
Yes. Mental preparation helps, a little, but not the one they force you into with the trolley problem. At least not for me :-)
tonithegreat
Feb. 24th, 2017 04:26 am (UTC)
I kind-of disagree with your premise, in that I think people can train themselves to deal better with emergency decision-making in the moment. But I nevertheless enjoyed your pastiche of moments approach to this. It made me want to recount my own close calls. And, after all, it is true that real life emergency presents itself in a wide enough array of scenarios that for most of us do no such training.
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:55 pm (UTC)
I agree that we may prepare for emergencies, but I am not sure preparation is enough if such occasions are rare in your life (and one should hope that they are rare unless you are a trained professional).

What angered me the most in this thought experiment was the casual placing of the reader in a death-or-death situation. Discussing if a child life is more or less valuable I can understand, some, as well as a number of other mental problems, but becoming a killer through action or inaction is a twist that does not sit well with me at all, even in thoughts. I do not believe any amount of preparation will make a the impact less, and it shouldn't.

(I may not have made sense, but I am very confglucted about this...)
halfshellvenus
Feb. 25th, 2017 08:15 pm (UTC)
I liked that you framed these vignettes in the form of action or inaction from bystanders, where some bystanders were strangers and some very much invested in the person they were saving.

The man who pushed the child out from in front of the bus intrigues me the most. He paid the greatest price for his choice, and we probably will never know whether he was saving a child he loved or simply a little boy who would otherwise have been killed.
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

It is interesting how the mind worksd in both situations, is not it? If you are invested in the person, especially your child, you might rush in without thinking (my mother only spared half a thought to what would happen if the dog did not let go), but with a stranger, you might hesitate and wait for others to take action until it is too late.

We will never know about that man, but I dearly hope he lived.
dee_aar2
Feb. 26th, 2017 04:16 am (UTC)
Its true about our choices being subject to our actual experience at a particular point of time. We cannot be objective while being hypothetical. We might nit even react practically the way way think we might theoretically.

This was a good way to put that forth regarding this philosophy.
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
murielle
Feb. 26th, 2017 01:15 pm (UTC)
A good collection of "trolley problems." And I agree that we can never know how we will react in an emergency.

Kudos!
kehlen_crow
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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