Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Wish He was Dead

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Everyone who suffered through childhood has probably thought the above sentiment, typically directing the murderous thoughts towards a sibling. On This American Life, with Ira Glass, listeners are given the choice.

Radio Lab, from New York Public Radio, poses two scenarios to their listeners, asking them to make a moral decision. Five workers are working on a railroad. A trolley is headed to them. You are unable to alert them, but can flip a lever that will re-direct the trolley to another line. Only one worker is on that line. Would you do it?

Take a minute and think how you would decide.

Next scenario -- same five workers, only this time you are standing on a foot bridge above the trolley. A very large man is next to you. If you push him in front of the trolley, it will save the workers. Would you push him?

Again, take a minute.

Did you save the workers in the first scenario, and the large man in the second? If so, you answered just as 9 out of ten people would answer. Yet, think of this, if you had pushed the large man, you would have saved the same number of people.

Disturbing, isn't it, that that majority of us could sacrifice the sole worker through a flip of a lever, but couldn't save the same four lives with a direct action.

The implications are vast. Government applications, thriller novels, rampaging psycho paths and good Samaritans are affected by this. The question is, where do they stand?

I might wish someone dead, but I couldn't directly kill them.


Bethany K. Warner said...

oooh, that is startling.

Samara Leigh said...

That is something isn't it. I guess it also explains why war makes more sense to people who philosophize about its merits from a distance than it does to those who are forced to do the deeds it requires.