Hi. I used to use this blog a lot more than i do now. I don't agree with much of what i've posted here, but such is the nature of time. :) My instagram & facebook are likely to be more up to date.

the trolley problem and bill ayers, sort of...

>> Saturday, August 30, 2008

i didn't know a bout the trolley problem until recently, but the complexities one has to face while dealing with it beautifully illustrate my feelings about bill ayers, the weather underground and revolutionary violence in general.

the problem, according to wikipedia, is thus:

"A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?"

most people would decide to flip the switch, to save five lives by sacrificing one... some wouldn't and that would amount to killing five people to save one.

a further variant example goes as such:

"A brilliant transplant surgeon has five patients, each in need of a different organ, each of whom will die without that organ. Unfortunately, there are no organs available to perform any of these five transplant operations. A healthy young traveler, just passing through the city the doctor works in, comes in for a routine checkup. In the course of doing the checkup, the doctor discovers that his organs are compatible with all five of his dying patients. Suppose further that if the young man were to disappear, no one would suspect the doctor.

as rare as it is to find someone who does not think we should turn the trolley, it is even rarer to find someone who thinks it is permissible for the doctor to murder this patient and harvest his organs... ...yet both cases seem to involve a choice between one life and five."

THIS is the real question of violence. in the face of immense state-perpetrated violence, the revolutionary may risk the lives of others to stop a greater threat. is it a slippery slope? yes. do they always know it will help? no. is morally superior to sitting on the sidelines not addressing the issue at all? maybe.

it keeps coming up in ads that bill ayers says he "didn't do enough" and falsely implying that means he thinks he didn't commit enough violent acts. but even if that IS what he meant, is it more morally reprehensible than the people who fought in the war, or funded it, or defended it?

these are questions of nuance, and historical context, and research, not bold opinions to slash through any conversation of "radicals vs. the state" or "hippies vs. the straight"... each situation need be analyzed. the ends just may justify the means, afterall...


Dean Jackson September 17, 2008 at 11:29 PM  

One life to save one, no strings or context attached, should be a pretty easy academic choice.

"Saving" five ill people to make them less ill but not fully healthy by sacking one fully healthy person? There's context here, it's obviously partial context, and that makes it an impossible decision, save choosing randomly.

Dunno. Bad analogy?

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