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New ‘research’ on moral dilemmas

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(Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/KRT)

(Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/KRT)

Problems in society boil down to the fundamental tradeoff we make between personal gain and the greater good. To understand how we make this decision, scientists began asking subjects to consider two scenarios. Perhaps you heard of the “Switch Dilemma:”

Five people are tied to a track and a trolley is about to hit them. You can hit a switch and divert the trolley onto another track where one person is tied. Do you hit the switch?

Then the scientists ask the subject to consider the “Footbridge Dilemma:”

Now you are on a footbridge overlooking the tracks with a 300-pound man. The five people are still tied to one track, but the other one escaped, and furthermore, the switch is gone. The only way to stop the trolley is to push the 300-pound man in front of it. Do you push the man?

Scientists have concluded from these exhaustive experiments that people are very complicated and it will take more exhaustive experiments to get anywhere. To begin the long and dear process I have drafted the following advanced dilemmas. They are calibrated with algorithms to reflect scenarios prevalent in the modern world. They are meant to be difficult. We ask that you help us pilot them by giving serious consideration to the decisions you would make.

Meaty Conundrum. You’re on the footbridge, the switch is back and the 300-pound man has procured a juicy Italian beef sandwich. As the trolley is about to hit the five people, the 300-pound man offers you one-third of his sandwich. Do you accept his offer?

Tragedy of the commons. One week has passed since your roommate last did the dishes. You could have a conversation about the importance of respecting shared living spaces, but he might not listen. You could resolve your anger by stabbing him with the chef’s knife, but then you will have to clean the knife, and he should be cleaning his mess. Do you drink all his nice whiskey and sleep with his extremely hot girlfriend?

Interstellar. Mankind has destroyed the Earth and sent you, Matthew McConaughey, to investigate two new planets that can support humanity. However, too much fuel was burned on liftoff, leaving you with just enough to visit one planet. The first planet is identical to Earth in her prime, except the inhabitants do not know what NASCAR is. The second planet resembles Gary, Indiana, except the inhabitants do not know what hair plugs are. Which planet do you choose?

Fussy pets. You love your cat but he is a picky eater. Are you sure you want to have kids?

Road rage. You’re driving on a busy highway one summer day when you get a text from your roommate, “Did you drink my whiskey and sleep with my girlfriend?!” You get another text, “I’m coming for you!” Another text, “I see you on the highway!!!!” His souped-up truck comes into your rearview mirror. The sun hits the polished barrel of his shotgun. The shine turns your gaze skyward. Does that cloud like a pumpkin?

Call of the wild. It’s day 12 of the Iditarod. Alone in barren terrain, all you see is white. Your sled was destroyed in a crash and your dogs have abandoned you. Your fingers and toes succumb to frostbite. You have no tack to eat and no brandy to drink. To make matters worse, the deep freeze broke off your last morphine needle. You stare into the void. You contemplate everything and nothing. Then with your terminal breath, you say: “Next time, I ‘mush’ be more careful.” Suddenly you hear laughter. Does God laugh out of pity or because He appreciates clever puns?

Failed novelist. You are an invisible man. It is a dark and stormy night. Call yourself Ishmael. Lolita is the light of your life and the fire of your loins. In your younger and more vulnerable years your father gave you some advice that you’ve been turning over in your mind ever since. Is it the best of times, or is it the worst of times?

Untitled. You’re dead.

Presenting your research. You are presenting the results of an exhaustive experiment and everyone in the room disagrees with you. In your rebuttal you ask them to imagine the most important dilemma yet. They are on a footbridge with a 300-pound man. A trolley is about to hit Matthew McConaughey. The only way to save him is for them to agree to fund a sabbatical year during which you rewrite your study into a screenplay. The masterpiece languishes in the New England theater circuit, until one night in Brattleboro. One man, only there because his car broke down on his way through town, was moved to tears, and his name is David Bowie. Bowie brings the play to New York and it becomes a hit on Broadway. Everyone who ever doubted you finally concedes your genius. Saved from the trolley of death, McConaughey becomes your best friend. One day you two walk back to the footbridge, where it all began. You run your hand through his hair. You no longer care if it is real. Fantasy is where you are happiest. Do you regret what you’ve done with your life?

Lawrence de Geest is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]

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