Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Trolleys, Trump and nuclear missiles

(Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)

A runaway trolley is pummeling down the tracks toward five unaware workers who will all be killed if the trolley continues. You are standing by a large lever beside the track. The only way to save the five workers is to pull the lever, veering the trolley onto a different track. The only problem is that there is another worker on the diverted track. By pulling the lever, the five workers would be saved but the one worker would be killed. What do you do?

No moral or ethical issue is black and white. Although there are many different versions of “the trolley problem,” the results seem to be the same. In this version, most individuals agree with the utilitarian perspective, which according to The Guardian, is the idea that “most appropriate action is the one that achieves the greatest good for the greatest number.” This theory makes sense; minimize the casualties as much as possible. However, others argue with this perspective, believing that we are morally obligated to follow a particular set of rules, even if the outcome could have been more desirable. They argue that sacrificing one life to save five others means crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed. This is the deontological perspective.

If you agree with the utilitarian perspective, you are in the majority. Psychological research shows that most individuals deem flipping the lever as morally acceptable. But is this method always the answer?

We are not guaranteed to always have the “luxury” of choosing the amount of people who die in certain scenarios. But what justifies us to determine who is lucky enough to live and who isn’t? This is a question for President Trump.

Even before the current administration, relations between the United States and North Korea weren’t peaceful. These tensions have only increased in recent weeks over social media and across the world. This began with Trump’s initial tweet on Sept. 23, which read “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” This tweet was also in response to North Korea’s recent testing of nuclear bombs.

In response to this tweet, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, said Trump’s comments at the U.N. were “unprecedented rude nonsense.” The dictator described Trump’s behavior as “mentally deranged” and said that “Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation.”

And so, how do trolleys and nuclear missiles have any relation to each other? The irresponsibility of putting the United States, which has a population of over 300 million people, at risk to a nuclear attack is almost unfathomable. By threatening North Korea with war, Trump is prioritizing a utilitarian attempt that he thinks will save American lives, over the threat of nuclear war.

This may seem like a logical plan of action, to conserve the lives of your citizens at all costs necessary. I believe that Trump is simply forgetting that this is not a game. As CNN Correspondent Fareed Zakaria argues, “For Trump, winning justifies everything.” But this isn’t a philosophical problem or a game, and Trump needs to realize that real people’s lives are hanging in the balance.

Like in the trolley problem, it’s always hard to make decisions when human lives are at stake. What Trump fails to realize is that this isn’t the trolley problem. The ends do not justify the means in this missile race, where millions of civilians might not see the end of the day. By instigating this ongoing Twitter soap opera, Trump makes it more likely that an impulsive decision will be made by one side or the other, equating to the end of this “game” for everyone.

Gretchen Keller is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • N

    NitzakhonOct 20, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I see that on multiple columns my comments are being deleted.

  • K

    kafantarisOct 16, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    To save themselves, and perhaps the world, all countries now need to band together and chart a course independent of the United States.