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  • Post published:April 25, 2018
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Trolley, Mad Philisopher and Life Choices

Have you ever heard of the Trolley Problem? It is a problem in ethics describing a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, five people are tied to the rails by a mad philosopher unable to move. You can pull the lever and send the trolley down the siding. The problem is that there is a person tied to it as well — however, this time, only one. From a moral point of view, it is considered correct to pull the lever, since in this case, you kill one to save five.

Now, let’s imagine that the trolley problem is an allegory of human life, where the rails are your life path, and the barreling trolley is your life. Five people tied to the running line are the social boundaries our society imposes on us. In our case, we are talking about the standard school-family-work scenario. And the lonely man tied to the siding is the real you. The one you always wanted to see yourself as, whom you dreamed of becoming.

Our childhood or teenage dreams very rarely fit into the generally accepted life path idea. So, if you actually got to live yours, you are either lucky, which are a few, or a rather dull and unambitious person. In any case, don’t read any further.

But, let’s assume you belong to the majority, and eventually, you will face a choice of who will be run over by the trolley. It is much easier for a person in the original case, as one just learned of the trolley’s existence and doesn’t have time to think much about it, thus making a purely impulsive choice. Further on, when one blames themselves for the decision made, the impulsiveness will serve as an excellent excuse.

However, in your case, the choice is much more challenging. Since early childhood, as soon as your cognitive abilities reach a certain level, you notice how the trolley slowly but inevitably approaches the intersection. Even then, you understand that sooner or later, you will have to decide. And this choice will not be impulsive but deliberate and well-thought-out.

Each person reaches this crossroads on their own time. One may face it at twenty, another at thirty. But one thing is common for all these cases – someday, the trolley will inevitably reach the intersection. As in the original trolley problem, where a more ethically correct choice suggests pulling the lever, the right choice from a social point of view would also be to pull that lever. A preference that slowly starts to compel you from the very childhood.

Eventually, you will most likely pull the lever, as the pressure of others is too great. And having switched to the siding, the trolley will begin to destroy the lonely person tied to it – the real you. First, it will run over your ankle – let’s say it’s that tattoo you wanted to get, but heard your colleagues say that tattoos are for criminals. Then, the trolley will reach your arms – that’s when you took drawing as a hobby, but later gave up when a neighbor who saw you with an easel called it a waste of time. After that, the trolley will crack your chest open and crush the heart in it – that’s that sweet girl you genuinely liked, but your parents persuaded you to leave her, saying: “she is not your best match and you have no future with her”. At last, the trolley will hit the head and break it to smithereens – this is the startup you wanted to open, but your “friends” deemed the idea unsuccessful and dissuaded you. Still and all, the trolley will heartlessly keep barreling away.

Those five people on the running line will rejoice – they survived, and more so, got rid of a competitor. People around you will also rejoice because you made the “right” decision, as they did in their time. But you no longer exist. All that is left of you is bloody debris on the rails, which will soon disappear, and you will finally become one with the gray mass surrounding you.

Therefore, do not dare to pull the lever. Maybe this mad philosopher is not that mad and tied those five to the running line for a reason?

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