Every Day Is a Trolley Problem

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I first encountered the Trolley Problem in law school, since it’s a concise way to illustrate legal duties versus moral duties. Shortly put, the problem involves a trolley barreling down a track towards five people. Someone can throw a switch to divert the trolley, but it will kill a different person. No other intervention is possible.

The reason I’m bringing it up is because in the abstract, the trolley problem involves weighing moral values. To save five people, a person will have to kill someone else. Doing nothing doesn’t feel right, either. There’s no right answer, just an answer that people hopefully will think about ahead of time.

I’ve been failing to ignore the news lately.
That’s a problem because it makes my brain chemistry worse. I can’t help but see big things happening and wonder how others can get so detached from them. There have been many situations I’ve thought of recently where doing nothing will result in censure and doing something will result in different censure. This problem is something that’s made writing here have diminishing returns.

Over the past several years, I’ve been a villain for writing about what I believe, or a monster for whatever strikes a random passerby’s fancy. It doesn’t take much to spread ignorance around like toxic waste, and it has taken its toll on me. At the end of the day, I have to live with myself. Living with myself isn’t a great experience; there’s a part of me that uses every criticism I’ve experienced to cut to the bone.

Hidden consequences hurt.
I get that some of the stuff I’ve written has hurt feelings and rubbed people the wrong way. But I’m not some omniscient being who can fathom every nuance of language to make himself known and understood. I’m just some jackass who can’t function with a broken mind, and I’ve turned to punching keys in a particular order to see if it works.

I’m not sure if I can do that when it means being subjected to things that rip my mind apart.

To be sure, it’s not the criticism itself that troubles me the most. It’s seeing myself misunderstood or distorted or presented as some sort of thing distilled into meaninglessness. It’s like shouting in a vacuum while everyone else’s voice gets heard.

And ethical considerations weigh more heavily on me these days.
The short version is that since I can’t resort to an invisible friend to blame, I am left with mercilessly challenging myself. Taking things for granted is what helped me live a life ignoring something wrong. I’m afraid of doing that again, because it has some really bad consequences.

Practically speaking, it means I can’t just ignore people the way a healthy person is able to do. For whatever reason they have a callous over their hearts that I cannot imitate or replicate. Instead, I have to figure out the merits and demerits of a thing said to me in passing.

Case in point, I still don’t feel like voting. I feel this way not out of some insipid, misplaced feeling. Rather, it’s because I literally have no fucking clue what my vote will do to people. Does it do anything? What are its effects indirectly? Does it mean I’m okay with every consequence stemming from it? Does it give me a moral pass? Is that fucking sticker worth it when I know real people might starve, die, or lose everything as a result?

Right now, people who live in countries without elections or with stolen elections are sitting in a surer position than I am. Unless they’re in the regime, they’re not responsible for whatever their country does – good or ill. And maybe I’m overthinking everything. Or maybe I’m not even able to think about it enough.

I have this inescapable feeling that I’m just part of a farce, some unholy comedy where humanity is revealed to be the awful meat puppets we are. At the end of the day, nothing means anything. Or worse, there is meaning, but it’s drowned out by people who shout and spread chaos for the sheer hell of it. Or worst, I’m in the latter category, and I’m too damned stupid to realize it.

11 thoughts on “Every Day Is a Trolley Problem

  1. You are not stupid. Never. When I read your posts like this I am overwhelmed with your low sense of self, SB. Given your fundamentalist background, it doesn’t surprise me. And not that loads of other people don’t have low self-esteem issues; plenty do. For all kinds of reasons.
    You are an intelligent (perhaps even uber-so) ‘human bean’ (so says the BFG) with perhaps uber-sensitivity – at least, more so than the average human bean. Just my opinion, but it seems that perhaps you overthink things, as you’ve indicated. I know, you cannot help it; it’s what you’ve always done. I think society needs people like you who do the deep thinking that the rest of us don’t want to do. But it has to be unnerving for you to be grappling with what you see as major issues in society. I cannot give any advice – I wish I could and there are others who might jump into the convo and offer something concrete – but I want you to know that I appreciate your candid ability to capture the unrelenting turmoil that you’ve been feeling. I can feel your frustration and I know it’s shared by many other people in your country; people who also feel that things are going to hell in a hand basket. (to use a well-worn expression) You aren’t alone, SB. (The song, “Is Anybody Out There?” just popped into my mind) xx

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’d let the trolley go. Let the organism function. I vote my conscience and what happens will happen. With all the nay-say and rhetoric, we’re still here, and the fears of Armageddon end times survives through every election and president. All the knee jerk reactions are unfounded. None of the fears are founded in reality. If they were right this thing would’ve been over years ago.


  3. I solved the Trolley Problem in a Kobiyashi Maru kind of way. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a revolver and fired three shots into the air. Startled, people looked around and saw the trolley coming in plenty of time to avoid getting killed.

    Hypothetical questions deserve hypothetical answers.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I can see the headline now. (Along with the ticket, fine, confiscation, short jail time, public apology, fired from your teaching gig, public hero… hypothetically of course.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! I think about alternatives as well with these sorts of things. I know people will say that I’m missing the point of exercise. Which is to analyze one’s ethical philosophy, but I don’t care.


  4. I was just watching about the Trolley Problem on the show “The Good Place”! Chidi, before he died, was a philosophy professor who specialized in ethics and in his after life gets to explore what it means to be “good.”

    I love the show because it takes the whole concept of “sin” away and focuses on ethics. Check out the Trolley Problem scene:

    Oh, SB… I’m not sure I’ve ever related to something as much as this:
    “Practically speaking, it means I can’t just ignore people the way a healthy person is able to do. For whatever reason they have a callous over their hearts that I cannot imitate or replicate. Instead, I have to figure out the merits and demerits of a thing said to me in passing.”

    On a non-related note…are you being affected by Hurricane Michael at all?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The vast majority of people would throw the lever.
    The vast majority of people would not push the fat man.
    What this demonstrates is the absence of fungible moral goods and properties; that is the lack of moral goods and properties period.
    All of realist ethics is post hoc, as either forensics or speculation.
    Serious pursuit of it inevitably leads to the morass which you have found.


  6. As Quixie mentioned the show the Good Place, it strikes me that you are a little like the character Chidi in the show. A person who is incredibly intelligent, but burdened by constant analysis and re-analysis that paralyzes you at times. At least that is what I extracted from this post. I am not sure what the answer is though to such a problem. I can say with certainty though that similar thoughts as you’ve expressed here certainly go through my brain, but at the end of the day I know that most problems I’m aware of are far bigger than me and beyond my control. All I can do is just be the person I would like others to be, and hope for the best. There is no doubt in my mind you are a good man SB and I wish I knew what to say to help you with your internal struggles, but maybe some journeys we just have to take on our own. Good luck, and keep writing. I think it’s a good thing.


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