A story was found on the Internet, linked to from a news site, that sparked an interesting discussion at work this morning.
The question is this:
You observe 5 workmen on train tracks. A train is coming down the tracks that will kill all 5. You have a switch next to you that, if pulled, will divert the train, killing only 1 workman, but saving 4. What do you do?
Now we change the question just a bit.
You observe 5 workmen on train tracks. A train is coming down the tracks that will kill all 5. You are on an overpass with a fat man standing next to you. If you push the fat man in to the way of the train, the train will be diverted saving all 5 workmen. What do you do?
Half of the room could be considered your typical republicans, the other half, democrats. Me in the middle.
While, most of the time one side of the room argues points with the other side of the room, this time both sides were in agreement.
Both the Republicans and Democrats would pull the switch, but would not throw the fat man over the bridge. The reasons gave were different, and interesting.
The Democrats and Republicans could both pull the switch, because it was the only way to save as many people as possible.
The Democrats could not throw the fat man over, because they would be directly responsible for the death of a person, and they could not bring themselves to do it. They empathized with the single person.
The Republicans, interestingly enough, thought more about the spiritual ramifications of throwing the fat man over, and thought that they might be held responsible for killing fat man in cold blood, however they tended to throw the man over as they thought that it would be better to save the 5. They empathised with the 5, but felt bad about killing fatty.
I, on the other hand, both threw the switch and threw the man over the bridge. For me, there was very little moral dilemma. While my colleagues hemed and hawed over their souls, or the death of the fat man, I simply did a math problem. Kill one to save more than one. Math wins, pull the switch, push tubby over.
After being called a heartless, godless monster, the real point of the moral exercise came out. The person giving out the question wanted to really find out where we stood on our political grounds. Apparently, a study was done to find out how libertarians think. I have often mentioned that I am a Libertarian, thus they wanted to confirm that I indeed thought the same way the study predicted I would. It turns out that I do.
What my colleagues found most enlightening was the study's findings about the Libertarian and altruism. At Christmas time, I was loathe to participate in the philanthropy projects that were suggested by my other teammates. Personally, I believe that most philanthropy simply reinforces the "downtrodden" to remain in their current state.
The study showed that Libertarians, on the whole, intensely dislike altruism. Not just any altruism, all altruism.
Like most Libertarians, and especially like my hero James Madison, we believe that no true altruism exists. Everything is all done for some sort of self interest. People do it to help somebody else, or they do it for a write off of taxes, or they do it simply to feel better about themselves. Therefore, if I derive no pleasure, good or service from the money or time that I will put forth, why should I participate?
I do give to certain charities, but only those that I feel I get some good or service from. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is a good example. I mostly detest the leadership, and the huge sums of money they receive out of the coffers of the AOPA, but they are the only group out there fighting for the rights of general aviation. Without them, local aviation would be a thing of the long past.
Anyway, if you want a look in to my brain, check out the study. It is very interesting.
By the way, a Democrat gets in to politics to enact social justice, a Republican to enact moral justice, the Libertarian gets in to politics to get you the fuck off of his lawn.