Sunday, June 15, 2008

What's Right Isn't Always Popular

A group of children were playing near two railway tracks, one still in use while the other unused. Only one child played on the unused track, the rest on the operational track.

The train is coming, and you are just beside the track interchange. You can make the train change its course to the unused track and save most of the kids. However, that would also mean the lone child playing by the unused track would be sacrificed. Or would you rather let the train go its way?

Let's take a pause to think what kind of decision we could make........ ........



Most people might choose to divert the course of the train, and sacrifice only one child. You might think the same way, I guess. Exactly, to save most of the children at the expense of only one child was rational decision most people would make, morally and emotionally. But, have you ever thought that the child choosing to play on the unused track had in fact made the right decision to play at a safe place?

Nevertheless, he had to be sacrificed because of his ignorant friends who chose to play where the danger was. This kind of dilemma happens around us everyday. In the office, community, in politics and especially in a democratic society, the minority is often sacrificed for the interest of the majority, no matter how foolish or ignorant the majority are, and how farsighted and knowledgeable the minority are. The child who chose not to play with the rest on the operational track was sidelined. And in the case he was sacrificed, no one would shed a tear for him.

The great critic Leo Velski Julian who told the story said he would not try to change the course of the train because he believed that the kids playing on the operational track should have known very well that track was still in use, and that they should have run away if they heard the train's sirens.. If the train was diverted, that lone child would definitely die because he never thought the train could come over to that track! Moreover, that track was not in use probably because it was not safe. If the train was diverted to the track, we could put the lives of all passengers on board at stake! And in your attempt to save a few kids by sacrificing one child, you might end up sacrificing hundreds of people to save these few kids.

While we are all aware that life is full of tough decisions that need to be made, we may not realize that hasty decisions may not always be the right one.

'Remember that what's right isn't always popular... and what's popular isn't always right.'

Everybody makes mistakes; that's why they put erasers on pencils.

58 Comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to come up with a way to take out all four.

Anonymous said...

Derail the train.

Anonymous said...

how to take out all four: disconnect the locomotive from the rest of the train and take the interchange, leaving the rest of the train to exterminate the vermin. Congratulations, you've left the world to the truly intelligent children playing safely in their backyards.

Komakino said...

No, definitely divert the train. A kid playing on his own would probably end up depressed and alone in his teenage years, covered in acne, unable to find a girlfriend, introvert, withdrawn and probably emo, keeping a journal and listening to Maroon 5 or (god forbid) The Feeling.

Put him out of his future misery.

Steve said...

Don't do anything. The three kids will jump out of the way. If you suddenly divert the train the three will jump onto the unused track and all four will be run over.

Anonymous said...

Run and pull that one kid out of the way!

Anonymous said...

Of course the reverse is also, and maybe even more likely to be true... what isn't popular isn't necessarily right. I like the way the popular side is automatically maligned by comparing it to the analogy of the children who chose to play on the wrong tracks, it makes the transition to thinking that the majority is obviously wrong.

Jeremy said...

"In the office, community, in politics and especially in a democratic society, the minority is often sacrificed for the interest of the majority, no matter how foolish or ignorant the majority are, and how farsighted and knowledgeable the minority are."

In the U.S. today, I see the exact opposite to be true more and more. Replace all instances of "minority" with "majority" and vice-versa.

For example, today my wife told me that at the day-care at her gym, kids can no longer bring milk in their cups. The reason - a person joined the gym and her child is very allergic to milk-based products. So rather than this person saying to herself: "I can't bring my child to the daycare because the other kids might have milk.", she expects hundreds of others to conform to her (unfortunate) situation.

As an experiment, I thought I'd call the gym and tell them I was going to join, but my child is allergic to fabric softener; could they tell everyone not to use it on their kids' clothes?? I wonder what they'd do?

I realize that's not the point of the post, but...I had to comment on that one sentence.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Leo, just watch. If the kids are too weak or stupid to move out of the way, they will die. And if not by this train, then by doing something else equally as stupid later. :)

RetracDiagoras said...

I applaud the sentiment of this post, in so much as reality is not democratic and absolute right and wrong have very little to do with public opinion.

However, I think that saying that the minority, in this case the one child playing on the unused portion of the track, is somehow farsighted and knowledgeable is a little misleading. If he really were all that smart, he would have left the area entirely.

As a metaphor for democratic politics, I don't think it really holds up. It doesn't offer the third option: Call the engineer and tell him there are some kids on the tracks that are too stupid to move.

Sure, maybe sometimes you can't reach the engineer in time. But you try. Anyway, I don't think that this answering this question will help reveal anything useful about the person answering it, so I don't think it's very valuable.

Pasyon, Emmanuel C. said...

my social sciences 2 professor used the same scenario in explaining the basics of Machiavelli.

I too wouldn't change the train's direction. to paraphrase goodkind, passion should not overrule reason.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, quantity isn't always quality. The majority of the children were playing in an active lane, while the other knew the risks and completely avoided it.

I would let nature take its course to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Those 3 kids would probably die the next time they go play at the tracks, anyway.

Or maybe the driver of the train could shoot one of the three kids, scaring off the rest, while still bagging a kill.

Anonymous said...

completely miss the point. ^

Anonymous said...

Change the train's course, and either push or yell at the kid to get him out of the way.

Anonymous said...

It depends. If you hit the three idiots playing on the track, the marginally more intelligent one might have a chance at not being dragged down with the rest of the kids...

Anonymous said...

That's natural selection at it's best!!! Take the 3 dumb ass wastes of oxygen out & let the clever kid live out his days ;o)

Anonymous said...

Pull the switch while the train is halfway over the crossover. You can get the passengers and likely all four kids.

Anonymous said...

... killing the possibly hundreds of passengers?

Matt said...

Hit the stupid kids.

Andy said...

As i was reading the train scenario but before reading the analysis, I too thought the right thing to do here was to save the lone child that may have made an intelligent decision for a reason.

Sacrificing that lone kid for the 'good of the many' imay end up dumbing down the intelligence of humanity in the long run. The minority, when right, deserve a fighting chance to continue to another day and hopefully advance society up the evolutionary tree, not down it.

Anonymous said...

take out the 3 then cum back for the fourth.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy you're a dick.

But importantly I think we should realize a very good argument the author made. If we do divert the train and take out the one kid then the train will be on dangerous tracks and eventually everybody onboard will be destroyed. Maybe not the first time, but if we keep telling these kids to go play on the tracks and we keep diverting trains then eventually that old out of commission track is gonna bust and when it does we will instantly top the number of kids we could have destroyed on the one one side, with a huge number of people that we have now destroyed taking the train as well.

Getting all four kids isn't really as economical when you think about it. Not when compared to this.

bulbasaur said...

Perhaps the kids playing on the unsafe track really were more clever than the one on the safe track: they correctly anticipated that few would dare to sacrifice the majority.

Anonymous said...

Morally, the correct thing to do is nothing. By switching the train, you have taken an action which dooms a child. This is manslaughter, and you should be punished.

Since you are under no legal or moral obligation to protect these children from harm, you inaction is morally neutral. It's a shame, but you cannot be held responsible for their poor judgment.

This is a classic ethics problem, which can have many, many possible permutations added to it.

Anonymous said...

Wait... How fast is the train moving, and how far away is it?

Anonymous said...

MULTI TRACK DRIFTING!

Großmund said...

They shouldn't be playing on any track, anyway. No track is "absolutely safe", and this is the proof.

Your example is flawed.

Bransby said...

I don't think the point of the article is to figure out how many kids to save or kill, I think it's a metaphor to demonstrate how the needs of minorities deserve to be protected whenever and wherever possible. That's not to say that the poster giving the example of his daycare asking people not to bring milk is at all reasonable, obviously that's ridiculous, but I think the point is that minorities, because they're minorities, deserve a greater level of potection than majorities. That's what I read into it anyway, I might be reading it all wrong, or it might just be a rubbish metaphor.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see all of the responses, but most of them are leaving out something very important... if this is supposedly in America. We live in a very litigious society these days. Think of what legal issues the railroad will face after these things happen. Which families will hurt the company most? One group of kids is obviously in the wrong. In a legal setting, when this goes to court, the railroad company will probably win the case, as the kids should not have been playing on the tracks. But what if the train is diverted? The kid was playing on a closed track. If he is killed the parents will have a better chance of suing the railroad company for millions because the track was closed. The railroad company should not have been on that track.

Of course, there are probably signs posted around declaring all of of the tracks private property or city/state/federal property... I don't know the rules about tracks... so all of the kids are in the wrong... but the family of the kid on the closed track stands a better chance to settle and still cost money... instead of a straight loss in court.

The Look said...

Even if the train changes the tracks, and kills the one kid, who knows if this will teach the other kids a lesson. Who can say for sure if they will learn from this, and play in a danger-free zone, and make life easier for themselves and others. If they continue being stupid, and careless, they will too, one day be killed.

Maria said...

Not only is it uncertain whether the 3 kids will learn the lesson from their near-survival if the train is derailed - there's a chance they will either learn the opposite lesson (i.e. risky behaviour is ok as long as you're in the majority) or they will properly learn the lesson to their detriment (i.e. next time 1 of the 3 will play on the safe tracks, and may be the next one sacrificed for the new majority on the unsafe tracks).

Here, by sacrificing the minority for the majority, it seems to perpetuate a vicious cycle to the detriment of everyone in society (minority and majority alike), at one point or another.

Neilyo said...

Lol, the one kid isnt exactly as smart as you describe because while he decided to play on the safer track, hes still playing on a place where trains run instead of the park or a garage.

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting restatement of the trolley problem but it fails to expound upon the moral issues involved and draws to an irrelevant conclusion. Is 'Remember that what's right isn't always popular... and what's popular isn't always right.' a reference to the “knowledgeable minority” versus the “foolish majority” or is it the decisive answer to the dilemma? The first is superfluous and misplaced the second is wildly presumptuous and unsubstantiated (both the morality and popular response). Considering the final phrase about erasers I would suspect that both statements are thought-terminating clichés.

Anonymous said...

I like the explanation of why the one child should be left alone, as he chose the "safe" track. But I also agree that NONE of them should be playing on train tracks. There was a kid in my neighborhood that everyone knew because he lost half a leg while playing on the train tracks. But...on a side note but related to this topic, the three on the known use track should know better -- and I agree that it's a bit like natural selection if they are killed. I feel that things like bike helmets have preserved some of the young 'uns that would have been done in by their own stupidity otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's too bad we've figured out how to outsmart "natural selection" with bike helmets, track interchanges, and ethics. I'm just happy that some intelligent bike-riding children escape the natural threat of stupid car drivers, so they can pass on their helmet-wearing genes. If you notice the sarcasm here, perhaps you'll also notice that this discussion was derailed before it began. Darwinian evolution is not an argument for Social Darwinism.

Anonymous said...

Its the difference between an accident and murder.

If you change tracks you intentionally kill one kid. Murder.

If you do nothing then killing the other kids is simply an unfortunate accident.

Anonymous said...

Why not just yell out to them and tell them to get out of the way??

Anonymous said...

i love these comments.

Anonymous said...

Children should not be playing on railroad tracks. WTF? This will be a lesson to future generations. The more that die right now, the more kids will stay away in the future. Kill a child with a train today, save maybe ten. Kill three today, save them for life.

Anonymous said...

the three kids that are stupid enough to play on the used track deserve what is coming to them. Don't divert the train to kill the only intelligent one there.

Alicia Carla Simpson said...

Consider, maybe all the children are actually playing together. Maybe they are playing a game of 'chicken'! As each child deems the train too close they run to the other track. The last child to run to the other track is the winner.

Unless you divert the train, in which case you might end up killing all the children as well as the people on the train when the train hits the switch at speed and derails.

Oh, you will likely end up dead as well as the derailing train piles all over you.

The real choice, allow a few children to possible die or kill lots of people by derailing the train!

Anonymous said...

If the train is moving so fast that three probabilistically agile young children can't get out of its path, then attempting to switch rails will likely derail the train, killing everyone involved including yourself.

From the Desk of Sir Isaac Newton: "Do NOT screw with massive object's inertia."

Verónica said...

As someone pointed before, that is a version of the Trolley problem introduced by Philippa Foot:

"A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?"

Here we can't blame the majority by dullness or ignorance nor save the minority by farsightedness or wisdom. I guess most people would claim that not to divert the train would be an immoral act.

For those who approved of sacrificing one to save five, let's make it more interesting with another dilemma - The Fat Man - offered by Judith Thomson:

"As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you - your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?"

Anonymous said...

You really missed the point all together. This exercise isn't about the infinite external variables that the individual can think up, it is about the simple dilemma you face.

Marsha said...

Of course I cannot say for sure since I have not been faced with this dilemma, but I think I would let the train go where it may. If I diverted the train, I would be personally responsible for the death of one child. If I let the train go on its way without my input in the situation whatsoever, I will not be responsible.

Anonymous said...

In my Opininon, we don't know too many paremeters that we are assuming, like (Train has no Driver) (Train can't stop) (etc...) when we read we assume that the solution is on us. In fact the problem is on whum create such games.

Anonymous said...

These made up situations are a waste of time. I've always hated them. Why not put your time to use, finding out a way to not waste so much, and feed the starving kids that are dying needless everyday? Or launch some nukes and be done with them so that can stop being on commercials :P

Anonymous said...

Ive always thought the loud ass horn was there for a reason, if that isnt a good enough of a motivator, screw the kids

Lost Algebra student said...

What time did this train leave the station? And what time did the other train leave Atlanta?

Oh wait. Is that a different problem?

Madison Pat said...

Why are the kids playing on the train tracks anyway? Their parents need to keep track of their kids.

Anonymous said...

Komakino, you make me sick. Just because you're likely to be lonely and depressed, exhibiting all the things you mentioned, doesn't mean that the possibility of someone turning out like you leaves them without the right to live. There is no reason to choose him based solely on the assumption that he will turn out like that. What if someone had decided that about your stupid ass?

Zogmoose said...

Who cares?

None of those retards should be playing on the train tracks in the first place.
Death by "Train squash" is great for the species. The best possible outcome is that the train squashes retards 1,2 and 3 on the fist track, and then jack knifes, clipping retard 4 in the genitals, destroying retard 4's ability to pass on it's genes. Even better if retard 4 lives to serve as a macabre warning to the offspring of the more intelligent as a walking statement "Dont play on fucking train tracks".
Their retard genes expunged from the gene pool will thusly be to the benefit of us all in the long run. Huray for evolution of the species.


"Remove all safety warnings. Let natural selection do the rest."

Marisa said...

This is such a stupid question. Would you rather kill the life of an innocent person to donate all their organs to people dying? Would you say this is fair? Similarly, why divert the train tracks?? Duh.

Crookedtree said...

If you try to interfere and divert the train at the last moment then all of the kids will die. The ones playing on the active line will hear the train coming and jump to what they believe is the safety of the unused track, right into the path of the train, which will then likely derail.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with the the title and quote used in this argument saying that one of the options in the situation is "right" (and therefore implying the other one is wrong or evil). This philosophical/moral test is completely subjective to each person; there is no right or wrong answer.
A utilitarian would say the greatest good would be saving the most lives. Another person would say if you divert the track then you are then directly responsible for the death of that one child.
While I do agree that the track should not be diverted, I do not necessarily agree that that decision is "right" and the other one "wrong". IT is a matter of personal opinion.

Emily Darwin Mittelmark said...

the obvious argument for saving more children rather than less is, of course, 'but what if one of them had found a cure for cancer?' or something like that. but using this situation as more of an mathematical formula involving social issues instead of numbers, and becoming unbiased about whether or not you might hurt a child's feelings, it's obvious that the one kid on the unused tracks is much more likely to do anything worth mentioning in his life, as opposed to the fistful of assholes in harm's way.

sathya said...

pull the chain

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