This post is definitely outside of my norm, but it would feel inauthentic to not address the dark cloud over this week. First and foremost, to all those affected by the senseless tragedy that happened this week in Las Vegas, I am deeply sorry that this happened to you. I cannot imagine what you and your families are going through, and my heart goes out to you. When I woke up and heard this news on Monday morning, I was shocked and sick to my stomach…I didn’t understand how this can happen again and again. Quite frankly, the most terrifying thing is that we all live in the world where this is a reality; no it does not happen every single day in the US, but it happens regularly enough that it is scary. I am dreading the day when Parker is old enough to understand and ask me questions about events like this. How do I explain this to her? How do I assure her that she is safe to go out into the world and instill her with a sense of caution, but not fear, in going about her everyday life? These aren’t rhetorical questions, I am genuinely asking. How are those families explaining this tragedy to those children that have lost a parent? How do you grapple with that? I cannot fathom.
I have seen some posts or comments on social media asking where the outrage is for other types of deaths and tragedy that are much more common. I know that if you look at the statistics, the numbers are small compared to illness and disease, but there is quite simply a difference in the emotional reaction that those types of deaths invoke. Neither is planned for, but I would argue that dying at the hands of a stranger who intentionally took your life will always feel somehow “more wrong”…for lack of a better term. We should absolutely try to solve for both and preserve human life as much as possible, but the degree of outrage in the situations is different due to that moral wrongness. For those of you familiar with the trolley problem, I find it very much like that.
For those of you that are not familiar; the trolley problem refers to a thought experiment in ethics. The general problem follows the following pattern: there is a trolley barreling down the tracks with brakes that have gone out. Ahead of the trolley on the track are 5 people who are unable to move out of the path of the trolley. There is a lever right by you that will direct the trolley off to a different path if you pull it, saving the 5 people currently in the way. However, on the other path, there is another single person. There won’t be enough time to warn that person to get out of the way. What do you do, should you pull the lever and kill one person, saving 5 or do you do nothing and let the 5 people get killed by the trolley?
Remember your answer, and now consider a second similar dilemma. The same trolley is headed without brakes at the 5 people on the track who are unable to get out of the way. This time, there is no lever leading to another path for the trolley to take, but in front of you, there is a large man between you and the track who is large enough to stop the trolley. Would you push him in front of the trolley to save the 5 people on the tracks?
What were your answers? The majority of people overwhelming decide to pull the lever in the first problem. They typically cite the moral norm of doing the most good, or saving the most lives in that situation. However, in the second problem, most people refuse to push the man. Why is that? In both problems, you are sacrificing one life to save five. So what’s different?…..The act of pushing the man. It registers differently, and most people recognize it viscerally as wrong. The Las Vegas tragedy is very much the same. We recognize it so deeply as morally wrong that it incites greater outrage and disgust than other events. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t address those problems and issues as well, they just incite different reactions and emotional responses. I don’t want to get into a political debate on this issue, but I do think that we as a society need to find a solution for this problem and try to prevent this situation in the future. I don’t pretend to know what that solution looks like that will work for everyone, but we need to stop attacking from across the two sides of a political aisle and find a real solution.
For those of you interested, there’s a really great Podcast on morality and the trolley problem by Radiolab that you can find here.