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Time and Relative Dimension in Space
Don't blink
Apparently I shouldn't live in Gotham City. 
19th-Jul-2010 04:37 pm
OKAY. So. Watched The Dark Knight for the first time the other day. Lots of lols all round.

Now, just in case there's the vague chance of ANYONE out there reading this who HASN'T seen it yet and despite the fact they haven't seen it yet DON'T actually want to know anything about the movie in case they DO see it in the near future, don't read ahead? Or I might accidentally spoil you? I dunno, I don't think what I'm going to talk about is really going to devastate any plot twists anyway.

So there comes a point in the movie where the Joker, having fun messing around with the city's inhabitants, sets up a diabolical 'social experiment' featuring two boats. On each boat is a bomb. Also on each boat is the switch to set off the other boat's bomb. The conditions of the scenario are thus: at midnight, the Joker will blow up both boats. However, if you blow up the other boat before midnight, then your boat survives. Pretty simple, and no 'nice' way out. Now, of course, this is superhero world, where it actually is possible for one dude to come along and save the day for everyone.

But let's say it's not. Let's say that we don't have any reason whatsoever to believe that it's in any way possible for everyone to survive this scenario. Now, the creative part of my brain wants to imagine that something wonderfully heroic and self-sacrificing is possible... like, find the bomb on MY boat, find some way of setting MY bomb off, get all the passengers off and safely into the river, then blow up my boat. Nice. Noble. Yeah. But again, let's say that's entirely not possible. Let's say the only physical possible outcomes are those that the Joker has lined up.

In the film, nobody can bring themselves to press the button and blow up the other boat. Nobody can do it. The other members of my household appear to also defend this position as the 'morally correct' one. It seems to suggest that surely only a monster of a human being could be responsible for the explosive destruction of the other boat. But I'm not convinced. Nobody wants to get their hands dirty, so everybody dies? I dunno. What I see is the option to at least save HALF the people in mortal peril. Yeah, blowing up the boat is a horrible, terrible thing to do. What a hideous thing to be responsible for! But by NOT pressing the button; by maintaining some sense of personal integrity or whatever, by REFUSING to tarnish my poor precious hands, I'm as good as blowing up all the people on MY boat. If I do nothing, we're all dead anyway. If I do something, I save half the people. This fact doesn't change if the switches are reversed and the choice is to blow up your own boat, either. Yeaah, I dunno. I'm just not convinced that refusing to set off the bomb is as flawlessly, squeaky-clean morally perfect as first impressions might suggest.
19th-Jul-2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
I can't remember, is there some reason why individuals couldn't just sneak away and go overboard, and swim for it? 'Cause that's what I'd be doing.

Also you left out the part about on e boat being a tour boat and the other being a prison boat. So the tourists are encouraged to push the button because either (1) they are clearly the morally superior group and therefore they are producing the greater good by blowing the other boat up, or (2) they are morally corrupt prisoners, of course they are going to hit that damn button, so they better hit it first!

It's a reverse prisoner's dilemma, with no possibility of repeated rounds. The only possibly winning move is to defect, and fast, every single time. "Cooperate" just isn't a viable move.

But if you want to win, what you really do is turn out the lights on your boat, so someone can sneak up and hit the button without being seen or known. So that they are not alienated later. That'll get the job done.
19th-Jul-2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
... All of that, btw, was to say that I agree with you. XD It's not really a morally complicated question, it's just a morally distasteful one. But in the end, someone's gotta hit the stupid button.

Where things get morally tricky is in a situation where you have the power to control BOTH buttons. In the Joker scenario, you can only choose (1) yours, or (2) not yours, so there's no moral culpability for deciding to hit your button once you decide a button needs to be hit.

But what if you are off the boat, and need to hit one of the buttons. And say on boat as ten people on it, and five of them are your family members. And the other boat has 150 (or however many) people on it, all strangers.

Then what button do you push?

Maybe a solution there is to assign one of the buttons tails, and one of the buttons heads, and flip a coin. That way you can give your family a decent chance to live, without arbitrarily killing far more people merely to save them. Removing the choice/moral responsibility from yourself, in effect.
19th-Jul-2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
It's more "morally complicated" [PS- not really, I'm using the term VERY loosely here XD] when you have James screaming in your ear that you're a bad, bad, bad, bad person that he never wants to have around ever when the supervillains strike! XD

BUT. Hum. See, the whole tour boat vs prison boat thing really- I dunno, I just don't really care much about that aspect of it, I guess? It doesn't seem important at ALL to the scenario, as far as I'm concerned? Until you add the possibility of each boat having both buttons-- now, then, when you're trying to weigh up which group 'should' survive... yeah, that makes it more interesting.

As for the family-vs-numbers? Oooh, that's the Spiderman problem, isn't it?

Making it personal makes it so much harder.

I mean, there's the part of me that sits back, folds its arms and says 150 people are 'worth' more, no matter WHO they are. Yeah. Sure. I can rationalise that, and be okay with it. Whether or not I could actually, physically push the button, in that situation? I don't know. I'm not sure I could do it and live with myself afterwards. Sitting back and doing nothing certainly isn't great, because then we're just back at the first problem- letting EVERYONE die to keep MY hands clean? No sir, I don't like it. Flipping a coin doesn't particularly appeal to me as an option, either... I can see why it might, but CHOOSING to remove the responsibility from myself? Eeeeeh, I'm not sure.
20th-Jul-2010 03:01 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, I think the prison boat vs. tour boat thing is silly addition to have in there, as well. Like you said, if each boat only has one button, why the heck does it matter?! I think it's only included in the movie so they can have that scene with the guard being all cowardly and the OMG prisoners being all "NO ONE IS PRESSING NO GOD DAMN BUTTON."

I think the Dark Knight scenario is only tricky at all because all of the potential actors are on one of the ships. If the button-pusher were off-ship, not deciding which ship to blow up would be a mark of cowardice, of failure to do a duty. It would not seem noble, it would just seem like fatal indecision, which it is.

But if you're on the boat, you are self-interested, so making a decision to press the button is morally suspect. You can never claim, believably, that you were acting only for the 'greater good,' because your only potential action is to either save your own ass or to let everyone die.

Also I would rather have you around than James, when the supervillains strike. You are less likely to get us all killed by being stuck in a bathroom.
19th-Jul-2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
I can see both sides of it. However, realistically, I do not believe I would be able to pull the trigger in that situation, even knowing that at least *some* people would survive. Same reason I would never want to be an officer in the army etc., making the decision to definitely end lives for the potential of saving others is just not one I think I could make and live with myself.
Of course in the dark knight there is the added issue of the Joker being completely insane and not really very trustworthy, so how do they(/we) that he's not just going to kill everyone anyway?
19th-Jul-2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
I guess taking that option into account doesn't really change anything for me? I mean, if we all end up dead anyway-- what does it really matter?
19th-Jul-2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
This is why it's a traditional moral question. Ethicists debate over this- it's why The Dark Knight is a great movie.
19th-Jul-2010 09:29 pm (UTC)
But what would you do, B? Would you push the button?!

[Also, I'm still not convinced I particularly like the way the problem was handled in the movie. Making it a tour boat vs a prison boat-- why? Why was that necessary?]
20th-Jul-2010 01:40 am (UTC)
To see if the people valued human life less, if they were criminals. Is human life intrinsic? Or can it be made worth less? It incorporates questions about the death penalty in there as well, see?

I'm not sure what I'd do, but I'm inclined to think that I'd push the button. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
20th-Jul-2010 02:15 am (UTC)
I suppose... but doesn't throwing that in there just muddy up the issue? (That said, I also guess good philosophy doesn't always make good film...)

I mean, if you stood on the sidelines and had the choice of which boat to blow up, then yeah, criminals vs tourists becomes an important part of the problem. But in this situation... say you DO blow up the other boat, to me it still reads more as 'saving SOME people rather instead of letting all die' rather than 'my boat is more important than your boat'.
20th-Jul-2010 02:25 am (UTC)
The Joker is inconsistent, for starters. He's cR@zY, remember?

But it also is interesting to see if it's more likely to happen. Are the civilians more likely to not care about the criminals? Are a bunch of thugs more likely to not care about innocent lives?

If it were a real experiment, he'd need more boats, more data, more people. But then, Batman foiled him- maybe he would've run more tests...
19th-Jul-2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
It's a deontology vs. consequentialist smackdown!
19th-Jul-2010 09:53 pm (UTC)
....and if I say that the side of the ring I fight on changes depending on the situation, what does that make me?

(Aside from wishy-washy, that is. XD)
20th-Jul-2010 04:59 am (UTC)
Actually I think consequentialism tends to absorb pretty much everything that isn't deontology, so even if you act like a deontologist would in some circumstances, I think that's still consequentialism. There are some consequentialists who think that the best outcomes proceed from everyone acting strictly as if they're deontologists, but they probably didn't get enough love as children.
20th-Jul-2010 05:01 am (UTC)
Actually I think consequentialism tends to absorb pretty much everything that isn't deontology

I FORGOT VIRTUE ETHICS :( Poor virtue ethics, it's like the kid in kindergarten who spends all his time building rockets and has no friends.
20th-Jul-2010 05:04 am (UTC)
Why am I characterising moral systems and their proponents as different kinds of neglected children, I don't even know. IT'S ALL A RICH TAPESTRY
20th-Jul-2010 02:50 am (UTC)
Wow, this is perfect timing. I just listened to a conversation on 'morality' on WNYC's Radio Lab the other day. The first part of the show presents pretty much the exact same type of scenario. Listen!

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