Note from Dan: Here’s one from J.M. White, a relatively recent but valued regular here on these boards who once lived in a tent for a year.
By J.M. White
It’s not easy to look beyond ourselves. Even in looking over and caring for family members and loved ones, we often do so because of selfish reasons. Sure, we want them to be healthy, happy and succeed in life but if we shirk our responsibilities, there are consequences – they are what drive us and they are what we fear, regardless of what we admit. But what if we could step outside of our own lives?
What would the lives we live look like to an outside observer, one who wasn’t bound to our construct of morality and justice and as such, how would our value be measured?
Let’s say you’re that observer and you watch over an island nation of 1 billion inhabitants. They’ve all the amenities of our modern civilization and they’re thriving.
Theirs is the only inhabitable land on the planet and no other resources are available other than what the island and the surrounding seas provide. You can observe anyone at anytime (in fact, you can see all of them at once if you desire), but you don’t speak or engage them in any way.
Your island is in big trouble. Your population has far exceeded the carrying capacity of your resources. The maximum sustainable population is 250 million people. There have been escalating skirmishes over water, food and of course, money.
The problem isn’t the skirmishes, of course; you can neither care nor do anything about that (please keep in mind that morality is not a concept you know).
The problem is that the deaths from the skirmishes aren’t nearly enough to reverse or even significantly slow population growth. You’ve only one recourse and it’s the only way you may interact with your nation: 4 out of every 5 people on your island must be removed.
This is a one-shot deal. Your only interest is in adjusting your nation to give it the best chance to be as sustainable as possible. Once you’ve made your decision, it’s done. Given that a person’s deeds, piety and/or morality hold no sway with you, how do you make your selections for a purge of 80%?
Keep in mind that the simple answers, like random selection and a lottery system could conceivably leave you with a single gender or non-reproductive population when dealing with an elimination percentage this high. Remember, your goal isn’t to exterminate people; your goal is to give your nation the best possible shot at continuing indefinitely.
The true key to this thought experiment is to become something outside of human. You should have no compassion for these beings, no remorse for their plight; you operate outside of emotion. You should make your selections based on best-case scenarios and probabilities of sustainability.
- Can you determine the fate of an entire race without using human emotion?
- Do you choose on breeding capabilities, genetic advantage, contributions to the society as a whole, something else or any combination thereof?
- Why did you choose as you did?
Now, once you’ve executed your plan, think about this question as yourself (you may return to being human now):
- What did you do with those 800 million people being purged? They were slated only to be “removed”, remember?
- Did you think that you had simply killed them?
- Would you, were you a citizen of your nation, been one of the ones to remain?
Very few people can pull this off while remaining completely devoid of emotion. When it comes to the primal drive for life, however, there is no emotion that won’t cloud our judgment. In what we have here, we can do only what must be done. It’s a hard perspective to see, but it can really open one’s eyes to what makes us “worthy.”