Should You Kill the Fat Man?
Even as I begin this post, I have no idea what the end of it is going to look like, let alone what the next sentence will hold. But what I do know, is that morality is one of those things that we hold on very tight to, get defensive of, even are willing to kill and die for (in some cases), but rarely re-examine in our adult years.
Morals are taught to us at a young age when our mind is still in its "full acceptance of authority" stage - its bright-eyed infancy. It's that time when we're incredibly vulnerable to all kinds of input as we seek to understand the world around us. First we use our hands, mouths, get dirty... but in our tiny worlds of limited experience, the most life-defining things we learn are from the questions we ask, and the answers we receive. Answers given by subjective, imperfect adults who teach truths that perhaps aren't as close to the truth as they think. Or perhaps circumstance has greatly reshaped those truths into what they think they know, simply due to their own tainted experiences. No matter the purity of truth passed on to us through their answers, their values then get infused into us and shape how we evaluate our actions as well as the actions of others. Soon enough, we've gained an immense power capable of making or breaking our trust in our friends, family, country and the entire world around us - and more often than not, it's a power we don't handle as best as we could...
We need trust. Trust is the lubricant that keeps moist our internal connection to our external world. It keeps our views stretchy and elastic to the different perspectives of others. It must stay moist too, so that when our mind sees things and seeks to understand it from both sides of the equation, it has room to bend and twist and stretch away from us as it takes on newly formed understanding - a more well-rounded one at that. Without the trust lubricant, our empathetic understanding starts to dry out; our ability to analyze more objectively becomes brittle, til one day it breaks and we lose that warm connection, leaving two distinct sides: you and them. It's when we see the external world through the "us vs them" lens that our heart closes, falls, and brings the mind along with it into the darkest depths from where it can be extremely difficult to return.
Morality is powerful, which is why we must always question what we believe and re-evaluate ourselves on a multi-level, situational basis. We must regularly question ourselves as much as, if not more than the world around us, so we may find not merely answers, but truth. And to get there, I think one of the first deep questions we need to ask is: are these all-powerful things that influence us truly universal or are there some morals that depend on the situation?
I came across this site, PhilosophyExperiments.com, and took a few of their tests. The first was entitled "Should You Kill The Fat Man?". In fact, it was taking that test what inspired this post, because I thought to myself right away "No - I would never kill anyone, let alone a fat man, whose bodily proportions should make no difference in the matter." But then curiousity drew me into it. Was there a situation that could justify killing a fat man and being morally okay with it? I figured there was such a situation since we live in a world of so many shades of grey... but had to see what they could get me to say for myself.
I highly suggest taking that test to see where you stand. I didn't stand where I thought I did after taking it - and when my own answers don't line up with what I think - or what I think I think - I have to analyze it and question what I believe to be true about myself. That's the beauty of questioning things - you create a copy of the world in your head where you can test things out without messing with real-life connections. You can make yourself a better person without drawing others into your own mental drama.
Do you know people who seem to be drama magnets? It's because they don't practice this "enlightened-questioning" nearly enough as they should. They are stuck in the "me vs them" mentality, and being stuck there, their drama never ends. They become their own personal hurricanes that give them the excuse to live a life guided by the uncontrollable, unpredictable winds of the "dramacane" they stir up - and as long as they keep doing so, their feet never touch the ground where they can find stability once more. The unfortunate part, is much too often, they sweep others into their destructional (and highly-distracting) force as well, with can tamper with how we feel about and view the world and relationships, and everything else as well.
Moral of the story: if you have drama, it's best to sort it out in your mind first. Alone. That's what your mind is there for: to process what fills up your mental space before you become a mental case. Let the winds settle as you question yourself and think "If I say (this), or act (this way), then who will be affected and what might happen?" and then follow up with "Is that what I want to happen?". When your winds of drama settle, people will enjoy being around you the way they enjoy not being in a hurricane.
Although that last portion seems like a bit of a digression, it actually links into morality quite well; our head space can get stormy because we have to deal with new things to process and understand all the time. But when we've brought our mental winds down to a slight breeze, and our feet finally touch the ground again where we can gain peace and stability, we are left with a calm that naturally is filled by one of two things: more calmness, peace, and understanding, or more winds, drama, and instability.
It's our choice.
And full-circle back to choice with respect to morality. By taking those tests, you are given choices, but you'll find that we've been taught morality - a complex concept - on a simple, stand-alone, completely situational basis. When given the questions one at a time, the same way we ask them when we're young, they are easy to answer: "Should you kill?" "No." "Should you steal?" "No." In a simple world, simple questions can be asked and simple answers given. But this is not a simple world and we do not have simple minds. Our minds are complex. And those complex minds can store as many simple things as it's given/told as long as those things aren't examined too closely - they're simply made basic sense of, taken in, and filed away. But there will come a day when situations and circumstances will audit the simple things of our mind. And when that day comes, we are forced to have a smash-up demolition derby between two previously-held simple, stand-alone beliefs in our mind where neither can leave until only one remains.
Isn't that scary? If our morality is such a powerful, guiding force in our lives, and influences most of our actions, understanding, and acceptance of things and others, but we aren't even sure which morals will reign supreme until they are forced into the spotlight the second they're needed to help us figure out how we should handle things, then why do we put so much emphasis on them?
I think the answer lies in a quote from the road-trip movie, Easy Rider (1969):
"Oh, yeah, that's right. [Freedom's] what it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it, that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free, 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em."
So maybe we put so much emphasis on morals for that exact reason: not because they're the be-all, end-all, but because they represent and maintain that line we hold within ourselves and expect of others. It's a line that's nice to stand on the edge of and admire the other side from the comforts of our own, but if we ever cross it, all the beauty of our pseudo-freedom, morality, religion, and choice, collapses in on itself and we're left in a world worse-off than when we began trying to change everyone but ourselves.
And so the search for knowledge and truth continues...
- A. J. Darkholme