The Coronavirus Trolley Problem

The coronavirus and governmental responses to it are one messy trolley problem. Should you sacrifice some to save others? No, I don’t think you should. It’s a fake choice.

As always, I think it’s better to choose to do nothing than to make a forced choice to do something which will violate someone’s life, liberty, or property. In fact, I believe that’s usually the only responsible choice– to refuse to be forced into a choice which will kill (or otherwise violate) others.

So, if a thug is holding me and some others at gunpoint and tells me I must choose who he shoots or he’ll shoot us all, I think it would be wrong of me to cooperate and play his “game” (unless I saw a way to stall and turn the tables on him).

I get that I’m in the minority on this. Most people believe you’ve got to act, even if by acting you’re going to sacrifice someone no matter what. That’s also apparently the thinking behind v*ting. I don’t buy it.

If my choice is to sacrifice Individual A or sacrifice Individual B, I may refuse to make any choice and let physics, biology, or chemistry do its thing. I accept I don’t know enough to make choices for other people.

I also think you can’t know which way is better in many cases. You might believe that by sacrificing Individual A you’ll save lots of people, but it turns out you killed Individual A for nothing and people died anyway. Maybe more than otherwise would have. Everyone would have been better off if you didn’t allow arrogance to cause you to make a choice that was never yours to make. Politicians (and often, the politically-minded non-politicians) are full of that kind of arrogance.

So, yes, I am saying that while I believe it would have been OK for government employees (as long as they exist anyway) to have made recommendations and suggestions aimed at reducing the coronavirus cases, it was unequivocally wrong of them to make and enforce any policies regarding the pandemic. By pulling that lever, they made a choice they had no right to make. Choosing who lives and who dies in such a case is NOT an “adult decision”; nothing is more childish and self-centered than to fall into that pit.

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Kent McManigal

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