Off-Topic: The Fault in Our Tramlines

Those that know me know I love moral conundrums – including the seminal ‘trolley problem’ since I’ home from work sick and moping I thought I’d riff on some the limitation of the scenario and present my thesis on why I’m the perfect moral person (ok just the first topic.)

Very quickly just on the odd chance that anyone is unaware: the Trolley Problem is a simply moral question of whether or not you would switch a runaway trolley FROM a track hitting 5 people TO a track with 1 person or leave it on its original course.

Just who are you anyway?

My first flaw with the TP is that we don’t really have any backstory to our presence next to the line switch. I don’t mean like I need a good Act One to get emotionally involved in the story! Rather than in real life we usually exist in spaces with some sort of mandate, purpose, or role to play. We don’t usually find ourselves in otherwise neutral choice conditions where we have to make a decision like this.

For example perhaps the character on the trolleys is a safety observer whose job it is to adjust the train tracks to minimize harm to others… Now just to be clear I’m not saying that we should make moral choices if its in our job descriptions. It’s a bit clearer if we consider the scenario of a random boy drowning in a body of water – if we’re a lifeguard on duty then I think the answer is YES.

Also I’m not saying that we should pass our moral choices onto higher order mandates or rules. More that as we navigate the world we usually have a variety of roles and rules and assumptions about what we do. These may not actually specify your moral actions but they certain flavour your choices especially in scenarios where you have made a commitment towards a certain action.

Through a Scanner Foggily

One of my favourite weird variations of the TP is ‘you’ve not worn your glasses so you can’t make out what is going on.’ In its own weird way the variation actually presents a more realistic presentation of moral conundrums. Rarely in life are we presented with choices where we can see the exact numerical outcome, especially when you factor time into the equation.

It’s bit of a blow against consequentialism and utilitarianism (man that’s hard to spell) because for the vast majority of our choices we don’t see the outcome immediately, sometime not at all, and sometimes are unable to trace which choices lead to which outcomes (e.g. parenting choices spring to mind.)

The Binary Banana

As a final point the TP is decidedly unrealistic in its on/off switch. In reality we don’t actually get ‘choices’ that much, instead every day is filled with immeasurable actions with immeasurable options. In some respects our cognitive biases exist to stop us going mad from free-will – by which I mean we tend to limit our decisions to familiar routines and socially acceptable behaviours, I’m sure there is a chance I could make it big on Tik-Tok inventing conspiracy theories presented with 1920s dance moves but I’m just concentrated on myself right now.

Anyway the point is we make our choices across infinite options in real time. It’s unusual to ever actually have binary conditions, so rare to discuss the morality based of it is kinda like observing social media to try and understand normal human beings…

In Conclusion The Best Result to the Search ‘the silliest trolley problem variation’

Instead of lying across the tracks, the five bound people are standing, arranged like bowling pins. While still horrific, you have to admit that this is a little funny—you can’t help but hear that “bowling-ball-knocks-pins-over” sound effect in your head. “


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