- Ada, Oklahoma

November 13, 2013

Moral thought experiment

Ada — Let us reason together.  In high school, say, you got a summer job as a lifeguard. During the summer, you saved two kids from drowning.  You got your picture in the paper; you’re a hero.  Very cool. Ten years roll by; life’s taken a couple of wrong turns and you need to solve a problem that requires you kill somebody.  Stuff happens.

 You do the dirty deed but you got sloppy. You didn’t notice the security camera or the police station across the street.  The DA isn’t interested in making a deal, and you find yourself standing before the judge for sentencing.  

Without admitting you are guilty, despite the two police officers’ eye-witness accounts, the footage from the security camera, the DNA evidence and the lie detector test you insisted on taking and then failed, you tell the judge you’re basically a good person but even IF you HAD done the crime, you still saved two lives 10 years earlier.  You show the judge the newspaper article with your picture.  You’ve put on a few pounds but it’s obviously you.  You explain that you allegedly only killed one person so you’re still one life to the good; let’s just call this a wash and move on.

A stunned look comes over the judge’s face as you’re going through this and when you’re done, the judge doesn’t say anything for several seconds.  Then the judge explains slowly that it was good that you saved the two kids from drowning; after all you were paid to do that, but it doesn’t condone murdering someone later.  The judge says something about a lack of remorse plus some other junk and sentences you to LIFE!  On the bus ride to the penitentiary, which you find distasteful because you’re not like the scum in the other seats, you’re trying to figure out how a person could become a judge and not be able to do basic arithmetic.

Obviously, the scenario above was constructed to make a point and it was addressed in the second person, that is “you,” to make it a little more personal. It’s a kind of moral thought experiment, but of course you’re not really like this. 

Let’s consider moving the two parts of this around; you kill someone and manage to get away with it but then you feel bad about it and decide to try to make it up by devoting your life to helping and saving people.  This sounds better because there would be remorse and an attempt to redeem yourself, but does feeling bad about something afterwards make it alright?

It wouldn’t change the grief that the friends and family of the person who was killed would feel.  

We all have our own ideas about what makes us good or bad, but the view that it’s like a bank account where we can make deposits and withdrawals and as long as we’re in the black we’re good, is a view that has holes in it.

G.K. Straughn has lived in several places in the United States, as well as in Europe and the Middle East, but currently lives in the Ada area.