Tag: Trolley Problem

Of Trek and Trolleys

 

I am a geek (If this is news to you, Hi! Welcome to Ricochet!) and the recent announcement of Sir Patrick’s return to Star Trek (in some manner we know nothing about and that inshallah won’t be an amalgam of Star Trek Nemesis attempts to make a 70-year-old man an action star and early seasons of TNG that gave Picard “here’s how we’re so much better than you” speeches) has got my friends all in a tizzy. We’re reexamining best captains, best series, best seasons, and best episodes, and I noticed a theme that crops up over and over again in Star Trek: how to resolve the trolley problem.

The trolley problem is a thought exercise in ethical philosophy: a trolley is barreling toward five people on the track. You can’t stop it, but you could switch the tracks so the train hits one person instead. Is it ethical to deliberately act to kill one in order to save five? Well, we know the toddler solution to the problem:

Of Trolleys and Tanks

 
New Mount Carmel Center on fire during the siege of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, TX.

New Mount Carmel Center during the FBI assault on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, TX.

There are five people tied to the tracks of an unstoppable, runaway trolley. Their death is imminent. However, in your hand is a switch. If you flip that switch, then the trolley is diverted down a different track, away from those five people… and down a track onto which one person is tied. Death is certain no matter what you do. Flip that switch and you have actively assented to the death of a fellow human being. Do nothing and you have passively assented to the death of five fellow human beings. What do you do?