Monday, May 21, 2012

Lifeboat ethics and rational thought...

There's a long-ish but intriguing piece on the failure of education, at Blogodidact, which got an instant reaction from me... had to share the blog entry with everybody I could think of, and anybody else who might happen by.  

I'm no deep thinker.  At least, most days, I can only pretend to go there, mostly because of other noises going on in the background. Still, I think I'm a little farther along than the folks who see the Lifeboat Problem as answerable in either/or.   Even as I was reading the paragraph, I saw a major flaw in the question: where is the actual human element?

 To quote from blogodidact:

Here's the content of one of the slides: 
The Lifeboat Problem You are on a lifeboat with 11 people (including you) aboard. The water surrounding the lifeboat is freezing such that no one can survive in the water. There is no rescue ship in sight and worse yet, the lifeboat is sinking. You then notice there is a sign posted on the lifeboat that reads "Capacity 10 normal sized persons." Looking around you notice 10 normal sized persons and one 400 pound man. No one wants to jump out of the boat and if nothing is done it will sink leaving all 11 to die. Would you: 

  • A. Push the 400 pound man out of the boat to save everyone else. (Achieving the greater good.)
  • B. Refuse to push the 400 pound man or anyone else out of the boat and hope for a miracle.
He adds a third option (go see it for yourself). I can't merely go where he goes, I have to pause and ask the question: tell me more about the other passengers.   I need to know pluses and minuses for each and every one of the eleven. Does any one of them have a history of violence against innocents?  Is any one of them, perhaps, a physician, a navigator, a SEAL, or some other necessarily-skilled individual?  Maybe the 400-pounder is an exceptional engineer who can figure out how to MacGyver the boat to hold even a few more passengers. Maybe one of the "normal-sized" people is an asshole whose grating voice and behavior are causing the boat's hull to crack and take on water.  And, besides, what's wrong with hoping for a miracle?  

The truth is, humanity is more than kill-or-be-killed.  We actually developed social structures -- society -- to make that whole scene obsolete.

In other words, when somebody presents a false dichotomy such as this, I have a deep and abiding need to poke holes in his virtual lifeboat.  Life is seldom about either-or situations, but the lazy, manipulative jackasses, who pretend they're teaching philosophy, allow themselves to fantasize that, hey, it could happen, and, presto! their uneducated, indoctrinated sheep create situations which may yet prove them right.

Quite frankly, though, that's not a very bright thing to do, since they're the ones who don't believe in keeping and bearing arms.

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