Monday, August 5, 2019

The Final Solution: El Paso, Dayton and The Trolley Problem

Philippa Foot
The extremity of violence in America with the two latest outrages in El Paso and Dayton brings to mind Philippa Foot’s “Trolley Problem” from the annals of ethical philosophy. If you recall it requires sending the train down the wrong track to kill one person instead of killing the five who would have been killed were the train to continue on its normal route. A cruder way of putting this might involve the notion of “preventative vengeance,” a proposition which violates all constitutional norms, but which may find itself increasingly invoked by those who experience the frustrations with carnage together with the government’s continued failure to do anything. Here is an example of the kind of senseless concern that emanates from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The entire nation is horrified by today’s senseless violence in El Paso. Elaine’s and my prayers go out to victims of this terrible violence, their families and friends, and the brave first responders who charged into harm’s way.” Tweet away! What the remark reminds us of above anything else is of the obligatory nature of the Tweet, a word which is onomatopoeically aligned with chirp. Birds tweet all the time while they're scouring sidewalks for crumbs. Of course, on the other side of this lies the prospect of rage, anarchy and the suspension of all due process that would occur were there roundups and executions of all potential assassinations—the logical result of taking the Trolley Problem to heart. Catastrophes create unity, but they also generate fear. Gun control is a must, but pre-emptive thought control threatens the very principles on which democracy rests.

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