Let’s imagine that you are invited to join a group of geologists on a research trip. Unfortunately, you are invited very close to the time you leave on the trip and don’t have time to research where you’re going. Once you arrive, you all work together for several days, and then you get separated from the group. You don’t have your backpack, your computer, or your phone with you, and it’s now been a couple of days. You had a bit of food, but it’s been gone for over a day. You drank the last of your water this morning. As you wandered the countryside looking for your group, you haven’t crossed paths with any other people or towns. At this point, you’re starting to feel desperate.
Then, up ahead, you hear voices. You dash toward them, slowing as they come into sight. You see a group of what looks like 20 ordinary people lined up facing armed individuals in military fatigues. It looks like the set up for a firing squad.
As the situation comes into your view, the individuals with guns also see you. They wave you over, and you decide it probably isn’t wise to run. They ask you who you are and why you’re in this area. You tell them about getting lost from your group and trying to reconnect.
They are quite friendly and tell you they’ll drive to the nearest town, about an hour away, as soon as they take care of these troublemakers. They also say they can set you up with food, a shower, a place to rest, and the means for reconnecting with your group. This is a huge relief.
One of the individuals with a gun reminds the others of their cultural practice of giving strangers a significant choice. In this case, they say the only significant choice available involves the individuals in the lineup. You are told that if you shoot and kill one of the individuals, they’ll let the other 19 go. You don’t have much time to decide, but you feel the need to quickly reflect on what you SHOULD do.
A few clarifying points –
You heard about this custom after arriving in this country. You understand it’s a matter of honor to stand by the choice created for the stranger. As a result, you are fairly confident that if you shoot and kill one, they really will let the other 19 go. They may look for them again in the future, but this would give the 19 a chance to take protective steps.
Giving you a significant choice is what’s important in this custom. It really is your choice. If you shoot and kill one, they’ll let the other 19 go. If you choose not to participate, all 20 will be killed. You won’t be harmed. Either way, they’ll take you to town and help you reconnect with your group. You certainly aren’t in a self-defense situation.
Whichever choice you make, you won’t face legal action, and you won’t create an international problem between your country and this county.
You don’t know anything about the politics of this country. You don’t know who the individuals with the guns represent. You don’t know what “trouble” the “troublemakers” caused.
You aren’t able to talk with the 20 individuals in the lineup.
The people in the lineup are between 20-40 years old.
You don’t have very much information in this case. You don’t know who the individuals with guns represent. You don’t know what those so-called “troublemakers” have or haven’t done. You know neither the politics nor the culture of this country. In our lives, searching out more accurate information is a crucial first step in deciding what we should do. Critical thinking and moral responsibility both demand that we often need to slow down to gain relevant information before making judgments. There will be times, such as this, in which you have to make a decision without having all the important information. This scenario allows us to observe what our judgments are in cases where we have very little information.
The question, Given what you know, what do you think you SHOULD do. This isn’t a question about what you want to do. You don’t want to be in this situation; however, you are. So, what do you think is the RIGHT thing to do and WHY?
Everything in this scenario is the same, EXCEPT you have much more information this time. With this added information, should you CHANGE your choice from Part A? Another way to ask the questions is whether this information is MORALLY RELEVANT to your decision. Why or why not?
Here is the ADDITIONAL INFORMATION you now have for PART B –
You know this country was impoverished with a repressive and corrupt government. About 5 years ago, there was a successful people’s revolt, and the old leaders were driven out. The new government has made significant strides to create a safer, freer, more just country. Education for all children is common now. The justice system has been vastly improved, sanitation and other important infrastructure have been upgraded. The economy improved as corruption was cleaned out. The government and the people together have been trying to create a much better society for its people. This is who the individuals with guns represent.
The “troublemakers” all have created severe hardships for others in the country. They make no claims to be motivated by any belief system or to have a political agenda. They only want to increase their own wealth. They have been going onto small farms and into little towns, killing carelessly, taking any wealth and resources they can find, and then burning what’s left. The trouble they have created has been devastating to others in the country.
the question, DOES KNOWING THIS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN WHAT YOU THINK YOU SHOULD DO? IT CERTAINLY MAY MAKE A PSYCHOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE, BUT DOES THIS INFORMATION MAKE A MORALLY RELEVANT DIFFERENCE TO WHAT YOU THINK IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO?
In this scenario, you have more information again, but it’s different information from Part B. With this new information, should you CHANGE your choice from Part B? Another way to ask the questions is whether this information is MORALLY RELEVANT to your decision. Why or why not?
Here is the CHANGED INFORMATION you have for PART C –
This country isn’t as described in Part B. Instead, it’s a very repressive country with huge amounts of corruption. Although it’s an impoverished country, there is massive accumulated wealth in the hands of a few powerful families. Educational and medical systems don’t function well for most people. The justice system is a travesty. This is a government the individuals with guns represent.
The so-called “TROUBLEMAKERS” haven’t done any of the things described in Part B. Instead, they are individuals you believe to be freedom fighters. They haven’t killed other people, but they regularly risk their lives to fight for just changes in their country. They create trouble for this corrupt government because they have the moral high ground, gaining support from countries throughout the world.
the question, DOES KNOWING THIS CHANGED INFORMATION MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN WHAT YOU THINK YOU SHOULD DO? IT CERTAINLY MAY MAKE A PSYCHOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE, BUT DOES THIS CHANGED INFORMATION MAKE A MORALLY RELEVANT DIFFERENCE TO WHAT YOU THINK IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO?