Murder Gandhi Takes the Trolley
A philosophical question that blew my mind as a teenager was from a documentary I watched late one night on a PBS show while I was supposed to be doing my homework. The question was this: If every time you needed $5, you could have it, but it would mean a person in China died, and no one would ever know, what would you do?
Since I didn’t particularly want to be doing algebra at two o’clock in the morning anyway, I started to think about it.
Now, unlike most of you self-deluded jerks, I’ve always been brutally honest with myself about my sometimes-questionable motives and numerous spectacular character flaws. Questions of good and evil – particularly the banality of evil – have fascinated me from a young age, probably because I grew up with unlimited access to books far beyond my years, and too much time on my hands to ponder in my weirdo-with-no-friends solitude.
The conclusion I came to was that I would all but certainly use the power, hopefully sparingly, but I wasn’t sure HOW sparingly. I wouldn’t feel good about it, but I’d undoubtedly justify it somehow. I’d tell myself there were too many people in China anyway, there was human suffering on an epic scale that a few deaths might help to alleviate, that the person had probably been old anyway, and so on. I knew it would happen because I had read about people justifying evil acts to themselves in history by dehumanizing other people and making it seem like a necessity, and I knew it because I had justified less-evil acts to myself a time or two. I also suspected that once I used the power the first time it would become easier and easier, til eventually I’d end up treating it like some sort of a machine that handed out cash, which at that time seemed a fantastical invention to me but popped up in every convenience store only a few years later.
Once I got used to the idea, over the course of time I’d feel less and less bad about it, until eventually I’d mostly forget I was even doing anything wrong and would be using the power for my every whim. I’d be taking out five bucks for candy and a pop at lunchtime, and $500 (that’s a hundred people) for school clothes. I mean, people died all the time, right?
And if $500, why not $5000 for a car? Why not $50,000 for a down payment on a house? After all, I could easily afford a house payment and all it would cost was a few lives in a place that I had been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe had far too many people in it anyway. Because oh yes, that was definitely a very important part of this equation – that I had been led to believe that there was a downright excess of Chinese people anyway.
Once I realized that little wrinkle, I tried the thought experiment again, using Americans, using Frenchmen, using people I knew and people who were strangers, people I liked and people I couldn’t stand. I imagined murdering innocent people versus Actual Bad Guys, and old people versus babies. Much to my surprise I found that while naturally I could envision trading the lives of Actual Bad Guys with abandon, even glee, it was also easier for me to envision taking the life of an innocent Chinese elderly person than a Potentially Evil Baby of any nationality. I realized with a chill that the reason why it was so easy for me to imagine killing old Chinese people for a fiver was because to no small extent I had been taught to believe that old people were expendable just like I had been taught that Chinese people were expendable because there were “too many of them” and the planet couldn’t sustain so many mouths to feed.
Let’s just say I never did finish my homework that night.
But I still learned a valuable lesson, a lesson far more useful IRL than the Quadratic Equation has proven to be. Try as one might, it is impossible to care about everyone on Planet Earth equally. (Those who say otherwise are probably selling a Utopia of some sort or another). Our brains just lack the capability to care about a theoretical person as much as a real one, probably because when we were lemurs living in trees it aided our survival not to. Thus, we are all taught by our culture, with the assistance of the evolution-induced quirks of our Savannah-principled brain itself, that some people are worth more than others. It’s damn hard to set aside that programming, to see our fellow man as a life that is worth just as the lives we have been taught from the cradle to value. And I learned that I was just as subject to that programming as anyone else.
I concluded that it was probably good that no such power existed, and certainly not in my hands.
Someone like Gandhi, probably – now HE could handle that kind of power. To my teenage mind, Gandhi was a stellar example of the type of person who would never ever ever misuse such a terrible power. At that point in time I still believed there were better people, people who if only we could put them in positions of phenomenal cosmic power they’d be able to rule justly and wisely. The idea that the world was undoubtedly full of wise and kind spirits in positions of influence, individuals who surely were more moral than I, placated me. Gandhi, I thought, Gandhi, and with my spirit soothed I forgot the entire thing till a couple weeks ago.
Back when I was researching my monster piece on Cancel Culture I was looking up a lot of stuff about Schelling Fences – the term we use to describe the agreed-upon stopping point on a slippery slope – and I stumbled onto a slightly different manifestation of Gandhi than the one I’d been taught about all those years ago. I encountered a man called Murder Gandhi and I’ve been thinking about him ever since.
According to professional ponderer Scott Alexander, Murder Gandhi starts off as regular Gandhi, but then he’s offered a hundred million dollars to take a pill that will turn him into an unstoppable killing machine. Gandhi, of course, being a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist and everything, declines the offer. But then whoever this messed up pill-wielding maniac is, IDK probably Saw or someone, sweetens the pot a little. “What if,” Probably Saw asks Regular Gandhi, “What if I gave you a pill that only made you 1% less resistant to murder? 1%, that’s like nothing to a super upright and ethical dude such as yourself, you could totally handle that, NBD. In exchange I’ll still give you a million dollars! You’d get all this cash to help the poor and stuff! Just think of all the good you could do! And you know what, just out of the kindness of my heart, I’ll even give you a million bucks for every pill you want to take! Any time, day or night, just pick up the phone, I’ll come running with your murder pill and your 1 million dollars.”
Well, then Regular Gandhi does some math and probes his conscience and he figures he can withstand being 5% less resistant to murder, and so that’s where he’ll place his Schelling Fence. “This far,” Regular Gandhi tells himself, “and no further.” He’ll take his five million dollars and help a lot of poor people and he’ll be satisfied with that. Probably Saw is only too happy to oblige. The deal is made, and a glass of water is fetched, and Regular Gandhi is now $5 million dollars richer.
But something else happens at the same time. That something is that Regular Gandhi, the guy who would never even kill a fly, is no more. Regular Gandhi has become 95% Gandhi, and as the rules of math have established, 95% Gandhi isn’t quite so opposed to mischief, murder, and mayhem as Regular Gandhi was. 95% Gandhi swats flies with abandon and he ate a bacon double cheeseburger once just to see what all the fuss was about. Since we are incapable of valuing the lives of the outgroup as much as our ingroup because that’s how the human brain appears to work (thanks, lemurs) and regular Gandhi is a human being; even in his unadulterated non-pill form he can’t have valued all life equally. 95% Gandhi would be even less capable of valuing the lives of theoretical people the same as people he knew and loved. Life in the abstract is just not quite so much of a thing for 95% Gandhi as it was for Regular Gandhi, although it’s still a pretty big thing.
Undoubtedly, at some point Mephistopheles, by whom I mean Probably Saw, is gonna come back around with his offer of that 1% murder pill and a briefcase containing one million dollars. And while Regular Gandhi felt strongly that he could only withstand the effects of 5 murder pills and remain pure of heart and noble of soul, 95% Gandhi may have a totally different opinion. 95% Gandhi may well think that purity and nobility are for suckers and that the solution to the world’s problems lies in cold hard cash. Will 95% Gandhi take another pill and a million dollars and grow ever more likely to become Murder Gandhi?
But wait, do you hear that bell ringing? Do you know what that is? It’s the trolley! Let’s leave 95% Gandhi inwardly debating in solitude and go outside to look at it.
Another famous meme about good and evil is the Trolley Problem. The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment a philosopher with the spectacularly British name of Phillipa Foot came up with back in 1967 when it was still “in” to think about issues of good and evil rather than being all virtue-signal-y and knee-jerk-reaction-ary.
You’re familiar with the Trolley Problem already, I’ll wager. While there are several variations on the theme, the one that best suits our purposes here today is the version where we collectively pretend there’s a person tied up on the trolley tracks – the cutest, sweetest person you can possibly imagine. Let’s pretend it’s Drew Barrymore, don’t you just LOVE HER? Me too, but OH NO, the trolley is coming right at her! Luckily, we’re standing right by the railway switch; we can pull the lever right at the crucial moment and derail the trolley before it gets to her. But in the process of saving precious, adorable Drew, we’ll kill five other people – let’s say the dude steering the trolley and four passengers.
Would you do it?
Given that this is a rhetorical question and accepting the terms of that rhetorical question (no clever last minute solutions appearing from the ether, no Superman or Dudley Do-Right), yes, I would kill Drew Barrymore to save 5 other people. DUH. I wouldn’t even feel that guilty about it. Even if someone did a presto change-o and replaced adult Drew Barrymore with her even more precious and adorable childhood self, I’d bite the inside of my cheek real real hard and squinch my eyes shut, and keep my hands well away from that lever, even if I found out later that the trolley had contained five elderly Chinese people that my upbringing taught me not to value as much as cute little blonde girls.
This answer may surprise you given my overwhelming empathy for everyone both good and evil, most especially Very Adorable Children, but to me it’s a no-brainer. It just makes intuitive sense to me that we, either as individuals or as a culture, should try to pursue whatever ends cause the least harm overall, even if it means doing something that we’d really rather not.
While the Trolley Problem is hopefully something none of us will ever directly encounter IRL, making hard choices is in the job description of every human being. You sometimes have to make decisions that might cause pain to a person standing directly in front of you for the benefit of many others, sometimes INCLUDING the person standing directly in front of you, and even though the person standing directly in front of you will hate you forever for it. Case in point, my husband’s coworker has a stepson who is addicted to drugs and as such has become a largely terrible person. He’d steal anything that wasn’t chained down to fund his addiction, and he had a nasty habit of driving under the influence. He caused at least two car accidents, but luckily only he was involved in them. While his parents tried everything to help, giving him money and new cars and a place to live and stints in rehab, nothing helped, and after he totaled the second car, they had to make the very hard choice to let him go to jail and stay there this time, which he did in very short order. Not only for the sake of other people, but for the sake of the kid himself.
Sometimes, you see, the dude driving the trolley and the person tied up on the tracks are the same exact person.
Of course that was not easy, at all, and also of course the kid claimed to hate them for it (still does, sadly) but it had to be done for the good of everyone involved, no matter how bad it hurt. It was only a matter of time till this drug-addled douche killed somebody and because he was a danger to himself and others, that threat simply had to be negated. His parents protected him from the consequences of his actions as long as they could – probably too long, really – but eventually they had to stop pulling the lever and derailing the train to save him.
Mind-bogglingly, I find that most people – including some who are far less empathetic than I am – would rather run over five people accidentally than kill one person deliberately. They wouldn’t tell you this outright, of course, and I’m sure they’d answer the rhetorical question the socially acceptable way, but in the way they manage their belief system as they navigate this old world, it’s obvious to me that they’d kill five people indirectly to avoid killing one directly through their action or inaction. Happily.
Why ever would anyone do such a thing? Well, you might guess it’s because the one person is someone they value and the five people are people they don’t, but weirdly, that hasn’t been my experience. I have seen an awful lot of people elevating the lesser good while the greater good gets smooshed to pulp in the process, even when it hurts the people they themselves love in the long run to pull that lever.
This observation is something I have thought about a lot over the years, as news stories have come and gone and we as a nation or a state or a city, town, group, pull that damn lever again and again, choosing courses of action that help a relatively small chunk of human beings – oftentimes only temporarily – at the expense of everyone else, including our future selves and generations to come (see: our 27 trillion national debt). And the only conclusion I have been able to draw is that people perform this incredibly stupid trick over and over again for entirely selfish reasons.
They pull the lever because people are looking at them. People will see what they do. People will judge. If we don’t pull the lever to save Drew Barrymore, people will remember that. They’ll think about how wonderful Drew was, reminisce about how much joy she brought to us all over the course of her life with her incredible cuteness, grieve for her two motherless children, and curse the person who killed her, even if it was totally necessary, even if everyone in the whole wide world understands it was necessary to save those five other lives, all of whom, as it turns out, were much less sweet and cute than Drew. (Of course, in most cases, everyone in the world does NOT understand what was necessary, and even when they do understand they are often perfectly willing to pretend that they don’t to stick it to the people their culture has taught them aren’t worth as much as their ingroup.)
People would happily kill five indirectly instead of one directly, because making very hard choices, not just killing people, but making any very hard choice, does not occur in a vacuum. Making hard choices comes with ramifications and one of the biggest ramifications of hard choices is people judging you for it. Being judged by people is extremely unpleasant and something in human nature has primed us to avoid short term pain even when it causes us long term damage (that’s why we are all carrying around that extra weight we really ought to lose, and why I’m about to go back for a third cup of coffee that will give me heartburn and a raging case of the jitters in an hour. I want it NOW!!).
As I’ve said in the past, when a person is bleeding to death from a severed jugular vein – possibly from being run over by a trolley – there are plenty of people who fear the ramifications of taking action, who stand around loudly saying “severed jugular veins, I’m against it” while doing absolutely nothing, and plenty more who stand around arguing about the best way to put pressure on a wound using anecdotes that date back to the time of Hippocrates. These folks would prefer instead to bitch and moan about how the way the sole individual who has dived in to try to solve the problem, is wrong, achtually, while the patient bleeds to death before everyone’s eyes.
Then the blowhards and achtually-ers, with the help of the court of public opinion, will demand that the guy or gal who dared to take action be punished for the things they might possibly have done wrong in the heat of the moment, when really they were the only ones trying to fix the issue at hand. They were the only ones willing to do something when something needed to be done (in many cases, of course, this manifests itself as NOT doing something that shouldn’t have been done, like not pulling a lever to save Drew Barrymore because it would kill five people in the process). And yet the person who laid it on the line and made the call is held solely responsible for what went wrong.
It’s like one of those big long football games where the offense and the defense fail and fail and fail leaving it to come down to the kicker trying to make a 65-yard field goal. Even though he was handed an impossible situation, if he misses, everyone is pissed at the kicker, not all the other people who failed to make or prevent touchdowns along the way.
Taking all that into consideration, it’s really not any wonder to me why people favor showy displays of lever-pulling over making hard calls that might be judged. Because even when you have a great explanation like “If I would have pulled the lever to save Drew Barrymore from the trolley, I would have killed five other people” our culture just seems to adore finding someone to blame and hoist up a social-media flagpole for everyone to boo and hiss at. Explanations, even eminently sensible ones, are largely pointless, because angry mobs prefer not to listen to long and boring explanations, or even succinct and interesting ones. When something goes wrong, regardless of the reason why, people demand BLOOD, and by blood, they mean someone else’s, not that guy who already suffered. For whatever reason (probably lemurs) when something bad happens, a massive chunk of people think “you know what would be just super is if some other bad thing happened, only to THAT guy. THEN the scales would be balanced and the ledger would be cleared!!”
Capulets vs. Montagues, Hatfields vs. McCoys, Minneapolis vs. Minneapolis – human beings always seem to think that no matter what the answer to every bad thing that has ever happened is a generous application of more violence and more blood.
Motives really don’t enter into it. I guess I understand that, because motives are squishy things that no one but God can ever know.
I suppose it’s all too easy for other people to divine ill intent and weakness of character in everything anyone else does since we so often encounter ill intent and weakness of character in our fellow human beings. I’m sure this tendency to always suspect the worst probably kept us alive when we were living it up in Lemuritaville, but nowadays it’s awfully destructive. We all go through our lives imagining we always know better than the other guy, and our Information Society gives us plenty of inside scoops that lead us to believe those imaginings are 100% real. Everyone else is always quite convinced they could have worked a miracle if only they’d been in the other guy’s shoes.
Just watch someone playing a video game if you disagree – it all appears so easy when you’re not the dude holding the controller.
The poor man believes he’d be better at running the world if he was wealthy and powerful, and the rich man believes if he’d been born poor he could easily have lifted himself out of poverty and ended up still running the world. The patient believes if he was a doctor, he could cure his own cancer, and the doctor believes the patient shouldn’t have gotten cancer to begin with. The criminal demands compassion to cure society’s ills, and the cop insists the answer lies in obeying the law. The crime scene investigator knows that if you’d only pulled the lever somehow those five people could have miraculously jumped out of the trolley and no one would have died, and the 68 reporters he tells agree with him.
Given the fact that no one can know your motivation and also given that people tend to believe the worst of others, if you did allow one person on the tracks to be run over deliberately, especially if that person was Drew Barrymore and not one of the People of Walmart, you’d have to live with the public recriminations. People wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t take you at your word that you’d saved five lives by killing a person. Sure, sure, a likely story, they’d say. They’d envision a thousand scenarios in which you didn’t really HAVE to do things that way, even though most of those scenarios were as unlikely as the appearance Superman or Dudley Do-Right.
You wouldn’t be a hero to them, you’d be a villain. They wouldn’t see the five people you saved by your inaction; they’d only see the one you callously allowed to be mowed down on the tracks. Even if your conscience was perfectly clear, even if you knew in your gut you’d done the right thing (and really, when is that ever truly the case – life comes at you fast, and all that) there would be endless what-ifs and if-onlys and Monday Morning Quarterbacking. There would be an investigation, your life laid bare before a million prying eyes. They would for sure find that damning tweet you wrote back in 2011 where you said, “personally I think Drew Barrymore is kinda overrated.” You’d lose your job, your family would go hungry, you might even face jail time. You’d be on the cover of A-Holes Weekly as the jerk who killed Drew Barrymore.
It would be far easier to pull the lever, to in effect steer away from the responsibility of making the big decision even if it cost a lot more lives in the end. “I didn’t even know those passengers were there,” you could say. “The sun was in my eyes, and anyway, shouldn’t the trolley driver have been wearing a seat belt? And what of the trolley company? How could they have allowed such a thing to happen? Aren’t there safety protocols that prevent this kind of thing?”
If you pulled the lever, it would be someone else’s head that would be demanded, a pound of someone else’s flesh, and no one would ever know that you killed five people to save Drew Barrymore out of entirely selfish motives. Yes, you might be haunted with guilt over it, but human beings will avoid short term pain even if it makes them worse off in the long run.
By the way, that third cup of coffee – totally not worth it.
Thus it comes to pass that people, particularly in our modern-day, overly litigious, do-gooder busybody know-it-all, everybody’s-an-expert, social-media-obsessed culture are not only willing, but downright eager, to kill more people indirectly through action or inaction that leaves them blameless, through means that are considered socially acceptable, in ways that others will judge as “good” and “right”, than making a hard call and admitting that sometimes in life hard choices must be made and what is good for the many ends up being a loss for the few.
People value the appearance of goodness far more than the real deal.
I see people every day who advocate for laws and policies and regulations that will cost lives overall, because they want to appear virtuous, because they don’t want to take the blame, because they want to assuage their own guilt, because there’s a problem and somebody just has to do SOMETHING even if that something is the wrong thing. People regularly call for dramatic and invasive action that will increase human misery in the long term, to avoid looking like a jerk in the short term.
Nuking America to prevent gun violence is a joke, but starting a civil war to ban guns? A lot of people seem willing, even though it’s all but certain that more lives would be lost in the process of banning guns than have ever been taken as a result of gun violence. Because someone just has to do SOMETHING! It very much remains to be seen if we shut down the economy to save some lives from Covid-19 in the short term, but in the long term more lives will be lost – but it’s irrelevant because somebody HAD to do SOMETHING! A whole lot of innocent people have died due to the recent civil unrest including a heartbreaking number of children, but whatevs, somebody HAD to DO SOMETHING! And yes, I pulled the lever to save Drew Barrymore, and five people died because of that, but SOMEBODY HAD TO DO SOMETHING!
The truth is, most people don’t really care if five lives are lost in some future timeline if they can save one life right now and look (even if only to themselves) like a hero doing it, or at least not look like a villain for not doing it. And they’ll bend themselves into knots in order to justify it, just like teenage me seriously considering the ethics of getting five dollars for magically killing Chinese people because they were probably old and possibly bad.
Of course, I just wanted the five dollars. Just like we all want people to think well of us. A good reputation is worth way more than five dollars, that’s for sure. That’s why most of us do our bestest most generous super duperly heroic acts when people are looking and then we never shut up about them. That’s why people just LOVE to post memes supporting popular causes, because it makes them look like they’re doing something when they’re really doing nothing at all. But if you want to do something because it makes people think you’re a good person or because you don’t want to feel guilty for NOT having done something or because it gives ya a frisson of sanctimony, and the something you do is basically the equivalent of killing five people to save one, well, to my mind that is not such an ethical act after all.
IMVVVHO it’s better to take one for the team and allow people to think you’re an enormous pile of shit rather than actually becoming one, and by the way have you read my piece Bombs for Baby Kittens?
But I digress. For who has time to worry about any of that when MURDER GANDHI is possibly on the loose?? Because while we were talking all that through, Gandhi left his private musing chamber and hit the streets. Is he 95% Gandhi still or did he succumb to the pressure and take more of the 1% murder pills? While we know that Regular Gandhi would never do such a thing, maybe 95% Gandhi would have. And maybe just maybe, 94% Gandhi would have taken 94 million dollars and 94 murder pills and he’s a 100% homicidal maniac now. For all we know that’s the case. For all we know, Murder Gandhi’s next act will be to kidnap Drew Barrymore and tie her to the trolley tracks.
Gandhi is the human equivalent of Schrodinger’s cat, both good and evil at the same time. We don’t know if he’s almost perfectly good. We don’t know if he’s pure unadulterated evil. For now, we have to assume both things are possible. Like pretty much all human beings we encounter, we don’t know what evil lies at the heart of Gandhi.
So let’s pretend that indeed, Drew Barrymore is once again tied up on the trolley tracks, and oh no, what’s that I see off in the distance?? Gandhi is climbing into the driver’s compartment of the trolley! Our worst fears have become reality, and Murder Gandhi is on the loose. He plans to run over poor Drew Barrymore personally!
Or does he?
The truth is, that if this bizarre chain of events was happening IRL instead of just the bounds of a rather silly think piece, we still wouldn’t know what was going on in Gandhi’s head. Maybe we’re about to receive a text explaining that Drew Barrymore is actually Murder Drew Barrymore, that SHE swallowed all Probably Saw’s murder pills in exchange for $100 million dollars. And 95% Gandhi, even though he understands society will never understand his motivation, and will curse him forever for it, has to stop her before she can run amok.
Except for then maybe we’ll receive another text telling us that Gandhi is lying and that not only is he Murder Gandhi, but the passengers on the train also took the murder pills, so not only are they elderly Chinese people who our upbringing taught us not to value, they’re all evil now, too! Pulling the lever to save Drew Barrymore in that case would be an act of heroism even though it cost five lives. But then maybe we’ll get another text telling us that text was a lie. And then we’ll get another text saying this entire experiment is a lie and you could’ve saved everyone if only you hadn’t stood here the past five minutes fucking off with your phone.
That’s the real world. Uncertainty after uncertainty. Pitfall after pitfall. Quandary after quandary. Landmine after landmine. Only a few of them can we ever be reasonably expected to see coming, only a few of them have we ever been adequately prepared for, and yet most of us are doing the best we can to feel our way along, even those people you sit in judgement of. The fate of every human being on the planet is to endure a lifetime of having to take action or not based on guessing at people’s motives and imagining various potential outcomes with next to no information while being handicapped by our decidedly self-interested human brains and whatever nauseatingly problematic programming the culture we grew up in indoctrinated into us about which lives are of value and whose aren’t.
Is it any wonder we don’t always get it right?
The Trolley Problem, like thought experiments tend to be, is fun and everything, but at the end of the day you may as well just ask people who’s their favorite Beatle for all the insight their replies give you into their character. (Ringo. What can I say, I’m a born heterodox?) Just like with the power to kill in exchange for $5, the Trolley Problem has some very real limitations, the biggest one being that you only get out of it what people are willing to put in. I’m the type of person who likes to dwell on dark underbellies and moral gray areas and the unpredictable screwed-up-ed-ness of humanity so it’s not terribly surprising I find those things there.
Another person might run the same exact thought experiment and become ever more convinced of their moral certitude.
Now, I happen think that person is a liar and a fool, but name-calling gets us nowhere. Regardless of the participants’ honesty and wisdom, the Trolley Experiment really doesn’t tell us anything anyway. Because in any experiment, a thought experiment perhaps most of all, the variables are severely limited and tightly controlled. Yet in the real world, the options are wide open. Anything is possible, even things that seem impossible like the presidency of a strangely haired madly Tweeting reality show host. Experiments are misleading because they control the environment when in the real world the environment is completely out of our control.
Because of the uncertainty endemic to the human experience, you never know when you’re going to encounter Murder Gandhi, and the craziest, ugliest, and yet truthiest truth of them all is that you may encounter him at some point when you look in the mirror, even though you never even swallowed any million dollar murder pills.
Maybe it was because you were scared. Maybe you were worried about your kids and their future. Maybe you were hungry, really hungry, and they were the ones with the food.
Maybe it was really them or you. Or maybe it was just you all along.
Maybe it was your parents or tv or video games, a life of poverty or a life of wealth or a life living stultified in middle class suburbia. Maybe it was the stuff you learned in school, or maybe it was the stuff you didn’t learn in school. Maybe it was peer pressure or fear of being judged or your raging sense of entitlement or that bubble you live in.
Maybe the Devil made you do it.
But far, far likeliest, of all the reasons why good people do bad, bad things or more commonly stand by watching while other people do bad things, Number One with a bullet, literally: the people you were going up against were people the world had told you were useless, worthless, subhuman.
Not even worth a five dollar bill. And the world told you that till you started telling it to yourself.
The scary thing is, the 1% murder pills do exist. Being taught from the cradle to the grave that some people aren’t worth as much as you, that they’re less than you, that they’re unclean, mentally deficient, diseased, a waste of oxygen, garbage, trash, vermin, repulsive, subhuman, deplorable. If you haven’t heard people saying those things, I suggest you get a Twitter account, it’s quite illuminating. People are guzzling those murder pills right down and they’re not even holding out for the million dollars. People are guzzling those pills down for likes and shares.
Sorry to sound like a broken record here but nobody ever went out on a pogrom in the middle of the night thinking that they were the bad guy and they were going out to wrongfully destroy the lives of innocent people. They went out on that pogrom fully convinced that they were the good guy, the superhero, the Gandhi of the piece and that the people they were going out to harm were the Actual Bad Guys.
I find I grow very tired of moral certitude. I think a whole lot of people at present purport to have all the answers in this uncertain world because they think their side is in charge of defining matters of right and wrong. Thus, they would like to define these matters in a way that they are judged and found pure of heart and flawless of soul. So they declare loudly that they value all human lives exactly the same, it’s just some of those people are scum-by-choice, and then they further declare that trying to understand the choices of scum means you are tainted in the process. These people will never understand that trying – really trying – to understand scum is the highest achievement a human being can unlock. Because trying to understand scum is the antidote to the 1% murder pills.
The truth of humanity is that none of us, not even Gandhi, are capable of valuing all human life the same. Despite this fact, a whole lot of people find comfort in believing that they’re bastions of all moral wisdom. Yet they address questions of ethics without insight, without compassion, without empathy, without knowing or wanting to know their enemy, without adequate historical knowledge, without any sort of time-tested philosophical framework for understanding the world (indeed, in a fair number of cases operating under a philosophical framework that has been proven disastrous every time it’s been tried), and worst of all without a drop of honesty about their OWN sketchy inner thoughts and furtive behaviors and questionable motivations.
And that’s a shame, because facing up to the scum within your own soul means you’ll never really be tempted to take the murder pills in the first place. Ignoring that scum within, pretending that the capacity for evil doesn’t exist within you because you are a better person than all those other people who came before you, makes it easier for that little red guy on your shoulder to whisper bitter nothings into your ear.
Pretending the darkness isn’t there doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it easier to swallow the pills.
But maybe that’s how you want it to be. Easier. And that is why you damn those who keep pointing it out to you, that bad people have the potential for goodness within them and good people can absolutely turn bad – yes, even you, and yes, you may already be well down the road. Because knowing that someone is watching, someone is judging rather than cheering you on, makes it harder for you to keep gulping down handfuls of murder pills in exchange for likes and shares. And you prefer the way the pills taste when they aren’t washed down by a strong glass of guilt. Murder pills are so much yummier when you’re allowed to forget that you’re the one in the wrong.
What we have on our hands right now is a perfect storm brewing. A cold front of people consumed by moral certitude blowing off of a cultural tropical depression, smacking into a high-pressure system in which hating others is justified and dehumanizing THOSE people is treated as sport and trying to understand anyone’s motives is demonized. All in an atmosphere in which every last one of us is grossly desensitized to the erosion of social norms that seems to be occurring at rapid pace.
Black skies are coming.
I look to the left of me, and then to the other left of me, and I see people gulping down murder pills as fast as they can. And it’s funny to me and the Ghost of Regular Gandhi (because he really didn’t take the murder pills, oh and by the way Spiderman was actually able to save Drew Barrymore and the elderly Chinese people on the train too…shut up, I never said Spiderman couldn’t do it, I said Superman and Dudley Do-Right couldn’t) how much these people are starting to resemble some sort of primate to me, like a lemur, but bigger and meaner, right down to the screeching and the flinging of shit. And even though I remain committed to saving you from yourselves even though no one will ever understand my motivations but me and God, you animals sure don’t make it easy on me, what with that little devil that sits on my own shoulder and all.
Quit taking the murder pill, dudes. Don’t you see things are bad enough as it is?