How the Trolley Problem Explains 2016

Clio Chang in The New Republic:

2a5a4975e9a7860a9ce598dbbc7a50125f8f64aaImagine that you’re a rude teen hanging near some trolley tracks, kicking around rocks, when you look up and notice that five people are tied to the tracks. A trolley suddenly appears, careening towards them. You can save the five people by pulling a lever, thus diverting the trolley to a different set of tracks where another person (dang! Just your luck!) is tied up. Do you pull the lever, killing one to save five?

This thought experiment, devised by philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967, along with its sadder partner dilemma, the Fat Man (instead of flipping a switch, you have to push a fat man off of a bridge to stop the trolley from hitting the five people), has found a resurgence in 2016, becoming what Brian Feldman has termed the “Internet’s Most Philosophical Meme.” The Facebook page Trolley Problem Memeshas grown to over 170,000 likes since its inception earlier this year; newly added memes attract thousands of likes and hundreds of in-depth comments (the inside joke “multi-track drifting” almost always inevitably comes up, which riffs off of another meme, the gory details of which are way beyond the scope of this piece). You can now buy t-shirts that say “I pulled the lever” or “I choose you to be my ethical dilemma” with a picture of the trolley on it. If something happened this year, you can bet that there is a trolley problem for it.

More here.