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Passions in Poetry

Moral Dilemma

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jbouder
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0 posted 10-13-2000 12:38 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

I read an interesting (and true) story a little while ago about a train-bridge operator who lived during the time of the Great Depression, along the Mississippi River in the American mid-west.

One day he brought his son to work with him.  They were enjoying the day together and ate lunch outside of the control room.  At the scheduled time, a passenger train approached the draw bridge carrying several hundred passengers from Chicago to St. Louis.  The father was about to lower the draw bridge when he heard a cry for help.

A short investigation revealed that his son had fallen from a catwalk and was stuck in between the massive gearing mechanism of the draw-bridge.  The father knew that he couldn't reach his son before the train, loaded with hundreds of unsuspecting passengers, plunged into the Mississippi River.  He was left with one of two choices: (1) save his son's life and allow the passengers either die or suffer injury in the crash or (2) lower the draw-bridge, killing his son, but saving the train-load of passengers.

What would you do?  Why?  


Marge Tindal
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1 posted 10-13-2000 12:54 PM       View Profile for Marge Tindal   Email Marge Tindal   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Marge Tindal's Home Page   View IP for Marge Tindal

Jim~
I'm not sure the decision would have anything
to do with moral dilemma ...

The time needed to rationalize the outcome of the act
would simply not be there -
So with a moral certainty ...
I believe that this mother's instinctual nature would take over
and I would make the immediate attempt to save my child.

I may, or may not, have to weigh the consequences of my actions at a later time.
~*Marge*~


~*The pen of the poet never runs out of ink, as long as we breathe.*~
noles1@totcon.com


Local Rebel
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2 posted 10-13-2000 01:03 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

well, considering the passengers were from Chicago -- I'd save my son...    sorry.. just kidding... (if you read my profile you'll see I live in the general Chicago vicinity)

All things considered though -- I tend to agree with Marge -- that in times of crisis instinct will dictate one's actions more than reasoning--

I think it would also depend on my age at the time of the incident -- in my 20's I may actually have been inclined to save the train... but now -- I'd have to unequivocally say that I'd probably not.
Temptress
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3 posted 10-14-2000 12:47 AM       View Profile for Temptress   Email Temptress   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Temptress

I also think the instinct to protect one's child would come through first. I don't think there would be time to contemplate too long on the moral part of it.  I'll have to think on this more too. It is an interesting question with more than one answer.  Gives me something contstructive to do.
Irish Rose
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4 posted 10-15-2000 11:32 AM       View Profile for Irish Rose   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Irish Rose

Yes, I see the dilemma here.  God sent his Son to the world, and sacrificed him so that billions and billions could be saved.  I, myself, am not divine, and I doubt very seriously if I could sacrifice one of my three children for others.  I am thankful, however that I have a heavely Father who did just that, and in that, I know He would never place that decision upon me, for I am not strong enough to make the same choice He did

Kathleen




[This message has been edited by Irish Rose (edited 10-15-2000).]
Moon Dust
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5 posted 10-15-2000 06:19 PM       View Profile for Moon Dust   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Moon Dust

I'd say now, that I try and save as many as possible. What I'd actully do is an entirely different thing. I guess I dont know.

Sometimes you have to let go and move on,
But never let go of the memories.

RainbowGirl
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6 posted 10-16-2000 08:27 AM       View Profile for RainbowGirl   Email RainbowGirl   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit RainbowGirl's Home Page   View IP for RainbowGirl

I do think you'd weigh things up very quickly and instinctively, you'd have to in order to make the choice but I think the brain works far quicker when under pressure....but without a doubt I would save my child or at least that is what I believe I would do..

Interesting dilemma though...I remember many years ago either myself or one of my 3 sisters (I think it was me..lol) asking my dad if my mother and I were both in the sea and drowning which he would save....he said without doubt he would save my mother...

HUGS
jbouder
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7 posted 10-16-2000 12:14 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Marge & Reb:

I disagree with you both in suggesting that moral decisions require a certain amount of time or thought.  If the clerk at the grocery store hands you an extra $20.00 and you immediately notice the mistake but the clerk doesn't.  You have mere seconds to decide whether you are going to put the $20.00 in your wallet or if you are going to point out the mistake to her and give the money back.  I would argue that this is a moral decision and, in my opinion, the brevity of decision-making time makes the decision no less moral.

In the case of the father in my example, he is immediately faced with a moral decision: save my one son or save hundreds of strangers.  I don't buy the "instinct" idea, btw.  We all would want to save our child out of the love that goes hand-in-hand with being a parent.  While this complicates our ability to reach an answer to our dilemma, I do not think it blocks our ability to make rational (as opposed to intinctive) decisions in a crisis situation.

The man in my story chose to save the train, btw.

Later.

Jim

P.S.  I don't know what I would decide.  In any event, I think either decision would haunt me for the remainder of my lifetime.
Local Rebel
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8 posted 10-16-2000 12:47 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Jim,

I can certainly understand why you would feel that a moral decision was being made in a split second, and possibly, I've felt somewhat torn as you do now (as I indicated the propensity I may have had at one time to save the train), but what I've found is that the 'instinct' I believe that almost all of us are referring to here is really the summation of internal values that accrue over the entire lifespan of the individual -- as was in the case of the 20 dollars you mentioned -- that decision was actually made long before the event ever occured..

My suspicion is that you do know what you'd do but you're just not comfortable with it yet.  

In my case - at this point in my life - I'd have no problem with my decision -- although I'd definitely suffer grief over the fates of the train crew and passengers...

(Personally I'd think anyone who would choose an act of heroism over the life of their child would be in deep need of psycho-analysis and possibly hospitalization to determine if we needed to protect society from thier massive ego problems --)

However -- if the situation was; my son planted a bomb on the bridge and was about to willfully detonate it -- and the only way I had to stop him was to kill him -- then my course of action would be quite clear to me again -- save the train.
Brad
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9 posted 10-16-2000 07:20 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I'm glad I held off on this. I originally read this post (only God knows why) as a ship coming in from the river (couldn't figure out why you kept saying lower the draw bridge when I kept thinking it should be raise, raise the bridge -- always got to be careful on assuming someone is going to say something when you don't know it.) -- I think this change alters the situation a bit.

LR makes a good point about changing the terms of the 'moral' test.

It seems to me that the 'instinct' argument goes both ways. What if the worker had worked this bridge for twenty years, had made it part of his identity, was showing his child who he was, was explaining to the child the importance of his responsibility. Lowering the bridge would then be just as 'instinctual' as saving the child. This is what he DOES.

Wouldn't that be just as amoral (not immoral) a choice as saving his son?

Let's reverse this. What if the train were filled with members of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge -- guilty of consciously killing two million of their own countrymen.

What is the moral choice then?

Or is it still an amoral, instinctual choice?

Still more, a Japanese woman once explained to me that if a 'Japanese woman' were in the  forest with her children and a bear charged them, she would circle the children, try to hide them, protect them from the bear but in an impossible way.

Is this an immoral or an amoral choice?

We all looked at her incredulously (she was my teacher) and she laughed too. She said, that's just what we do.

Maybe, maybe not.

Still more, a former professor of mine interviewed certain Japanese generals from WWII and asked them if they had had the bomb would they have used it. They looked at him incredulously and asked, "Why wouldn't we have used it?"

So what's my point?

What is morality?  As long as we keep it abstract like this, as long as we can use the argument that we would not be moral, we would follow our own instincts, whatever those may be -- I don't think they are absolute -- then the abstract discussion of
morality is of no consequence.

As long as amoral is a possible answer here, then the question loses its significance.

You do what you do. That's what everybody does.

And what does that mean for a society and its 'moral fabric'?

Brad

PS Is it amoral or immoral to feel anger, even hate, with the train conductor if your son happened to be on that train? Is it moral or amoral to forgive him?  Does it matter?


Brad
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10 posted 10-16-2000 07:25 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I can't seem to stop myself here.

What if during the job interview for this job, you are asked the same question?  Who would get the job, who should get the job?

How would you personally respond then?

Okay, now I think I'm done.

Brad
jbouder
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11 posted 10-17-2000 01:07 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad (and Reb):

Given the original set of facts, if I was asked this question during an interview, I would answer as truthfully as I could (having never been in a circumstance like the one I described): I'd save my child without hesitation.

Brad, I'll have to think about your "amoral" point.     I mean, your point about "amorality".  For now, gotta get back to work.

Jim

P.S.  Rebel, changing the facts in the "fact baskets" was an interesting law school game.  But your "bomber son" example gives the bridge operator a third option ... save neither (that is, look out for numero uno).  The mad bomber scenerio seems to carry a bit more risk than the original one.  See how complicated you make things?     

[This message has been edited by jbouder (edited 10-17-2000).]
JP
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12 posted 10-17-2000 01:59 PM       View Profile for JP   Email JP   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit JP's Home Page   View IP for JP

Back to the original thought... (avoiding the many gray areas introduced by some - Brad, LR. hehehe).

Why would either decision be moral or amoral?  What makes one more moral than the other?  Is not saving a life a moral act?  We have been faced with this decision many times in movies, TV, books, etc.  The difference is most of those situations have presented the protagonist time to decide who to save; time to agonize over the decision and ultimately come to the whichever conclusion it was... this 'time to think' is the kicker for the moral delima.  To weigh the pros and cons and then to decide who you will save truly will delve into the moral psyche.

IMNSHO a split second decision either way, in the situation as presented, is a moral decision, safe the life of your child or save the lives of many others... the morality only comes into play when you sit back later and contemplate your decision - or assuming you are ever able to sleep again, what kind of nightmares will you have?

The situation is lose-lose, society will judge the bridge operator either way, you were wrong to let your son die or you were wrong to let they others die... Can there be a right choice in this instance?  I doubt it.

For the record, I cannot say which I would do.  I have unfortunately had the chance to be placed in situations where split decisions are vital to survival and I must say that I have learned from experience that what we would believe we would do isn't necessarily what we actually do.


Yesterday is ash, tomorrow is smoke; only today does the fire burn.
Nil Desperandum, Fata viem invenient
rene
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13 posted 10-17-2000 06:30 PM       View Profile for rene   Email rene   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for rene

i think that on the spur of the moment those passengers would be taking an unexpected swim. if i had time to think about it i would let them all die, every single one of them to save my own son for the simple reason that i don't know them but i would know my son and for all i know it could be a murders convention on that train.
 
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