Article > Selfish
Description :: taking a stab at "team ethics"
I did a thought experiment just now and I think it was fairly important. I'm publishing it here both so it can be read and so I can continue to work on it as a sort of ethical bridge for dialogs.

Imagine for a moment that you live in a small community. This community has no laws. It has no law enforcement officers. It has people who hunt. It has people who make clothes and shelter. People work according to their abilities and trade for other things they need. But there is no Law. People do as they please and as they think is right and fair.

Imagine these scenarios then:

Imagine a very strong man: we'll name him Bruce because Bruce is a funny name that sounds like a very strong name to me. Anyway, Bruce is a strong guy, strong enough to bully others and strong enough to kill them. Bruce has bullied several people into working for him. He feeds them and shelters them but he works them very hard and profits from their labor exclusively. One of these laborers is named Tim. Tim works hard but if he screws up or if Bruce is in a bad mood, Bruce beats Tim. These men have never tried to rise up because Bruce wears a sword at his hip and each has been threatened with it. There is no chance that these men, even working together, could escape or overthrow their master.

Imagine further another strong man, we'll name him Cyrus because Cyrus is a cool name for a hero. Cyrus also bears a sword but unlike Bruce, Cyrus knows how to use it very well. Cyrus also knows that Bruce isn't so good with the sword.

Imagine that you are Tim. You're being beaten brutally (again) by Bruce because Bruce is angry. You see Cyrus walking by to do whatever it is that Cyrus does and you see that Cyrus has noticed your plight. How do you feel? What is it you want Cyrus to do? If Cyrus didn't do it, how would you feel about Cyrus?

Imagine then that you are Cyrus a successful hunter and warrior. If you're anything like me, you aren't too pleased at the selfishness of Bruce, hurting other humans for his own gain. You probably want to help these poor men. But you're human too. If you fight with Bruce, there's always a chance that you could die. Really die. Seriously. You'd be dead. No more you. Forever. Think about it. There's also a chance that you could kill Bruce but that he would wound you in a way that would affect you for the rest of your life. What you'd really like (I imagine) is to force Bruce to free the men. You have more power then Bruce. You could do it. And then even Bruce could live. What would you do? Really do. Don't feel obligated to take on Bruce just because you want to be a hero in my story. What would you do? Why should you risk your life to free these men who won't risk their own lives? If these men wanted freedom enough, couldn't they kill Bruce in his sleep and flee? Besides, is it really your decision to make who lives and who dies? You wouldn't want to play God would you? Maybe these men ... maybe they aren't ready for freedom yet?

Lastly, imagine that you're Bruce. You're in a bad mood and you're beating the heck out of Tim. You look up to find Cyrus regarding you, watching how you beat your men. Who knows how Bruce is justifying this, all we need to know is that he's justifying it. Maybe he thinks these men wouldn't stand a chance by themselves and that he's protecting them. Or that some other strong man would make these men slaves if it wasn't him so it might as well be Bruce that profits. Make something up, you're smart. Anyway, there's Cyrus staring at you with that sword at his hip. But he wouldn't understand. You're a little afraid that Cyrus is going to kill you and I think that angers you. How dare Cyrus step in and use force where he isn't invited. When have you ever done that to someone else? Maybe as long as you don't buy what Bruce is selling, what these poor men are making you can keep your hands clean of the whole thing.

By now, reader, you are probably either amused and cheering for me or are irritated at my obvious attempt to justify a war you disagree with. Bear with me.

Imagine lastly that you are a neutral observer; maybe God. Maybe you value each of these men equally. One man is hording the power of 7 men and one other man can free those 7 men. What do you want done?

To me, these aren't difficult questions or thought provoking really. If I was Tim, I would want Cyrus to save me. If I was Cyrus, I would want to save them and I'd risk my life to do it. And if I was Bruce, I would know immediately that I had been undone. Personally, I'd give up, but based on what a nasty, arrogant person Bruce seems to be, I think Bruce might fight. It's very clear in this simple thought experiment what needs to be done. And if your Cyrus, that means you bear the cost of doing it. If you're Bruce, that means you bear the penalty for what you've done. And if you're Tim, you're a free man unless Bruce kills you before Cyrus can free you...

Seriously. If it's so clear here, why isn't it clear in Iraq? Hussein was wicked. The people were indeed oppressed and I don't think they could save themselves...and I'm almost sure they thought they couldn't. We had the power to free the Iraqis and continue to have that power (what they do as free people though...that could be troublesome no? What if these 7 men band together and begin robbing people? Then you've got a problem don't you Cyrus?).

The answer is clear.

So here's the thing that clouds it all up. Imagine if Cyrus was walking down the road, bow in hand. Cyrus is going hunting because hunting is cool and Cyrus is good at it. Cyrus sees Bruce beating Tim but Cyrus doesn't feel like he can just go killing people. So, just like every other day, Cyrus regards Bruce coldly and passes by. But on his way back, Tim approaches Cyrus and says "Bruce has a bow too. He hates you how you look at him and talks constantly of shooting you with it." He shows Cyrus one of Bruce's bows; somewhat crude but workable. "He's not as good a shot as you but..."

But what if he gets lucky? What if he has hires someone else to shoot you? Even a wound could mess up Cyrus' gig and if he kills Cyrus, who will feed and defend his wife and children? Besides, these men don't need to live like this. Cyrus has every reason to destroy Bruce now, or at least to force him to free his men and destroy his bow.

But imagine: Cyrus' wife is worried. If Cyrus just ignores Bruce, maybe Bruce will stop hating Cyrus! What if the people think Cyrus murdered Bruce and decide to kill him in the streets? Cyrus' wife loves Cyrus and doesn't want him to die so she advises him not to confront Bruce. When she sees that Cyrus' mind is made up, she advises him to tell the other villagers what he intends and why he is doing what he is doing. This is good advice. If Cyrus has to kill Bruce, its better that it doesn't come as a surprise.

I think it is likely that some of the villagers will agree with this plan and some will disagree. Isn't that the way of things? Some of the men agree to help Cyrus confront Bruce. But this is the biggest thing that has happened in ages, so everyone watches what happens next.

When Cyrus arrives, no one is in sight. That's odd. But then Cyrus sees Bruce peek around a corner of his house bow in hand. An ambush! There might be men on the roof with bows too. Cyrus didn't exactly come in secret, he has a whole crowd of people behind him and they would have been visible from far off. Bruce shouts "Leave Cyrus or you will die! You're only coming here to kill me and make off with my riches!" He shouts to his men "Cyrus is here to kill us!"

To make a long story somewhat less long, Cyrus shoots Bruce and Bruce dies. Bruce's men don't have bows or if they did they didn't have arrows. As a matter of fact, Bruce didn't have any arrows either. Strange....that.... Imagine what Cyrus would protest "The guy must have been crazy!" "He threatened to kill me!" "The...Tim. Yeah Tim, showed me his bow..what was I supposed to think?!?!"

This is very disconcerting to the entire town. Why would Bruce pretend to have power he didn't? Did Cyrus make up the story for some evil reason? Perhaps to take Cyrus ill gotten gains? Fortunately, there is no consensus about what happened. Cyrus loses the trust of half of the town and some of the trust of his wife. The men are free and most of them love Cyrus. And Cyrus won't have to fear being shot by Bruce.

Did Cyrus do well? And didn't the United States do well also? Iraq had tons of chemical suits but no chemicals. They had developed Ricin and were working on other chemicals. They have attempted to kill our president and give financial support to Palestinian suicide bombers. We know they used to have anthrax and we believe he gassed the Kurds and maybe the Kuwaitis too. There is debate as to whether or not Iraq had a delivery system like terrorists or a ICBM (a bow, an assassin, lots of slaves firing arrows) but there appears to be no WMD (arrows). The war was quick and clean as wars go. We've lost just over 1,000 men and women; very small losses as war and reconstruction goes. As war goes, this was a very good war. If you don't believe me, go study war. Even George Washington lost sometimes; lost badly. His brilliance was that he won against the odds. I think this is a fair analogy; almost analogous. ;)

The men are free and Cyrus' cost is minimal even if his wife will blame him and wonder if he lied. Bruce won't be missed. But suddenly, no one wants to help with the cleanup. Everybody wants a share of Bruce's stuff. Who should get Bruce's stuff? And these men...will they be able to find careers? Who will ensure they don't kill people or simply enslave each other? And when it goes wrong, who will they blame?

Was Cyrus a hero? A man who does what is right even if he might suffer?

What do you think is right? And do you have the courage to do it? Do you even have the courage to stand back and let others do it without publicly calling the morality of what they are doing into question?

And if you were Cyrus, what would you do with those people who had not only stood by and watched as you did all the work, not only heckled and prodded and stirred up others against you to make them doubt your actions, but had been secretly and purposefully buying the things that were being made by those poor men so that you could sell them in their stores for profit? Would you have the strength to smile at them and try to normalize things? I'm not sure I would. I'm not sure I'd care to.

Maybe you are one of those people who doesn't really do anything. Doesn't really even support anything. You've always been more of the thinking type. Just think and find problems with every single possibility, every single argument and don't put your weight behind any decision, any solution. Ooh. And talk about how bad the problem is, how you wish it didn't have to be that way. Is that you? If so, I'm sure this article has a flaw so tell me about it and forget you ever read it.