Aug 20

Changing the Logic: on ethical dilemmas

Have you ever been faced with an ethical dilemma? How do you decide what to do? The way you make a choice under pressure might be worth considering as a model for how you use your skills and talents. 

Years ago, following a tragic aeroplane accident in Manchester, all employees where I worked, who went on business trips, were issued smoke hoods at work. The plastic pouch containing the smoke hood explained how to remove it from the pouch and put it over your head giving you extra time to escape a smoke filled cabin. There were no instructions to help us deal with the moral hazards of such an action.

Let’s suppose firstly that I did have the pouch to hand (as recommended) and had memorised the instructions so that I still knew what to do even with streaming eyes and limited visibility. And let’s suppose that despite the panic of the situation I kept a cool enough head to apply the smoke hood correctly. But that still leaves dilemmas. If this is then only smoke hood on the plane then logically it should be used by the most worthy person on the plane. Who is the most useful person here. Who would be most missed? Which among us has the most to offer the planet? On a more immediate practical note, who is the strongest and might therefore drag the maximum number to safety while wearing the smoke hood? Who knows the most about first aid or jungle survival to help us once we get off the plane?

In the unlikely case of an emergency, there would be no time for an in-depth survey of my fellow passengers, let alone the appointment of a panel to rank the worthiness of each passenger. Who is to say this would be a fair and unbiased process in any case? Would there be corruption? Preferential treatment for the pretty blonde? A fist fight between the more competitive passengers?

The long and the short of it is I thought I probably faced choosing one of these options

  1. Use the hood myself and get off quickly before another passenger forcibly removes it
  2. Randomly give the hood to a worthy looking stranger. That nun over there? Too old. The child? Too unskilled to survive. The pregnant woman? Not strong enough. That nice young man with the glasses? He refuses. …
  3. Dither until it’s too late and we all perish

No obvious winner there.  Even with the luxury of time to think and a purely hypothetical situation it is not easy to decide. Maybe the truth of it is a random one. Some people are born, some of them get on planes, some die. Just toss the smoke hood in the air and hope someone catches it and knows what to do?

Or bite the silver bullet. Thank my lucky stars that I was the one who had it and use it with a clear conscience, attempting to save a few others with the extra breathing space it gave me?

What’s the smoke hood in your bag? What have you got to squander, dither over nor just get on and use? Who might you save if you just put it on?

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