On Rational Responses to Adversarial Social Systems: 1
My less-than-optimistic views about humans, as well as my thought experiments, are well-known to regular readers of this blog. So, in that vein, here is another post (or perhaps series). Important: The following is a thought experiment, hence the simplification of numbers and ratios.
Imagine that you live in a social system containing a million more people. The level of technology, institutions etc of this ‘million+1’ system are pretty much identical to those found in contemporary materially affluent and developed nation states. So far, so good..
Now, let me set up the question. Imagine that the entirety of your life experiences strongly suggest that you (the individual) are routinely and continually being abused, discriminated against, marginalized and relatively impoverished. After enduring this state of affairs for 2-3 decades, your range of options to responding to this generally hostile society suddenly change due to the accidental acquisition of a ‘deus ex machina’ device.
This alien device has a switch and a dial with the following settings:
(1) Cause death of the device user.
(2) Cause death of the most abusive, discriminating and powerful 10% of the population.
(3) Cause death of the another 80% of the population (the not-so abusive and discriminating).
(4) Cause death of 100% of the population (even the non-abusive, non-discriminating).
Here is my question- Which setting would you use, if you choose to use such a ‘deus ex machina’ device?
Though the first option might seem quaint, it is actually the only way to actually remove yourself from the outcome of choosing the other three options. A few may choose it, most wont. So let us talk about the second option. Causing the death of the worst 10% might seem like the most just option- at least by conventional ideas of morality. But is it a solution? What about the role of the 80% who just followed orders? Surely, people who follow orders without thinking through their implications or consequences are as responsible for a dystopia as those who lead and profit from it. Also, what is the guarantee that those not-so-bad 80% won’t find a new and equally bad group of leaders? So option 3 would actually a more just option than option 2.
But what about option 4? Superficially it looks like the most inhumane and unjust option. Many would question the ethics and morality of causing the death of the nicer 10% of that society. Surely, they are not part of the problem.. or are they? A complex system is best understood by how it behaves in real life, rather than how it is supposed to behave in theory. To put it another way- if the supposed kindness, good will and altruism of the 10% was real, you would never even consider using the device- let alone choose an option for the dial.
The very fact that you would are actively weighing the pros and cons of the ‘right’ setting for the device implies that the society in question has failed you. Furthermore, the fact that it has not actually gotten sufficiently better over 2-3 decades to make you hopeful about the future suggests that it will not become substantially better. The worse 10% mediocre 80% and outwardly kind 10% are just a continuum rather than distinct groups. Reducing the size of such a system to favor one part of the continuum will eventually replicate the previous dystopia. Basically, you have nothing to lose by choosing option 4 since it alone can solve the problem forever.
What do you think? Comments?