Rational Choices

A rational choice is not always the right choice.  A choice arising from fear, even a rational fear, is not always a rational choice.

I write this morning with an oblique reference few who read these words will understand.  But I hope one reader will read this and will then consider further what I have to say.

Consider this scenario.

A car, doors welded shut, is traveling at 100 miles per hour toward a nearly solid concrete wall.  There is no way for the passengers to break through the doors; the welds are too strong.  The windshield and side glass, as well, are bullet-proof and essentially impenetrable. The steering wheel is locked.

One thousand feet from the wall, there is absolutely no hope for the occupants; they will either perish instantly when the car hits the concrete wall or, if fortunate enough to be protected by the air bags, they will survive but will be mutilated and mangled.  They will be unable to do anything for themselves.   It’s that simple: either instant death when the car hits the wall, or an eternity in a coma.  The driver, realizing the potential for horror that faces the car’s occupants, pulls the failsafe device from under the seat, hell bent on ensuring he will not survive for years in a vegetative state. Once the pin is pulled, the car and its occupants will be instantly vaporized.

Five hundred feet from the wall, before the driver can pull the pin on the device, a tire blows. The car careens wildly from side to side, then flips end over end over end, coming to rest on the track just inches from the concrete wall.  The occupants slowly gain consciousness as the jaws of life rip open the doors to the car. Each passenger is gingerly lifted from the mangled wreckage, placed on a stretcher, and wheeled away to waiting ambulances.  One passenger has a broken hip.  Another suffers a bad concussion in the crash. Yet another broke one leg and lost the other from the knee down. The driver has burns.  All of them will face challenges, all of them will bear scars of the crash.  But if the driver had been successful with the failsafe advice, they would have faced no challenges, no pain, no opportunities to recover, only headstones.

Ask the passengers, and the driver, whether they would have been better off with the final protection of the failsafe device; to a person, they will say “no.”

What’s rational in this scenario?  Crashing into the wall offered two choices: death or coma.  The driver believed in the inevitability of the crash. Fortunately, the tire didn’t care.  Rationality has no legitimate place with chance. Reality broke through the inevitable  to introduce another possibility.

We must decide after the fact. We can’t assume we know beforehand, because so often we’d be wrong.  We’d miss out on the opportunities presented to us. We’d mistakenly use the failsafe device to vaporize our opportunities before we even took them.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Rational Choices

  1. Susanne says:

    Is that human nature, or conditioning?

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