What Would You Do?

Imagine a set of conjoined twins. One has physical and behavioral problems that require constant therapy. The other, consumed by full-on psychosis, is a very real threat to his twin and to the nurses that tend to him; keeping sharp objects out of his grasp is necessary to protect his sister’s life and to ensure the nurses aren’t stabbed or sliced or otherwise injured or killed. Surgery to separate the twins will surely result in the death of one of them. The doctors and the parents must decide which one will live and which will die. But the father wants to save the demonic twin, while the mother wants the other one to survive. So, ultimately, it’s up to the surgeon to determine which twin will be given the opportunity to thrive and which will succumb to the scalpel. That decision will have implications far beyond the obvious. The surviving twin’s impact on others must be considered. How will the survivor influence people with whom he/she interacts? And what of his/her progeny?

Given the difficult choice, which role would you choose: mother, father, or surgeon?

Another scenario for you. A mother has just given birth to sextuplets. Through the miracles of modern medicine and the new science of “assured prediction,” you are privy to knowledge that one of the six children (but you do not know which), if allowed to survive, will one day set off a nuclear device that will kill ten million people. The ONLY way that can be prevented is to kill all six babies before they reach their first birthday. What’s your choice (your only choice): kill five innocent babies and a future murderer or take responsibility for the future nuclear annihilation of ten million?

Let’s try another. You know of Hitler’s rise to power and its horrible consequences when you are taken back in time and space to 1924 Germany. With clear knowledge of what he would do in the future, you find yourself alone with him one evening. You have a loaded pistol. You could use it to kill Hitler or you could decline the opportunity; in either case, after making your decision, you would be transported, instantly, back to the present. Your terrible choice would be to either murder a man who had, as of that moment, done nothing sinister or choose to allow him to live, knowing he would be responsible for the deaths of six million Jews and countless others in the years to come.

Now, of course, we do not have the benefit of knowing the future outcome of decisions we make today. But we do have some historical perspective upon which to base our assessment of current events. The difficult aspect of our lives in such situations is determining whether something simply looks like history repeating itself or is, in fact, a replay of history.

My mood this morning is not much better than last night, but it has improved slightly. Last night, I was certain Donald Trump had killed and filleted the last vestiges of the American experiment and was preparing to boil them in kerosene before swallowing them with an acid chaser. This morning, I believe it’s still possible the bastard has not won over enough mean-spirited pigs to lay claim to the White House. Regardless, though, he and his followers have changed the face of America. They have ripped away the veneer of decency to reveal an ugly soul that cannot be fixed through the usual means. The only possible cure requires the cancer to be removed. That’s not done gently. Surgeons don’t ask cancer’s permission; they use devastating chemicals and sharp scalpels.  What, exactly, will that work entail? And who has the unmitigated gall and the amazing decency to do the dirty work of cleaning up after a cancer spill?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to What Would You Do?

  1. I appreciate your comment. You are right; we must listen.

  2. Holly Forrest says:

    You certainly don’t ask the easy questions, JS. These are extremely anxiety inducing times. Each one of those scenarios that you posit provide interesting analogies for this election. I would love to see a full-blown piece on the first one from you. Because of course it’s not just the dads out there who want to psychotic one to live. Support is not split on gender lines. I want to know why the dad wants the psychotic twin to survive beyond nearly gender identification. I think that why is key. We have assumptions, but until we start listening to what concerns people have, why they identify so strongly with Trump, we risk a similar situation – possibly even a worse one – in future even if HRC is elected.

    Rhetoric has never been more significant since Hitler in shaping peoples’s attitudes. Semantics are absolutely critical. At least that’s my perception. The political scientist in me craves to know the answers to what’s going on in the hearts and minds. This is the ultimate teachable moment.

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