The Trolley Problem and The Immorality of Voting Third Party in 2020
Let’s say you’re on a train. The train is speeding ahead at a pace that makes braking in time to come to a stop impossible for anything that is already in sight. Additionally, its current speed also makes switching tracks impossible in that timeframe. The train is full of a diverse group of people representative of the spectrum of human personality types, backgrounds, and moral compasses. Moreover, the train is captained by an indecisive captain who puts every major decision to a vote.
Now, you’re looking at a map and see that a town is coming up ahead. You happen to know the train warning signs in this town are malfunctioning. They won’t know the train is coming. You start sounding alarm bells with your fellow travelers. You explain that the train must slowdown to a speed that would allow it to stop in case people in the town are on the tracks. Word makes its way to the Captain, and he calls for a vote.
During the debate before the vote, people make their cases. You and your fellow empathetic travelers, the Full Stoppers, make the case that human lives are at risk and the only right thing to do is slow down. Another group, the Same Trackers, says that they shouldn’t be inconvenienced because the town can’t keep their infrastructure running, and besides, those people shouldn’t be on the tracks anyway. A third group, the New Trackers, brings up that there is an alternate track in the town that the train could switch to; surely, pedestrians won’t be on both tracks.
You make your case but gain nowhere near a majority. However, you convince enough people in the New Trackers to vote for slowing down to a speed that would allow the train to switch tracks if needed. This speed will not be slow enough to come to a stop though.
The train is now approaching the town. As it gets closer, the Captain sees there are a group of people on the track. He looks at the alternate track and sees there is one person there. He can switch to the alternate track with the push of a button, but he must decide quickly and is panicking. He gets on the intercom and relays the situation to the passengers. He asks what to do but there is no time for a vote. People start shouting. The Same Trackers tell the Captain to steam full speed ahead. The New Trackers implore the Captain to switch tracks and save lives.
What do you do? You were right all along. If everyone had listened to you, the train wouldn’t be in this situation. Being able to brake and kill no pedestrians would be the best option. But now it is impossible. The two tracks are the only available options. If you don’t add your voice to the side imploring the Captain to change tracks, the much louder Same Trackers will likely be the only voices the Captain hears. However, doing so would be to willingly choose an option that would result in someone’s death. You can’t live with that.
Unable to bring yourself to make the tough choice, you stick to your guns. You shout, “Slam on the brakes! It’s the only way to save everyone!” Few join you in your call because — as everyone knows — the train cannot stop in time. This is not a real option, but you stand by your original stance despite rapidly changing circumstances. The loud voices of the Same Trackers drown out the New Trackers. The train speeds ahead on its current path. It plows through the town, killing ten people.
Ten lives are lost instead of one. Ten families have funerals instead of one. Ten people lose their mother or brother or father or daughter or son or sister instead of one.
How do you feel? You might justify your actions by saying your added voice wouldn’t have made a difference. You may tell the New Trackers that they were wrong for not coming to your side from the beginning. You may throw all the blame on the Same Trackers. You may throw your hands up and place blame on the system of the train or tracks.
However, the more logical feeling is guilt. Because you made an immoral, selfish decision.
Don’t make that decision in this presidential election. The train is speeding ahead and there are only two tracks. We know the current track will lead to death, destruction, and despair. Add your voice to the ones calling for a new track.
Save lives. Save democracy. Save the economy. Save the planet.
Vote for Joe Biden.
Note: I actually do not accept the “lesser of two evils” argument in the 2020 election. I believe Joe Biden is a good man and will be a good president. I am currently writing multiple pieces to reflect that stance. However, I adapted the classic trolley problem to illustrate how voting for a third party, even if you believe Biden is the lesser of two evils, is a demonstrably immoral choice. In this version of the trolley problem I have taken some liberties with the mechanics of train travel to make my point.