The Trolley Problem Problem satirizes, you'll be surprised to hear, The Trolley Problem. Just as airily as the thought experiment is always invoked, the first screen sketches the setup that offers us the ethical choice: "There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two (and only two) options". Which ethical imperative do you follow and why? Is there a justified utilitarian value in minimizing suffering, or is actively choosing the death of a person an act of instantiating harm that condemns you as a conduit of mortal misery? What makes a choice ethical? In a world of double binds, is morality applicable to the grays we must sift?
Our author mocks this pompous grandioisty of the thought experiment to ridicule the assumption of the double bind which forces us into a binary action. Because, ultimately, the trolley problem is a fantasy of control, in which you can analytically evaluate the suffering you, in the fullness of your Weltanschauung engagement, elect to perpetuate. Instead, we are reminded that you don't have perfect information from which to philosophize an answer, that actions perpetuate consequences in complex interactions that don't conform to your agentic intentions, that aleatory indeterminacies compound any choice beyond the scope of your miniscule, irrelevant existence.
Thus, the idea that you might, in the blessed infinities of your wisdom, refuse to act, styling yourself up in inviolable principles more beautiful than the people they destroy, is eyerollingly dismissed: "You do nothing. The runaway trolley careens into the five people tied up on the tracks, killing them in an incredibly gruesome fashion. It hurtles on into a trolley station, which - though you hadn't noticed during your initial assessment of this terrible situation - also happens to be the end of this particular line. The trolley slams into the stopblock at the end of the tracks, throwing passengers violently through the glass windows. / Seeing this, the one person on the side-track immediately suffers a heart attack and dies." Your noble decision not to cause the death of the person on the sidetrack causes their death anyway, and oh by the way more people died than you bothered to perceive would.
If you elect the different moral path, choosing to spare as many lives as possible, accepting the inevitable ethical compromises of a broken world while still adhering to the underlying purpose of a moral code, then the result is a cartoonishly escalating Rube Goldberg machine of violence, in which the trolley careens into more people, which causes a car crash, which yadda yadda yadda enrages the mole people from the depths... the unintended consequences of your act erases any utilitarian value you thought you could wrest from the circumstance.
Barraged by this sneering uncertainty, the idea of a Moral Agent Making a Choice, the core conceit of the trolley problem, seems puerile, wilting the weightiness of its central choice. The Trolley Problem Problem punctures the epistemological bubble of the thought experiment, dissipating its imaginary power into the chaos of the real world.
Faced with this dissipation, how are we to choose? Never fear, I can rescue you from the vicissitudes of uncertainty with an ironclad Objective Answer! Here's the Of Course Correct Obvious solution to the trolley problem. First, you pull the lever to divert the trolley towards the single victim. Watch as their eyes grow wide in horror, recognizing their condemnation confirmed, that the salvation they had been imagining, a life of pious survivor's guilt, has suddenly been ripped from them, they are now the victims they would have so many times at funerals and gatherings and late at night wished was them, and suddenly all their principles surge through them useless, the entirety of their existence sealed prematurely into a vacuum more total than any feeling that drove them, all possibilities annihilated to blank their humanity to mere object, a set of tissues and muscles and bone without claim upon cosmic continuity, and in that instant aware of the immaculately unique preciousness of life, of the beauty of the contingencies that have characterized their lives into such profusions of color, of the fragile wonder that the inuring of cycling days had suppressed beneath their shock and loving awe, they begin to cry at the most mortal levels of their being, weeping for days lost and for days lost. At the last possible moment, as they sink into transcendent nihil grasping melancholy at the earth, flip the switch back. Watch their lungspunch bellowgasps as they witness their life rematerialize, as they watch, as if in slow motion, as if one by one, the quelling of five lives opposite, each one having undergone the reverse spiritual journey, having achieved at last lifewish when they're whiplashed back to destruction without the time to process the loss, snuffed still starryeyed with beautiful lives reunfurling, a snowglobe moment of sincerity into which the void simply, painlessly, overwrites. The absolute agony of the survivor as they bloodsoaked recoil from your monstrousness, as they realize that you chose for them to live and for the others to not, that you specifically intervened such that your sparing of them would not be a contingency you allowed to happen but an irreversibly chosen act, that their suffering survival is your specific violence, that they know, just know, that you will await in their thousands of nightmares coming, bleakstaring straight into them, yes, I am the author of your anguish, of your living, all that you undergo is my blessing unto you, and in that sweating sleepless terror they will finally know God. Which means, of course, that it is the morally correct choice.
my heart, bared. by Sophia de Augustine
Tense, bejeweled prose muzzleloads the heartbeat: "Blooms too heavy to hold their own heads aloft nod gently, swaying on shorn stems, angled to sit just so. They sprawl languidly across every available surface, petals fluttering down to carpet with any movement in the house. Every sighing tumble sets your teeth on edge, eyes skittering to the doorway. He stands silent sentinel, one hand resting against the threshold, not yet bidden entry." So my eyes beamglew and I logged online. Some sentences threaten to flutter a little too gossamer, but they're anchored down with sudden raw bashes, as this pinkish wave of overexposure crashing over a craggy clause: "His hands are just as bitten into, bearing the marks of experiments gone wrong, faces broken against the crush of knucklebone, and gun powder burns from where he's held rifles with the same surety as a long cherished lover."
This batting eyelashes alternation between phantomy fleetness and fear spikes superimposes into a holographic cutesy queasy lacy danger: "The paintbrush's handle is burnished smooth from your cradling fingers, fitting into a phantom's touch. It's difficult, to focus on sketching, even with the luxury of the smooth, buttery glide of pencil over paper. His gaze holds a physical heft, like butterfly pins skewering you into place. He remains quiet, holding his tongue, hands folded politely in his lap. / He fiddles around with his cufflink, pearls cradled close by gold. Eventually, it grows intolerable." While sustaining this mode into a mounting anxiety, the story sparkles with purpose and poise.
The swerve, because surely we were all awaiting the swerve, that this is your husband, separated from you by a supernatural somewhat, life and death and laboratories and profaned rosaries and all that, springs the trap prematurely, trying to pump in a bunch more exposition whilst still pacing the bravado of a grand reveal. The result is confusing, hinting at twenty flavors of katabasis: wait, I'm dead, or he's dead, or we're both dead, or maybe I'm an iteration of a dead archetype that he keeps incarnating? I gather that the story is based on a Fallen London quest, so perhaps it is relying on a preexisting knowledge base, but then it would have the luxury of dispensing with all the exposition it profuses, so that doesn't quite cohere either. Our final choice isn't so much a choice as a tagline, so it doesn't supply us an answer.
Thus, my heart, bared. teases with wondrous aplumb, but when it invites us to dance, it trips, flails forward, seesaws over our legs, smashes through the glass table, fumblerolls into a waste of shattered teacups, then looks up bloodied and cravat crumpled, grins still seductively, as if maybe that was mysterious or dramatically masculine or threateningly romantic or?