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Friday, February 6, 2009

I versus Rest of the World

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Imagine that you inadvertently happened to be in or made to be in a position from where there are only two ways out: (1) you die, or (2) you survive (at least for now) and other people in the world die. What would you chose?

Such scenarios may not occur in reality but are staple of many a horror movies (viz. The Ruins, 28 Weeks Later). In each case, the protagonist suffers from a virus which is bound to kill him and only way he can avoid the immediate death is to escape the quarantine thus endangering rest of the population with spread of the virus. If he doesn’t escapes then he suffers certain death for no fault of his own. If he does, then he ensures certain death of unknown number of unknown people. If he willingly dies then he is noble person without question. But if he doesn’t, is he evil in letting others die for no fault of their own to avoid his own death? But he didn’t deserve it too, and only destiny has put him in a place of martyrdom where he perhaps doesn’t want to be. Looking as objective third party, his action in escaping are condemnable, though what would I do in that scenario is not that obvious. If I am victim of misfortune, does it still behooves upon me to worry about other people? Victims of AIDS are not justified in injecting others with contaminated blood in spite because doing so doesn’t lengthen their life span. But if it does, then?

This question has deeper implications than mere curiosity of ‘what would I do were I to be there in the movie’.Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi’s life story can also be understood in this reference to some extent. She was tortured beyond imagination and was utterly destroyed by society. In revenge she sought, she punished those who tortured her, but didn’t stop and punished other innocent people too. Is she justified in not bothering about others when her life was irreversibly destroyed? Does the thinking that ‘if I am going down, I don’t care who else goes down’ make sense from human fallibility point of view and not moral high ground? Or victim of accidental misfortune must bear it as unfortunate destiny and silently accept his death?

Each of us is naturally evolved to place our survival at the highest pedestal and even cannibalism is fair game when threat arises. Is animalistic natural tendency excuse enough for one to be exempt from mores of society? In an interesting case in 1884's London, judges didn’t think so. I urge you to read full episode to appreciate how things were handled.