To save the 33 trapped miners in Chili cost a lot of money. US$20 million to be precise. So was the money well spent or should it have been used for other purposes – like on life saving operations for the poor, for example?
Welcome to the red hot academic mini industry.
It all goes back 20 years to one of the most famous dilemmas ever devised in philosophy, which, as I remember, put my ethics professor at university on the edge of a nervous breakdown (I think he was only saved by heavy bouts of whisky drinking).
The core problem involves two thought experiments - call the first “Spur” and the second “Fat Man.”
In Spur, an out-of-control trolley—or train—is hurtling towards five people on the track, who face certain death. You are nearby and, by turning a switch, could send the trolley onto a spur and save their lives. But one man is chained to the spur and would be killed if the trolley is diverted. Should you flick the switch?
In Fat Man, the same trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are on a footbridge overlooking the track, next to a fat man. (The Fat Man is now sometimes described as a large gentleman. But fat or large, the fact of his corpulence is essential.) If you were to push him off the bridge onto the track his bulk would stop the trolley and save the lives of those five people—but kill him. Do you push him?
Strangely, almost everyone will sacrifice spur man but not the fat man – even though in both cases, one person is killed to save five others. It all gets very complicated and there are many variations on a theme but the general idea is that we might choose NOT to save the optimum number of lives – even though that would be the most logical decision.
Or maybe we just don’t fancy pushing fat people off bridges…
Morality, of course, is always an interesting topic and there are certainly plenty of conundrums that expats will face living in Indonesia…
The expat in Indonesia morality test
1) Although liberal minded, you would never consider sleeping with a prostitute since the purchase of sex for money represents male hegemony over women. Besides it’s a disgusting thing to do (although sleeping with a girl for fun is okay). Anyway, it’s your second week in Jakarta and you find yourself in a nightclub with a few of your new expat friends - and it also seems with some new, scantily-clad female friends who have sat down unrequested at your table. One of them is - you have to admit it - extraordinarily cute, and she leans over and whispers something into your ear about liking you a LOT and wanting a place to spend the night and just a little “taxi money” to get home the following day. Do you:
a) stick to your guns and refuse her offer
b) think about your other gun instead and say “YES!!!!!!!”
2) You’ve been in Indonesia a few years when your two domestic maids suddenly go back to their villages (to get married they say). And it’s not long before you’re desperate for help as you’ve completely forgotten how to do any sort of housework - even how to iron a shirt! Finally, a week later and you get a call from the maid agency saying they have found you replacements. Two hardworking, honest and reliable girls from East Java. And 15 years old. Do you:
a) Freak out at the suggestion of employing “children” and slam down the phone in sheer disgust.
b) Utter a sigh of relief, ask for the two girls to be sent over immediately, and then get yourself a cold beer from the fridge.
3) Getting in a taxi to go home, you find a really nice smartphone in the back of the taxi (this happened to a good friend of mine recently). Do you:
a) wait for the smartphone’s owner to ring, and then ask them to collect the phone from your office.
b) instantly remove the back panel of the phone to get out the SIM card before muttering under your breathe “Great! A nice new handphone!"
4) It’s your first visit to Mangga Dua and there you find yourself in piracy heaven with expensive computer software and DVD films and music CDs literally selling for “a song”. Do you:
a) purchase a s**t load of discs for only US$100, joyful at the thousands and thousands of dollars you are “saving”.
b) leave the mall with your hands empty but your conscience clear and promise to buy yourself three new original DVDs on Amazon.com
5) You’ve been a supporter of environmental causes since a kid but one day you get a call from a headhunter who offers you a job with a well known company whose record on the environment is – to be frank - little short of disgraceful. But the pay is twice what you’re getting now. Do you:
a) accept the job and start planning for that skiing holiday now (the monkeys in the jungle can always live in the zoo, right?)
b) refuse it. Money ain’t everything right?
6) while sleeping with a minor celebrity, it suddenly dawns on you she is married to someone else and is from a part of Indonesia renowned for its “strong commitment to family and religious values”. Do you:
a) call the whole thing off, treasuring the relationship as a “happy memory”.
b) get out the Nokia…
7) (this is especially for the dude over at Ravespot) A bunch of rock groups including some foreign acts such as the brilliant Smashing Pumpkins are gonna do a gig at Ancol - sponsored by one of the big Indonesian cigarette companies. Do you:
a) go to the concert – what’s the problem?
b) give it a miss - as the concert promotes smoking to the younger generation - and instead stay at home and watch the live English Premiershits game on TV – sponsored by our friends from Djarum.
8) (this really happened to someone) Going home in the early hours – and driving a bit too fast – you hit a bump in the road, lose control and wipe out a hapless nasi goreng seller who had been pushing a food cart. You’re nicked and taken to a cell. Do you:
a) agree to negotiate your release for a not inconsiderable sum
b) You strongly oppose the idea of “perverting the course of justice”, so you take your chances in the Indonesian legal system - even though you could face a stint at Jakarta Hilton for the next three years.