The Trauma of the Trolley Driver

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The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment, which is used to analyze decision-making. It is used to explore morality when people are faced with a dilemma.

It works likes this: you are the driver of a trolley or a train and you must take a decision and choose which direction you want to go. The train is moving at a high speed and you must decide to go left or right. If you go left, three people die. If you go right, one person dies. That is the basic situation. For a better explanation, watch this video.

While the trolley problem helps us understand how we make decisions, nobody speaks about the trolley driver. The trolley driver must suffer from the consequences of their actions. In principle, we are all trolley drivers. Yet in this thought experiment, we just look at a few actions and go no further with the experiment. But what if we were to do so.

The basics of the situation are that the trolley driver has been forced to make a decision. The consequences of that decision were that one person or a few people died. It was not the driver’s fault. He or she had to make a choice. But the real problem is that the driver will suffer from guilt because of the circumstances they fell into. The person killed by the runaway trolley is dead. A life was destroyed by the trolley driver, but the trolley driver must live with the guilt.

This dilemma can be seen often when couples with children separate. In the custody battle, both parties risk destroying the lives of the children. In many cases, they do. But yet if the parents do not try to solve the problem of custody, the parent who never sees his or her child again will suffer as well

While there are some amiable breakups, they are few in number. Most breakups and separations bring out the worst in us. They show us for what we are: animals. Parents will go to court and make horrible accusations about how awful the other party is. Psychologists will be called into discuss the behaviors of parent X on the development of the child.

In these cases fighting causes destruction but not fighting contributes to the “unwell being” of the “losing” party. In this case as in all cases, the trolley driver is the losing party. In the example of the relationship, they will have to choose between destroying themselves or destroying others.

As most people are reasonably moral creatures (debatable), they will feel guilt for their actions. There are narcissists and psychopaths, who are beyond helping. But for most of us, we will feel bad about what we have had to do.

Now the wise and omniscient will tell us not to drive the trolley. They may inform us that it was our decision to go to the station and we must live with consequences of our actions. But if one of the parties sets fire to the station, should we stay and suffer the consequences because it might be better for everyone?

If we can put the fire out and repair the station, then brilliant. We should do that. But sometimes, certain stations are beyond repair. They need to be torn down and emptied.

So as to whether someone should stay in the burning station or not, the answer is a clear no! If a person is in an abusive relationship, they do not benefit the child but staying in and taking a beating, whether it is psychological or physical. If anything, remaining contributes to the collective trauma.

The point of all of this is that sometimes there is not a clear and correct solution. Sometimes, fighting will destroy multiple parties in a situation as will keeping peace. There are situations where there is no right answer. At the end of the day, the trolley driver suffers irrespectively.