At the risk of sounding trite, fiction gives us a wonderful example of this: The Kobayashi Maru. As fans of Stra Trek will remember, the Kobayashi Maru was an exercise used to train and evaluate cadets. As training, the object was to teach the cadets that there are no-win scenarios and that Star Fleet officers have to cope with that. As evaluation it enable the Academy to evaluate the cadets’ character, to see how they deal with a no-win situation.
Notoriously, our hero, Captain Kirk, is the only cadet in Star Fleet history to have ever won the Kobayashi Maru scenario, which he did by cheating. He is, of course, our hero because he simply does not believe that there is such a thing as a no-win situation. He will not admit defeat, even when it is programmed into an exercise.
While Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru test are, of course, fictional, their inclusion in our popular fiction mythology illuminate what we regard as virtue. The hero of our fiction is the person who in the words of a Captain Kirk pastiche, will “Never give up. Never surrender.”
Yesterday, I was listening to a very moving and troubling account of the alleged euthenasia of patients at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is a tragic story, and one that centers around the doctors and nurses having given up hope.
Hopelessness, admitting defeat, acknowledging the no-win situation is, as the cases of the child soldiers, this article’s reaction to the Trolley test, the Kobayashi Maru, or the Katrina incident all tell us, tragic. And that is the purpose of these stories, be they heroic fiction, or public radio journalism. They are morality tales that teach us about heroism and virtue.