When you read many popular-science books, you start to encounter the same stories and examples again and again.
The trolley problem concerns a moral dilemma: a trolley car is heading down the tracks and will surely kill five people, unless we flip a switch and change its track so it will kill just one person instead.
Almost everyone agrees that pushing the switch is the right thing to do, sacrificing one life to save multiple ones.
The fat man variation goes like this: “As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?”
Even though the bottom line is the same as before: trading one life for five, 90% of the people will refuse to push the fat man.
There are several reasons suggested as to why this is different: the physical act of harming a human being as opposed to pulling a switch, the fact that the death of the one person is a side effect in the first case and an intentional act in the second one and the fat person’s right not to be pushed off a frikkin bridge.
This fat man trolley situation always has me over-thinking and here are some of my thoughts.
Fat people bias
Once you describe the person as a very fat man, you already made a distinction and a judgement towards him and not a positive one.
Fat people have it tough , they don’t enjoy their fatness (unlike douchebags who are also unpopular but seem to enjoy being a douche) and face medical risks and social discrimination.
We blame the fat man for his own condition and automatically assign him negative character traits, as a result a fat person’s life is worth less than an average person’s and far less than five non-characterized people.
If we were to frame the problem differently like saying the five people on the track were also fat, the mental picture and results will be different.
Would you push a fat person to save five obese people? two obese people to save four anorectics? the mathematical possibilities are endless.
What if he pushes back?
Fat people can’t run very fast or very long, but they have very powerful legs from carrying all that weight around.
So let’s say I made up my mind to save the famous five by pushing fatso off the bridge.
I’m gonna need to push mighty hard and fast to succeed.
If I fail there’s a good chance that this monumental mound of lard will turn on me and decide that even though my earthly vessel may not stop the trolley, it would still be a good idea to try.
Fat people are just as homicidal as the rest of us.
I would especially be wary if said chubby tubby looked Japanese.
Sumo wrestlers are not only incredibly powerful, they also have Yakuza connections, this could turn out to be an unpleasant experience indeed.
Instead I could try to talk Dumbo into jumping by himself.
I’ll tell him that life is like a box of chocolates, it doesn’t last very long for fat people and hope he gets the message.
If I’m feeling especially sneaky I might say something like “isn’t that a ten pound mars bar taped to the bottom of the railing?” and hope nature takes its course.
If a tree falls in the forest it does not make a noise since no one hears it.
If a great big fat person gets shoved off a bridge, not only does he make a funny sound, also his family and friends get to hear about it.
You can always claim innocence or ignorance if you don’t flick a track-changing switch in time, but you can bet that Porky’s next of kin won’t be excited about your notion of justice and the physics-based application of their relative.
Obesity is largely hereditary so be prepared for an onslaught of pink elephants on a vendetta parade, you could end up in trouble.
If you do decide to push, make sure there are no eyewitnesses around and that includes the five souls you are saving.
Remember gratitude has a short half-life.
Additional small yet decisive factors
What if the fat guy is wearing a Kobe Bryant T-shirt?
While very interesting, I don’t believe this is a question that can be answered on paper and it better not be answered differently.
Who the hell knows what he’ll think or do in such an unlikely and outlandish situation?
All I know is that from now on I will never look at a fat person on a bridge the same way.