Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Situation For You

Today I was discussing a situation with a friend. This was narrated to me a while back. I had always been struck by this illustration and today it suddenly leaped to mind. I will now present this to you. At the time of deciding, opt for the choice that pops into your head. Remember there are two options and neither is wrong.

Suppose you are a railway signalman. You sit in a signal box, which is linked to two different tracks - one which is old and no longer currently used, the second which is used at present. You decide which track the train should take and you have been invariably chosing the new one ( makes sense doesnt it ).

Now one day you come to your signal box and find one boy playing alone on the old track. At the same time there is a group of children ( five, for want of a better number ) , playing on the new track. And unexpectedly a train comes. There is no time to warn the children, no time to stop the train. You can only decide which track to send the train along - the old , unused one , killing the lone boy or the along the new track, killing five innocent children. Make your decision NOW. ( Note: Both tracks , the old and the new , are equally safe for the train to travel on ).




This situation was posed to me in a session of 20. 18 people there opted for the train to go along the old track arguing that one death was better than 5 ( The Greatest good of the Greatest number ). I and one other opted for allowing the train along the new track which was the course it would have followed if there had been no children in the first place. Our argument was simple - the lone boy took the wise decision of playing on the disused track and to punish him for essentially doing the right thing was not right.

And here the trainer gave his punchline. He agreed that there was no correct or incorrect decision. But he said that this situation illustrates that for the welfare of the majority , you may need to take decisions which are not morally right.

Isnt that what democracy is all about?

Which brings me to this quote by Anatole France:
"If 50 million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing"


Panther said...

I too agree with you in chosing the new track for the train to go. The children who play in the new track would have been aware that the train might come at any time and hence they are well prepared to leave, compared to the lone kid in the old track. Moreover ,in directing the train to take the old track has the risk of compromising the safety of passengers in the train since the track was inoperative for long time.

Yes as you said ,the democracy goes with the majority while judiciary should pick the right one. A society needs a balance between these two.
Btw: You are using lots of quotes these days.Which quote-book are you using ?

Sachin R K said...

@panther - Actually should have added that both tracks are equally safe for the train.
Speaking of quotes did you hear this one: "Wise Men make quotations and fools quote them" ;)

Anonymous said...

Democracy nowadays is nothing but muscle power + money power. You can add minority power also considering kerala scenario.