Real talk: I think the Trolley Problem is insanely dumb.
Here is a refresher for the rusty and a primer for the uninitiated. Imagine a trolley car hurtling out of control, about to kill five workers on the tracks ahead. They don’t hear it coming or are somehow incapacitated, BUT if someone throws a switch, the trolley will be diverted and only kill one oblivious worker instead of five. Or, in another version of this dilemma, the choice is to throw a man onto the tracks who happens to be both nearby and large enough to stop the runaway car from mowing down everyone else on the tracks ahead.
So, do you let five unsuspecting innocents die or kill one to save the others?
This scenario is intended to exercise a number of deep thoughts about moral philosophy, the passive versus the active, killing versus allowing to die, double effect, neuroscience, consequentialism, utilitarianism, the utility of mayonnaise as a food condiment. It raises other questions, too. Why are all the workers hard of hearing? What kind of union is this? Are we body-shaming the fat man? Are we kink-shaming the folks/folx tied up on the tracks? What if the fat man doesn’t die and is angry? What if this was all the trolley car’s cry for help?
To all of these questions, one might only sigh and say who the fuck knows, and what are we ordering for dinner tonight? My larger point of contention is this: it’s infuriating to be given a tool to help you make sense of the world, only to walk away even more confused. Such is philosophy. Such is the adult experience broadly and the American experience of the past few pandemic years. All of the choices suck. Most of the information is bad. Someone will get hurt.
Philosophical framework, ostensibly arrayed to face The Big Questions, tends to buckle inward and warp on faulty internal logic. Communication and healthy debate might be expected to remedy this. Enter the Internet—or, the Information Superhighway, as the very first former vice-presidential compromise candidate whom I voted for in an election once put it. Al Gore was right: the Internet is, indeed, a mighty force for the conveyance of information. However, the recipients of that information invariably pull levers to receive what they want to receive. Perhaps a philosophical scenario in which everyone is deaf isn’t so hard to imagine in a society in which we all have highly selective hearing.
The algorithm—aside from conspiratorially containing the name Al Gore—all but ensures our online experiences are mirrors, if not of ourselves, then of our desires. However, there is a marked exception to this rule in my own Instagram feed. As the old rhyme goes, Wednesday’s Child is full of woe: Kurt Hunte’s Soup of the Day—#WhitePeopleWednesday, iykyk—is a woeful child indeed. I am white every day of the week, but each Wednesday, it hits a little different. Each Wednesday, I wish I could distance myself a little more.
Much as there is no such thing as ironic nudity, hypothetical content does not exist online. And even if it did, you simply could not make this shit up. I don’t want to know how Kurt finds such a delectable floorshow of slapstick bigotry, hate, mug shots, stupidity, untenable BDSM, and pyrotechnics. I only know that it appears each week with the regularity of a trolley car to confirm my worst fears about the human race. All of the choices suck. Most of the information is bad. Someone will get hurt. Worse yet, these shitty choices and even shittier consequences are arbitrated on social media.
A few years ago, when I first began to follow Kurt’s Instagram account, I took #WhitePeopleWednesday as a series of flukes, freakshows, oddities. Today, I realize that Kurt gave me my introduction to 2020’s political discourse. Each week, the bottom of the barrel is a little deeper than we previously thought. Each Wednesday, white people really outdo themselves. I spent much of 2020 wondering how we can possibly think freely on Instagram when our executive branch governs on Twitter and a foreign country rigs elections on Facebook. The answer, of course, is that we can’t. Censorship has its own algorithm and many times it caught up to Kurt.
We are here on this trolley car together, hurtling—if not toward a void—toward a fat man who may or may not be able to save us all. I could reveal the identity of the fat man, but then I would have to kill you. JK, JK! The fat man is, obviously, Santa Claus. I’m sure there will be a new OG Gutenberg volume of #WhitePeopleWednesday at the end of this year. But, until then, we can only hope that Easter bunnies, flags, and other accoutrements of culturally lopsided, virulently politicized holidays can save us from going off the rails.