Friday, October 23, 2015

Go home, @NYTmag, you're drunk.

Twitter Responds To NYT Mag Inquiry: Would You Kill Baby Hitler?

The linked article includes some hilarious responses to this query:

So, now that we've had a laugh, I'll briefly re-purpose my response to the "Should the Doctor kill young Davros?" false dilemma posed a couple weeks ago for the Hitler question here, because why not? Apparently lots of folks are taking the question somewhat seriously.

No. If I thought I could travel back in time and kill baby Adolph Hitler, I wouldn't.

ButHitlerisresponsibleforkillingmillionsandmillionsofpeopleand... yes, yes, I'm aware of the history; but, that's not the point. We don't kill baby Hitler not because he shouldn't have been stopped, but because it's wrong to murder, for one thing. And, I would need a lot more background on why I exactly I think I'm capable of time travel in the first place. Also, why, having the awesome power of time travel and the tremendous resources it would have taken to develop the ability, I couldn't devise a non-murdery plan to go back and prevent WWI and the Great Depression instead? A course of action which would seem more likely, to me at least, to prevent the Holocaust than simply killing Hitler and hoping no other sadistic tyrant would come along to fill the gap. It's not, after all, like there weren't other dudes running around willing to do the job as well.

Look, I'm willing to concede there are more challenging constructions of the trolley car dilemma that a rational agent in a position to save millions of lives by ending the life of the one person responsible for those millions of deaths, but the question as asked by the New York Times Magazine is not that. It is something far more loosey-goosey and incoherent. It's a glib question that deserves no more than a glib answer, such as:

Break it down. Why can you travel in time, but only to a nursery where young Adolph Hitler lies in a crib? WTF kind of time travel agency are the scientists in your fantasy world running? If you've got scientists able to engineer time travel, you've got more tools in the toolbox than infanticide to address the dilemma.

Or, were you thinking this is a case more like a genie emerged from a lamp and told you he could arrange the trip for you? Because any scenario you develop along those lines is one that has you talking to a magical fairy who's telling you to commit infanticide, which would make you a dangerous lunatic. Assuming you aren't one already, imagining that you're in position to make decisions about what you would in the state of being delusional lunatic, you should be telling yourself something along the lines of: "If I start hearing voices, receiving supernatural visitors, or believing I have magical powers, I should hold as tightly as possible to the resolution to do no harm to anyone, because I can't trust my own mind."

I guess what I'm trying to say is: don't fall for the allure of the easy answer. Even to a jokey question. But especially not to one that's even a little serious. There is no situation in life where "I don't have to think very hard, I can just do this one awful thing and it will make everything better!" is going to serve a person well. If you should ever find yourself thinking along those lines, my advice, FWIW, is inhale deeply, exhale slowly, ask a few questions of yourself, or someone whose judgment you respect, and try to think of a better way accomplish whatever your goal is.

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