The Trolley Problem

By Maya Petzoldt, TIWP Student

Many people are familiar with the Train Cart scenario, or the Trolley Problem. You are in a rampaging train cart, that is barreling uncontrollably down the tracks. Next to you is a lever, and if you pull that lever, the train cart will switch onto another track. Option A: Don’t pull the lever and the runaway train cart kills two, three, four, or even five people. The scenario varies on the teller. But when someone says option A, always expect an option B. Option B: Pull the lever, and the train cart will switch tracks, and kill one person, or sometimes two.

Most people choose option B. This is normal, but also kind of inhumane. To make this decision you are viewing the situation like it’s already over and you have to count collateral damage. One death is a much better option than two or five deaths. But some choose option A, and this is selfish, irrational, and always framed as the bad option. To make this decision you also view it as if the situation, hypothetical as it is, is already over. Now you’re in the courtroom, on trial for a train wreck that resulted in five deaths. You say if I pulled the lever then I was willingly murdering one person, while if I didn’t pull the lever I am an unwilling participant in a horrible accident.

Most people say that yeah, better to not think too much and commit murder because the majority will agree with you. But my mother once told me something very smart. “If you are ever on the side of the majority, it is best to stop, and reflect on why. Are you in the majority because you believe in it? Or are you in the majority because it is the majority?” And I get it, safety in numbers is nice, but the majority can agree that it’s good to stand up for your opinions no matter what people say.

I am saying all this because I am in such a situation, although I’m on the minority side. You see the thing with the train wreck scenario is that the majority of the perspective is from inside the train cart. And my problem is that I’m on the outside.

That’s right, I am currently tied to a pole that is stuck in the middle of the train tracks. I’m on the off side, the option B side. And I don’t mean that I hope the person pulls the lever because I don’t want to die, I mean that I am currently staring at five people tied to a pole that’s in the middle of the train tracks on the original path. Yeah, I kind of see where this is going. The train cart that’s out of control has a lot of windows and the panicking guy inside doesn’t look like he’s all there at the moment, and doesn’t seem like he has time to ponder the consequences of option A and is thoroughly for option B. I mean, to hell with hindsight, am I right? Frick whoever I am, right?

With these thoughts in mind, I decide to just ponder my certain death, as you do in my situation, and watch my soon-to-be murderer panic in a small, condensed area. I hope he has claustrophobia, and hey, I’m allowed to mean, I’m about to die. With little warning, the frantic man throws himself against the window and looks straight at me. I’m definitely confused, and my face shows it.

He looks more disheveled pressed up against that window than he did when he was running past it for the tenth time. He looks to be in his late forties, a little overweight, and probably self-conscious about his appearance. I mean, that beard is well trimmed, and those glasses I have to admit, fit him pretty well. He’s probably got some important PR job, going off his tan suit. And yeah, I guess I am being nicer than wishing him claustrophobia, because he does have to make a pretty big decision right now. Although all those nice thoughts go out the window when he mouths “I’m sorry!” and rushes away from the window and pulls the lever, the train cart now barreling towards me instead. I can see the five people sighing in relief, and the man in the cart crouching down in fear.

Oh hell to the no, niceties in the trash now. I roll my eyes heavily and shout out- “Sorry not accepted! I hope you drown in guilt! May you never find closure!”

Yes, a little dramatic, but it’s not like anyone can freaking hear me! There’s the sounds of a massive apartment building exploding ten blocks away to drown out any noise. I’m guessing that’s what Mayhem set up to distract our patron hero of the city, Bishop, from saving me, those five people, and that PR guy from the Trolley problem.

As the train cart comes towards me at speeds I hope that PR man is feeling every mph of, I shout my last words into the abyss of atmosphere and the cacophony of rubble and smoke hitting the city:


Except I don’t, because before the train cart can get within three meters of me, a blue light materializes in front of the train cart, and stops it in its tracks – ha, get it? Anyways, standing between me and my doom, having sucked out all of the kinetic energy and stopping the train cart’s ability to move, is Bishop, official patron hero of Seattle, member of the American Hero society, and blue-haired sass machine.

She gives me a cocky grin, her bubblegum blue bob moving as she tilts her head at me. “Harsh words as always Mia.”

I roll my eyes again, keeping them closed at the end.

“Rot in hell.”

She laughs, and I open my eyes to glare at her, but she gives me the same, self-proclaimed charming smile as she does every time she saves a Seattle resident. She pretends to check her watch and whistles a little. Let it be noted that her wrist is empty, and in my experience this is a great example of why she is the dorkiest hero I have had the displeasure of being rescued by.

“Well, as lovely as it was saving you again Mia, I have to go and see if I can catch Mayhem, you know, like I always do. Relief team will be here soon, just sit tight, sit back, and relax.”

I glare at her as she uses the energy she took from the train cart to speed off in the direction of where I presume she knows Mayhem is.

And that, is how I ended up waiting half an hour, filled with the PR man apologizing profusely to me while crying and also throwing up from the day he just had, for people to show up, untie, cart me off to a hospital, and then the police officer to recount my experience. I sit here idly in the most boring room ever, as an underpaid intern finds my file.

“You know, the train tracks were more comfortable than this chair, where do you buy these things?”

She gives me a strange look, but then laughs and goes back to searching. “Wow, you’re not very traumatized are you?”

“Not usually.”

“Usually? Woah, your file is thick, what did you do?” she says as she finally sits back down, my file thumping onto the desk between us.

“I think you mean what happened to me.”

As she begins to read out loud, I simply listen and think about how shitty my life is. This city is the worst and I wish I had never moved here.

“Two years ago, kidnapped by Mayhem and nearly drowned. Saved by Concord. One year and 10 months ago – hold on a second-” She looks closely at my papers, her eyes scanning up and down, forgoing the dates and just reading off the list of the numerous times I’ve almost died. She looks from the papers to me, then me to the papers, and back and forth a couple more times before she holds her head in her hands, her eyes wide with shock, or maybe horror? Hard to tell these days.
She finally looks up at me, and she looks entirely exasperated.

“I’m just going to put down ‘kidnapped by Mayhem, nearly run over, saved by Bishop,’ aren’t I?”

I lean back in the uncomfortable chair with a heavy sigh. “Yup.”

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