The Skittles Problem

The Skittles Problem September 22, 2016

I apologize for the language in this Facebook post, but it seemed worth sharing. I could see the Skittles problem replacing the trolley problem as the go-to ethics thought experiment in coming years…

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  • Actually; no. If they’re being vetted, they’re already outside a warzone. So there’s no point in trying out the skittles. Some of them are poison.

  • I like the discussion, but the thought that comes to mind for me (and sorry for changing the subject) was the unimpressive sacrifice of Jesus. You can imagine some metaphysical rebalancing that his crucifixion caused, but being out of action for a day and a half wasn’t much of a sacrifice. Contrast that with the dude in the story who’d gorge himself on dangerous Skittles.

  • Brandon Roberts

    i agree the whole “some of them are poison” thing is just fearmongering and sure it’s a risk talking to new people but usually it’s worth it imo

  • arcseconds

    I agree that Trump’s framing of this is reprehensible, but I strongly suspect Eli’s response is deeply hypocritical.

    Every day we are confronted with exactly this choice: we can sacrifice (= dedicate) our lives to saving others, but hardly anyone actually does this. As far as I can work out, Eli is a stage magician and movement atheist, so it would seem he’s not actually dedicating his every waking moment to saving lives. Neither stage magic nor criticising religion are really high on the list of activities that save lives. Maybe he’s earning more through stage magic than he could any other way, and he’s maintaining a standard of living just above a pauper, ploughing every spare dollar into life-saving charities… but I doubt it on the basis that this kind of behaviour is extremely rare, and performing arts seldom pay very well.

    And no-one normally interprets this very normal, ordinary, I’m going to live my life thanks as saying “I think my life is more important than other people’s lives”, and I’m sure Eli doesn’t think that about himself.

    Maybe I’m taking an over-the-top response to a silly piece of anti-human propaganda too seriously, but I think it’s easy for people to believe they would do what Eli suggests, yet they don’t when confronted with exactly this choice in daily life, and therefore it’s easy for people who don’t want to take in refugees to say “well, no, you wouldn’t, because you don’t”.

    (To give him his due, Eli does seem to be actively raising money for charities that sound worthy, but this isn’t the same thing as going all out until he dies, doing absolutely all he can to save as many lives as possible.)

    The correct response to “some of them might be dangerous!” is a risk assessment. More people die of driving on the roads in the USA than terrorist attacks, even in 2011, yet no-one is tempted to say “let’s not eat the skittles” and ban all cars.

    So the question is, is it worth definitely saving lives at the cost of a very marginal increase in risk?

    Of course the answer should be “yes”: anything else is some combination of selfishness, callousness and shameful cowardice.

    • arcseconds

      unfortunately, I can’t think of a way of turning that response into a snappy skittles-related outburst…