A few weeks ago, I was waiting to turn right at an intersection and the light was red. Cars going the other way we’re doing just that, navigating the twilight, as the sun had yet to rise on this particular early morning and it was peaceful actually. Even though multiple cars were bustling about, there was a quietness about it. Because it was routine and routine is easy and familiar. I was chomping away on a turkey bagel sandwich and quite enjoying it, overlooking the intersection as I ingested its deliciousness.
A black SUV tried to turn left on their green light, but a small white car barreled down on it and t-boned it, causing the SUV to flip over and the white car skirted to a stop a few hundred yards down. It happened so fast, but I instantly dropped my turkey sandwich and was legitimately jaw dropped. The moment of impact was just as quiet as the morning had been and the visual was shocking and surreal. I felt as if I hadn’t actually witnessed a car crash right in front of me, much less one that resulted in a car flipping over. Don’t confuse me, I’m not sensationalizing it as a voyeurism type deal; I was legitimately dumbfounded.
Then a thought occurred to me almost as sudden as the crash itself, “Glad that didn’t happen to me.” And I’m sure other cars were thinking the same thing. A car waiting to go straight now wanted to turn right like me and I made eye contact with the driver and notified him with a nod that it was okay to go ahead of me to turn right. We both seemed to have that glassy, “Holy shit, thank god it wasn’t us,” stare in our eyes and the rest of us, not involved in the crash, continued on with our day as if nothing had happened. Routine, routine, routine.
Or in another case, an individual associated with a family friend died of a heroin overdose in that person’s basement. Their obituary had one short sentence about when that individual died and where the funeral would be held. Their life dwindled down to a mere sentence. That really resonated with me, but again, I thought, “Glad that didn’t happen to me.” In fact, to take it further, “That couldn’t happen to me,” is also a similar sentiment, perhaps laden with a dose of hubris.
Now what happens if we maximize this sentiment to larger issues? A foreigner dies by drone at our hands, innocent of any wrongdoing, and we think, “Better them than us.”
In fact, Joe Klein of TIME magazine framed it exactly in that manner:
KLEIN: “If it is misused, and there is a really major possibility of abuse if you have the wrong people running the government. But: the bottom line in the end is – whose 4-year-old get killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.
Or perhaps the most atrocious example of utilitarianism in the 20th century; wherein we justified dropping two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, because “better them than us.”
I don’t like that I thought that about the car crash, but I feel as if that’s a natural reaction, right? It doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with the persons involved in the crash. Maybe the analogy to drone bombing and the nuclear bomb drops isn’t applicable?
In any event, I do find Klein’s argument and the utilitarian argument presented by historians over the dropping of nukes troubling.
“Better them than us” is not morally sound.