Mike Schur Calls Back to ‘Good Place’ Trolley Problem to Explain How Not to Solve a Pandemic

“Trump is taking the worst possible approach,” Schur tweets

Good Place Trolley Problem

Among the many lessons “The Good Place” tried to teach us, along with how to be “good” and what we owe to each other, was how to make a difficult decision when there is really no good choice. The now-ended NBC comedy did this through its “The Trolley Problem” episode, which forced Chidi (William Jackson Harper) to actually live out the “trolley problem” thought experiment that forces you to choose between killing five people or just one person.

On Tuesday, “Good Place” creator Mike Schur explained how we should *not* go about solving the coronavirus pandemic using the thought experiment his show explored and comparing President Donald Trump’s plan — which would be to have the country “opened up” by Easter in order to stimulate the economy, against the advice of health experts who want Americans to remain at home to avoid the spread of the virus — to the one the demon Michael (Ted Danson) wanted to use to “solve” the trolley problem.

“This is basically the Trolley Problem, and Trump is taking the worst possible approach,” Schur tweeted, quoting a tweet from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that read: “My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable. We will not put a dollar figure on human life. We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one. No one should be talking about social darwinism for the sake of the stock market.”

“The Trolley Problem is fun, and maddening, because there’s no good answer,” Schur continued in his lengthy thread. “You’re on a trolley and the breaks fail. There are five people on a track that will be smooshed. Should you pull a level and switch tracks? If you do, one guy on the other track gets smooshed.”

“The actual philosophical concepts aren’t as important right now as the dilemma itself,” he added. “It’s supposed to be hard. Either way, you’re on a trolley that smooshes someone and that stinks. If there were an easy answer, it wouldn’t be a “problem.” It would be the Fun Trolley Puzzle!”

“Trump wants us to think about it like this: The five people on the track we’re on are human lives. The one guy on the other track represents the next 2-3 months of the American economy. Trump wants us to stay on this track, smoosh a bunch of people, and save the economy.”

“But here’s the thing. In this variation of the Trolley Problem, smooshing the 5 guys does not save the guy on the other track. In this ‘virus’ version, smooshing all those guys means the virus spreads everywhere and people are terrified and everything collapses.”

“In our version of the Trolley Problem, we’d get what Michael–the Demon from ‘The Good Place–suggested would be the optimal way to handle the Trolley Problem: dangle a long sharp pole out the window to pick off the [economy] while smooshing the five original guys.”

“(And remember…he was a *demon.* His ideas were *demon* ideas.)”

“There is exactly one way through a global pandemic caused by a new virus for which we have no treatment, no vaccine, no cure. We all freeze in place for as long as we can, so it doesn’t spread and doctors have as much time as they can to treat the sick. Full stop.”

“Every person who doesn’t live by that rule is prolonging the suffering and misery of others. Every maniac who suggests we let grandpa die so companies can hit 2nd quarter profit targets is not only insane, (s)he’s stupid, because *it won’t work.*”

“If we ease up these restrictions, grandpa will die, and so will most of his friends, and many of us, and hospitals will collapse, and doctors and nurses will die, and children will die, and people who have heart attacks will die, *AND* the economy will tank.”

“The Trolley Problem is designed to be a hard choice. It doesn’t feel good to pull the lever and take responsibility for smooshing the one guy on the other track. It’s only the “right” choice (in the versions where it is, indeed, “right”) because of the alternative.”

“In this case, the alternative is: we loosen restrictions. The five guys die, the guy on the other track dies, our trolley explodes, we die, the company that made the trolley goes bankrupt, the tracks are mangled and unusable for future trolleys.  STAY HOME.”

See Schur’s thread below.