January 22, 2014

Questions for the Collapse By David Dunwoody

Questions for the Collapse

The fall of society – both its physical infrastructure and social mores – is viewed by some as a potential fresh start for humanity. It’s the silver lining to your apocalypse, a chance to do away with any “necessary evils” by which we’d come to live our lives. Some go so far as to argue that in a world of anarchy and total self-rule, common sense would prevail. I humbly submit that these people are insane.

Moral Ambiguity

Moral ambiguity is part of the human condition. Altruism and selfishness are constantly at odds. Definitions of morality are conceived, at least at first, for the benefit of the group as much as the individual. Laws, at least at first, are there for the same reason. If they become corrupted it’s only because of their human curators. Armageddon may burn away all the law books but if we, the curators, remain, it was far from a true “reset.”

So, with that rosy assessment of homo sapiens in mind, which would be the greatest moral quandaries in a PAW scenario? What will the new social mores be?

In other words, at what point does it become okay to: loot stores, steal cars, threaten other survivors, and even execute the living? Should one endeavor to rebuild or just survive? Just when is it that you no longer have a choice?

The Top Three Moral Quandaries

I’ve been asked to name the top three quandaries and will do so in no particular order. I think one of the essential debates to be had in the PAW is between “we must rebuild society” and “I just want to live to see tomorrow.” I don’t find greater fault with either position, but each leads to its own dilemmas. For the rebuilders, there has to be a certain level of stability before one focuses on that. What are the criteria that need to be met? We haven’t even touched upon the idea of trying to study or treat infection – these are efforts that may take generations. Which brings up a critical question, and perhaps this is the first in my top three.   (By the way, I haven’t promised to answer these.)

Question One: Is it morally justifiable to reproduce?

Some of you may not see that question as terribly important in the days after a global zompoc, but consider the fact that nothing, including the death of the world, is going to stop people from f***ing. Especially without protection. And humans are inclined to have kids before they’ve shored up plans for a future – in fact, many couples get pregnant in order to make their future.

Love isn’t always logical. Lust never is.

Of course, the flip side of that coin is whether or not we should abandon indefinitely the idea of the family and of future generations. This may lead to a nearly-insurmountable generation gap.

Question Two: What are the new rules of ownership?

Property and its definition will be the basis for some of the most immediate and inflammatory conflicts. With the world gone to hell, no doubt many folks will feel entitled to survival by any means necessary. That includes taking food, shelter, arms and medicine from wherever one finds them.

If you come across an empty house, is it and everything in it fair game? How about that car in the driveway? If the owner comes back, will they understand – would you?

Then there’s the question of the next squatter who happens along seeking a place to lay their head. You may be thinking “finders, keepers” and they may be thinking “winner take all.” Or vice versa.

Say a soldier or cop stops you while you’re trying to break into a pharmacy. Now you face the question of whether pre-apocalyptic law still stands. Clearly they think so. That man or woman is trying to keep the last vestiges of order from slipping away, but you believe it’s too late. What’s your move? Once this line has been crossed, have we only made it that much harder to rebuild society in the future?

We’ve talked about birth and about living day-to-day. I guess that leaves death. 

Question Three: What is a necessary or acceptable death?

So, say you fall in with a group of survivors and someone gets injured. Might not be a bite, but a broken leg. Serious nonetheless. When is it your right to write them off? The issue of an infected companion may seem more black-and-white, but really try to place yourself in that position. If they want to try and “fight it” do you wait for them to turn, or do you appoint yourself executioner while they’re still breathing?

Everyone who survives long enough to be eking out some new existence – whether flying solo or running with a crew – is likely to develop a moral code based on what they believed in the world before. That includes people who didn’t give a fig about the old laws in the first place. Most of us can probably agree that you don’t blow someone’s head off just because you don’t like them. It may seem more of a gray area if someone in your group is a raving bigot. Is this person going to end up getting you all in trouble? Are they a lost cause worth ditching?

What about someone who’s disabled or appears mentally ill? How do you determine a “liability” and what actions follow? I, for example, am legally blind. Some might consider me dead weight and that leaving me to fend for myself is better for the group. 

The Morality of Choice

What say you? Are you really thinking about other people’s well-being, or just your own hide? Are you thinking about the future or just tomorrow? Is either viewpoint really more justifiable than the other?

At what point do you no longer have a choice?

Maybe that isn’t the essential question. Maybe that’s a cop-out. The question could be, will you own your choices in a world with far less accountability?

David Dunwoody invites comments and discussion on these and other subjects. 

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