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Friday, September 23, 2016

"Run Them Down"

In a real life variation of the Trolley Problem, there's the question of what to do when folks around you are rioting and attacking your vehicle. Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee Law Professor, and the blogger and tweeter known as Instapundit had a simple answer (via a tweet): "Run Them Down." That promptly got his twitter account suspended, his weekly column with USA Today either cancelled or suspended, and he is now being investigated by the University of Tennessee for possible punishment. Sometimes three words are really powerful!

I guess I really am deplorable because I can't even begin to understand why what he said is wrong. If one or more of my wife or kids was in the car with me and I felt they were in significant danger from violent rioters, I would do anything I could to get them to safety and if that involved running down 1 or 10 or even 1 million rioters to do so, I wouldn't hesitate and I wouldn't feel guilty afterwards even as I spent the rest of my life in jail or ended up in the electric chair for doing so. And I can't begin to imagine why any other husband and father wouldn't do the exact same thing.

If it was just me in the car? I don't know. I'm not sure my own safety would motivate me to run anybody down just to save my own skin.

One of the interesting issues with the Trolley Problem and other related problems is the following:
Greene and Cohen analyzed subjects' responses to the morality of responses in both the trolley problem involving a switch, and a footbridge scenario analogous to the fat man variation of the trolley problem. Their hypothesis suggested that encountering such conflicts evokes both a strong emotional response and a reasoned cognitive response, and that these two responses tend to oppose one another.
My experience and knowledge tell me that in the heat of the moment, the "strong emotional response" usually wins. The emotional response affects the lower mammalian/reptilian brain and that part of the brain is between the cognitive part of our brains and motor control and the lower brain can completely lock out the upper brain if it so "chooses" under strong emotional stimulus. It's instinctual and reactive and when a split second decision needs to be made it makes it and not always in agreement with what the cognitive portion of the brain would choose if it had more time.

The Trolley Problem and its variant are usually applied to strangers. I'd like to switch it around a little. The trolley is headed for your child or spouse tied to the tracks and you have an instant to decide whether or not to pull a lever to divert the trolley where it will instead run over 1 stranger who is tied the tracks. Or 5 strangers. Or 1 billion strangers. What if you and your spouse or child happened to discuss this ahead of time and they said that they would feel so guilty about the strangers' deaths that they wouldn't want you to pull the lever to save them? In each case, you have 1 second to react.

I don't think you can know the answers to any of those questions. Sure, you can cognitively think about them and know what you would logically decide. But, in the heat of the moment, your logical brain isn't the one to make the decision. I think that a lot humans, possibly myself included, in the heat of the moment, would end up pulling the lever and saving our child or spouse in all of the above cases.

I believe that our lower, primitive brains are actually always in control or at least exert a constant pressure and that the cognitive brain that we consider to be "us" is mostly just a tool used by the primitive brain. Some of the whispering pressure from the primitive brain is obvious: eat, mate, etc.

But some of the whispering pressure is more subtle and hardly even noticeable but has a profound effect on behavior. It sorts people by importance and makes even your cognitive brain react differently to the Trolley Problem when the people are known to you and at different levels of importance. For example, instead of strangers, it's your mother, or cousin, or friend, or important colleague, etc. And it's not just how you react in the heat of the moment, but how you provide for some, criticize others, cut yet others slack, hire others who really aren't the best objective choice, etc.

One Libertarian question is what's really the difference between trading with one of your countrymen and trading with someone in China. Objectively, there may be little difference. However, our lower brains may simply view strangers in China as less important than strangers in our own nation. We can say that's an immoral view, but if that's innate, and I think it is, at least for many people, we're really just saying that (many) humans are innately immoral.

Or deplorable.


erp said...

It's the option of those surrounding your car driving on a public roadway whether they get run down or move away when you blow your horn and move forward, so Bret, while if you had passengers, especially your family, it would be a no brainer that you'd run them down, why would you value your own own life less? Don't you think it would be devastating to your loved ones?

Hey Skipper said...

I wonder what Reginald Denny wishes he would have done.

Bret said...

I don't know what Reginald Denny wishes he had done.

My hesitation if it were just me is that the guilt I would feel if I ended up killing someone, even a violent rioter, would be crushing to me. I'd rather feel that guilt than allow harm to come to wife or daughter but I'm not sure I'd rather feel that guilt than die.

erp said...

Bret, not sure I understand that because you're not alone, but part of a family, community, etc. that need you.

I need to ponder that.

Bret said...


Keep in mind that as a white male I would be crucified for injuring, much less killing, one of the rioters. I suspect my family would be better off with me dead than to be dragged along with me through the crucifixion.

Instapundit's advice may still be pretty bad. Not necessarily because it's evil but rather because the rioters can literally get away with murder while those of us in the cars cannot even get away with using force for self-defense.

erp said...

That is unfortunately the reality, but we sane people including all skin colors and ethnicity are far in the majority and it pains me mightily that we have abrogated our heritage of freedom and equality under the law and given in to the crazies.

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] My hesitation if it were just me is that the guilt I would feel if I ended up killing someone, even a violent rioter, would be crushing to me.

So if a violent rioter was to attack you personally -- as happened at least twice in Charlotte -- you would be overcome with guilt if you defended yourself with a gun? How about if that person was shouting "Allahu Akbar"?

YMMV, but I sure wouldn't.

Further, I think your premise is flawed: you take it as given -- without supporting evidence -- that you would be crucified for injuring a member of an officially aggrieved group. Your life might be disrupted, as happened with George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson, but for me, that sure as heck beats the very plausible alternative. Besides, the context of a riot is wildly different than not a riot.

The problem with a car is that using it to escape a situation where its passengers are vulnerable is very likely to injure or kill people who are part of the crowd, as opposed to those who intend to harm you.

Which is why concealed carry is so important. A couple gunshots might well scatter the attackers, and if that doesn't work, then the follow up rounds will be much less likely to end up on people not part of the immediate problem.

But, if you don't have a gun, how badly should you feel about doing what you can to avoid having your wife and children be a widow and orphans?

erp said...

Correct Skipper and after thinking over what Bret said, those interfering with you by blocking your way on a public street are overtly opting to be injured or killed.

You are not trying to injure or kill them. Only trying to get outta there safely!

I have no objection to those who know how to use them, using a gun to protect themselves, except that gets you into a passel of trouble with the compassionates.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper asked: " would be overcome with guilt if you defended yourself ...?"

If someone was killed? Well, I certainly couldn't be sure unless something like that actually happened but I suspect I would be. NOT if I was saving wife or kids or others close to me.

You've had military training, right? Isn't a significant part of that learning to pull the trigger without hesitation and a minimum of guilt? I haven't had such conditioning.

Hey Skipper asked: "... with a gun?"

As people who read this blog know, I'm pretty supportive of 2nd amendment rights. However, I personally am utterly useless with a handgun and I find guns noisy, stinky, and annoying and I have absolutely no interest in putting in the time, effort, and expense to become competent. Given that I'm not competent I'm not gonna carry. Even if I did have access to a gun, I wouldn't use it to save myself. Even if there were some situation that I might possibly try to use it (to try and save a child), there's no way I'd attempt it in a crowd.

I am, however, quite competent at driving a car, and that would be my better bet in that sort of situation. I just don't know if I would or could do it and I really hope I never find out.

Hey Skipper wrote: " happened with George Zimmerman..."

That was exactly the example I had in mind when I wrote "crucified."

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] You've had military training, right? Isn't a significant part of that learning to pull the trigger without hesitation and a minimum of guilt?

Not a part of any training I've had. Perhaps because fighter pilots tend to be very self selected, that minimum of guilt can be very much taken for granted.

Also, unlike soldiers, we operate at a much further remove from the consequences of our actions.

Even if I did have access to a gun, I wouldn't use it to save myself.

Did you consider that you might not be the only one you are saving? After all, the self defense justification for the 2A is based, in part, on the salutary disincentive widespread gun ownership has on individual decisions. There have been at least several beating victims in the Charlotte riots. Would the second and third have happened if the first meaningfully retaliated?

Impossible to know for certain, of course, but it mobs act the way they do because they feel like they can act with impunity.

I just don't know if I would or could do it and I really hope I never find out.

True, that.

Clovis e Adri said...


I only missed that line where you would comment that, unlike the Trolley problem, the Rioting problem does not mean certain death.

Yes, it is scaring enough to justify extreme action to save your family, I agree. But back to your "I am alone" case, I guess I could take my chances, leave the car and run. Chances are good that you will only lose property and money.

Bret said...


I think leaving the car would be a huge mistake. They're looking for soft targets and there's little softer than an old isolated unarmed guy (did I get the adjectives in the right order? :-) outside of his car. I'd also be kind of an obvious target being the only white guy not in a car.

Clovis e Adri said...


I did not think (nor you posed) the Riot as a race related issue. I just thought of the situation where they want to stop traffic (and destroy and burn a few things), instead of hunting white people.

And my notion of "leave the car and run" is really about the "run" part. It is your call if you are fit enough to make those first 500 meters in good time.

Bret said...


You're correct that I didn't explicitly identify the riots as race related. That was on purpose, as I wanted to focus on interactions of parts of the brain. The link I provided about the specific event that got Instapundit in trouble did mention that it was a Black Lives Matter protest turned riot because of a black guy getting shot by a cop so it was a race related event.

I don't think they were "hunting white people," but still, to be the only white person in the midst of a black riot is not wise, in my opinion. I'd really stand out. Even in the dark.

I was fast once, but I'm not sure I was ever fast enough to outrun a riot.

Clovis e Adri said...

So, every riot you have in America nowadays is somehow race related?

Bret said...

No. Political riots like at Trump rallies, some Occupy Wall Street rallies, etc. are somewhat more common.

I wouldn't want to be in the middle of any of them either.