The Moral Butterfly Effect
You’re having a great day. You’ve just helped an old lady across the road, given money to a busker and now you’re off home to read the latest Moral Melbourne. You're feeling really good about yourself.
As you walk back down Johnston Street, you spot someone driving a battered up old Ford Falcon trying to pull out of a parking spot. You see them scrape the shit out of the parked Porsche in front. Eeep. The driver gets out, sees the damage, swears loudly then jumps back in his Ford and speeds off.
As your moral blood boils to your head, you catch the Ford’s rego. You write it down on a bit of paper along with your mobile number under the Porsche’s windscreen wiper.
A few days later, you‘re at home baking cookies for homeless people. You get a call from the cops asking to verify the Porsche event. You do. You’re thanked. You’re a good citizen. Yay.
Then something strange happens. You get another call a month later while you are writing a letter to Julia Gillard about a really important cause of some description. This time the call is from another police officer updating you on the whole Porsche ordeal. As it turns out, the driver of the Ford was a student who had come over from India to study medicine. He couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars it would take to repair the damage to the Porsche, so his parents had to fork out the cash. Since then they could no longer make the student fees needed to continue his education. This resulted in his return to India and discontinuation of study; all because of your ‘moral’ actions.
If you could do a Cher and turn back time, perhaps you wouldn’t have ruined someone’s life over a scratch on a rich person’s car. The more important question is whether you’ll now be crippled by the possibility that your future moral choices may damage people’s lives. Say you were to encounter a similar situation again, should you consider the butterfly effect before jotting someone’s rego down and dobbing them in?
Although I think foresight’s important, I guess we can only make decisions based on the information at hand. Yet I can’t help but feel there is value in trying to put more consideration into moral choices we’re presented with. It may save us from getting complacent and assuming that obvious moral decision is the right one.