Whom To Leave Behind – a new version of the same old Lifeboat
This really belongs on Bob Hunt’s Thoughts and Prayers for the Faithful, but I’ll take a crack at this myself from the perspective of time.
A middle school assignment asking children to play God and choose who gets to live or die—based solely on demographics—has parents demanding an explanation from a northeast Ohio school district this week. The earth is doomed for destruction, the worksheet reads, and only eight people (who are apparently all based in the United States, because ‘Merica) can fit on a spaceship bound for the safety of another planet—which means four must die. The paper then asks the students which eight they’d save, before coming to a group consensus on the final passenger list.
In “Whom To Leave Behind,” the participants are supposed to choose the lucky eight by weighing which of the following twelve people are most deserving to live, and which of them might as well die.
An accountant with a substance abuse problem
A militant African-American medical student
A 33-year-old female Native American manager who does not speak English
The accountant’s pregnant wife
A famous novelist with a physical disability
A 21-year-old female who is a Muslim international student
A Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality
A female movie star who was recently the victim of a sexual assault
A racist, armed police officer who has been accused of using excessive force
A homosexual male who is a professional athlete
An Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy
A 60-year-old Jewish university administrator
There is no right or wrong answer in such an exercise. The point is for the group to come to a consensus on a decision.
Daily Kos was horrified.
Honestly, whatever the intention may be, the impact of this assignment toes a very strange, and dangerous, line, especially in today’s Trumpian climate of blatant bigotry.
But those of you with a historical memory will realize that “Whom To Leave Behind” is nothing new. And it wasn’t always the evil right-wing fascists that were pushing such morally objectionable ideas. Back in the 1980s, the evangelical Christian community was upset about the game “Lifeboat,” which was obviously a plot by the evil left-wing Communist liberals to get more babies to be aborted or to get decrepit people to be euthanized. Provocative Christian musician Steve Taylor even wrote a song and released a video about it:
Taylor, who is probably the best satirist since Randy Newman, drove the point home by having a bunch of kids sing the song’s chorus:
Throw over grandpa ’cause he’s getting pretty old
Throw out the baby or we’ll all be catching it’s cold
Throw over fatty and we’ll see if she can float
Throw out the retard, and they won’t be rocking the boat
When Taylor released the video, I’m sure a lot of people were convinced that the wingnut Christians were making the whole thing up. But it’s easy enough to find examples of the Lifeboat exercise even today. Wonderful corporate team-building exercise…right?
But this is my favorite example – playing “Lifeboat” at a children’s hospital school where the participants may be facing death themselves. This version has a nice wrinkle in which the participants actually role play the people in the lifeboat. So, after the group makes its decision on whom to murder, the “game” ends as follows:
And then, most importantly, the person who is to be sacrificed has to be able to articulate why he or she was chosen, and in particular, the principle that was used to make that choice.
In other words, the kid has to say why he or she should die.
Regardless of the flavor of the game or the name given it, the emphasis on this wonderful ethics exercise is to value rank people, putting some below the line and determining that they do not deserve to live. But if you watch the Steve Taylor video, you’ll see that the kids come up with their own solution – one with which the Daily Kos writer would heartily agree.
They made the boat bigger so that EVERYONE could fit.
P.S. For those who followed my “provocative” link above and read about Steve Taylor’s song “I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good,” I encourage you to read this other post, which not only touches on the song “Jim Morrison’s Grave,” but also on Taylor’s thoughts on Kurt Cobain.