Thought experiments use our imagination to investigate the nature of things. They are carefully arranged so that our minds only extract a very particular insight or intuition. Often they sound strange and alien to us, some of them are obnoxious. Philosophers love them. Today, this one crossed my mind:
Gretchen is not the most popular girl in school. In fact, the popular girls, the posh girls, hate her. Gretchen does not drive a fancy convertible like them, she prefers Thomas Pynchon to the Kardashians, and she is a vegan. Occasionally, she tweets about and lectures the posh girls about their fur coats, their plastic water bottles, their consumerism, their weekend trips to Cancun, and all their meaningless and superficial relationships. The posh girls are mean to a lot of other girls. Slowly, these other girls start to think that veganism, ecocentrism, and postmodernism are actually plausible. Gretchen feels rising support. So, she decides to run for the student council and wins. The posh girls are angry about this and start a campaign of false allegations, dirt-throwing, ridiculing and worse. They attack Gretchen’s boyfriend, family, grandparents, and intimidate all people supporting her. After several weeks of constant exposure to this harsh campaign, Gretchen is found dead in her room. Next to her a note that the pressure was just too much.
I assume most people condemn the campaign by the posh girls. Some might even say they are somehow responsible for Gretchen’s suicide. That they are blameworthy. In fact, I think that this might actually the most plausible view. However, what would that say about our treatment of the incoming US President Donald Trump? After the US elections, people that I formerly held in high regard revealed that they are no (or at least very little) different from the posh girls. Ever since November the 8th, I have encountered an unparalleled number of gross and dehumanizing cartoons, ridiculous accusations, crazy conspiracy theories, and very much hate. One might imagine that the persona Trump is just a tiny bit different from his public character, a little more human maybe. How much can such a person take? (How much could you take?) Is suicide unthinkable? Does any decent society want to take that risk? Is it worth it? For politics?
Suppose Donald Trump takes a shiny golden colt out of his desktop drawer tonight and decides to end his life. Next to him a note that the pressure was just too much. How would that reflect on the moral character of many of us? Some might say that this is what Trump was doing himself, he was basically asking for it. And that Trump is not like Gretchen. I hope that these people see that this is not a very good argument—if it is an argument at all.