WARNING: This post contains mature language. You and your children have been warned.
DISCLAIMER: The following editorial is for humor purposes only. It is not meant to be taken as a peer-reviewed philosophical theory.
DISCLAIMER: The guy who writes this blog is an idiot (HEY!) The editors of his page are not pleased.
Fuck Utilitarianism! No. I don’t care if I will never be trusted to teach an ethics class ever again. This doctrine has caused enough trouble as it is for its limited understanding of happiness! And worse yet, it turns all of humanity into a numbers game, like we all somehow exist to turn the tide of happiness one way or another.
So what’s the problem with it?
Utilitarianism assumes a binary balance between only two principles: Pleasure and Pain, and the goal is to maximize Pleasure and minimize Pain. This loosely defined power struggle assumes that states of pleasure will always cause happiness, and pain will cause unhappiness among individuals, never mind that there is a huge gray area in between. In other words, your definitions of Pleasure and Pain aren’t so distinct!
Utilitarianism also assumes that the Pleasure and Pain principles are distributed across not one, not several, but all individuals affected by the laws that bind them. This means that if you are the only one suffering from an action, but that makes everyone else around you happy, then FUCK YOU! Because your happiness will be compromised for theirs!
Utilitarianism was first coined by economist Jeremy Bentham and later supported by his student John Stuart Mill. My fellow decolonial theorists would probably feel most threatened by these guys, especially considering that they may as well be the philosophers behind the liberal colonial movement. Mill especially believed that people outside of Western Europe (you know… like Indians) were all uncivilized and needed to be “properly” educated in the ways of modernity. Such theories came into practice as a means to oppress the very consciousness of the enslaved, and convinced generations of non-Europeans that their way of doing things is not the road to happiness, and that they have to be more concerned about a so-called “bigger picture.” Never mind that, you know, they were already doing that their own way.
At present, contemporary philosopher Peter Singer has the most robust Utilitarian theory to date, that seemingly undermines Bentham and Mill’s original platform, by justifying their ideas with things like charity, frugality, and animal rights, which, I’m not gonna lie, are nice things to have. That is, except that those who have followed his philosophy have overstepped other factors like ethnocentrism, privilege, and being, all for the sake of observation and politicized hypotheticals. I have seen Utilitarianism being used to justify more of the “Oppression Olympics” in conversation that ultimately never solve issues that matter to the people that are most affected by the topic at hand.
Believing in Utilitarianism comes with a great deal of privilege. But if I am to properly critique our colonized history in order to find a way to dismantle it, we do have to acknowledge that it exists, whether we like it or not. Which is why I ultimately have no problem with this part of Utiliarianism.
No, the worst thing that has ever come out of Utilitarianism? Trolley problems!
I’m not quite sure when it began, but trolley problems were used as thought experiments to teach young philosophers about basic principles of Utilitarianism (emphasis on BASIC). The easiest one to grasp is the one illustrated above:
A trolley is coming down the track at a super high speed, that it won’t have time to stop. Along the track are a bunch of random people tied down and presumably can’t move. Meanwhile, on a separate track is only one individual tied down to the track. You are the switch operator. Whom do you choose to kill?
And this is the premise that has since gotten young philosophers arguing over which one is best to choose, meanwhile tacking on their own conditions to further complicate the problem. The example I have given would illustrate the values of act utilitarianism, and you would be a fool not to flip the switch to kill one person instead of, say, five.
But let’s say, for example, that the one person on the lone track will one day grow up to find a cure for the most deadly disease to plague humanity in 50 years? (No, seriously. This is a real hypothetical). Now you have introduced a concept of rule utilitarianism, looking not only at the problem in the immediacy, but taking into consideration the possibilities that lie beyond. In this version, you’re not only considering the pleasure and pain of folks who are immediately affected, but on your entire hypothetical society on the whole and in the long run.
And of course, if you’re a realist like me, this whole problem seems like a pile of horseshit, had it not been for the fact that these kinds of decisions are made by people everyday!
Back when I took my first Ethics class, my professor gave us a more modern (and disturbing) thought experiment to illustrate the difference. Let’s say, in a very, VERY, hypothetical situation, that you are a detective from a crowded city, and you have been told that there is a bomb that will go off somewhere in it. You have one of the terrorists responsible for this attack in custody, and they (I’m being gender neutral here) aren’t giving any answers. Science tells you that you can use a torture method to get them to tell you where the bomb is truthfully, in time for the police to find it, disarm it, and secure the area once more. The question now is, do you do it?
Act utilitarians will most likely tell you “Yes,” because by giving pain to this one random individual, you can save the lives of so many other random individuals (regardless of how innocent or fallible they are), thus preserving the maximum amount of happiness for the immediate situation.
On the other hand, rule utilitarians will most likely tell you “No,” because by the very act of torturing this one individual, you have justified torture as a means to preserve your society, thus adding one more block to the foundations of a police state. And if there is anything I’ve learned about police states, there is nothing but unhappiness, running deep within fabricated happiness that everyone is forced to believe.
Whether you consider yourself an act utilitarian or a rule utilitarian, the fact remains that both scenarios are still ultimately treated like a numbers game. And when you’re playing around with such decisions that treat live human beings as simple numbers, no decision is going to give a definitive answer of what is the “right thing to do.” And isn’t that the point of classical ethics?
Well I have a trolley problem of my own to explain Utilitarianism, and how it will best define “Happiness:” that careful balance between so-called “Pleasure” and “Pain.” The Ultimate Trolley Problem! And it goes something like this:
A trolley is coming down the track so fast, it can’t stop. In its way are every last trolley problem in the world that we have created, critiqued, and made fun of. On the other track are all the trolley problem haters of the world (which at this point, may as well just be me), who would gain the most pleasure out of seeing that these fucking things die a permanent death. Anyone who knows nothing about trolley problems or are indifferent to them are not affected. And you know what? This is going to sound absolutely insane.
I would flip the switch.
That’s right! If you’re going to maximize your pleasure, make a narrative that turns that pain around. Teach humor. Ensure that satire NEVER ceases! You want a society that runs entirely on happiness? Make a world that acknowledges the complexities that make happiness a thing. Be aware of how your happiness affects others, and know that your happiness will not make everyone happy! And if you ever are hesitant about doing anything, ANYTHING, at the expense of others, try harming yourself first! I’d flip that switch on me. Would you?
Mind you, all of this is still hypothetical. Of course this sounds completely bogus! But for now, I have turned Utilitarianism on its own head to make it my own. This is the power of critical theory.
Take that John Stuart Mill, you colonizing piece of shit! The ball’s in your court.
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