Insiders vs Outsiders

The philosopher Peter Singer, in his book on Practical Ethics, narrates the following imaginary but interesting story to highlight certain ethical dilemmas: Let us imagine a city which gets ravaged by nuclear war and there is huge radiation leakagage. Anticipating such a scenario a small percentage of the population who are super rich invest in underground shelters. A few thousand of them get accommodated in these sprawling underground shelters each of the size of a village. The villages are provided with food to last for about 6 months, all luxuries and lots of open spaces to play and to entertain themselves. They just need to spend 6 months in those shelters since the radiation levels would reduce to safe levels by then. But this arrangement leaves out lots of people outside. They face an uncertain future as they are exposed to lethal doses of radiation. This is the problem of insiders versus outsiders. Through their television sets provided in the shelters, insiders can see the sad plight of outsiders pleading at the entrance to the underground to let them in. Insiders can easily accommodate about 10% more of their population without causing much inconvenience to themselves. At the most,they may be required to sacrifice some of their luxuries. Now the question is whether they should allow a few outsiders or none at all. There were different points of view among the insiders. Some said that the outsiders are inferior people with no intelligence and they did not plan for this eventuality. In any case why allow people who did not pay for it.  But there was a minority opinion which pleaded for allowing at least a few of the outsiders. However, many objected saying they did not want to compromise on their quality of life and the luxuries by letting in a few.

In this scenario what will you vote for?

The story aptly captures the moral dilemma which all of us face in our daily lives.I’m sure all of us have our own real life stories of insiders versus outsiders. Whether it’s the refugees knocking at the borders between nations even as the rich nations refuse their entry or the affluent among us not willing to share our excessive wealth with the poor, the ethical questions are of similar nature.

There are insiders and outsiders everywhere. One can see it even within a family among siblings and cousins for instance. One can see different versions of the same game being played in our offices, in our neighbourhoods or housing societies in general. It manifests as rich versus poor, high caste versus low-caste, One religion versus another religion etc.

It’s interesting to consider its origins. We are social beings before we became human beings with a sense of good and bad. As social beings we naturally started living in groups and developed group interests which were placed above everything else. This automatically meant that we considered outsiders as aliens who did not deserve any share of our goodies.

Published in: on July 24, 2016 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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