[This was the original, and totally different, version of my Huffington Post Halloween article, Eight Legs No Soul.]
I love working out the answer to imaginary dilemmas. I know you only really get them in thrillers, but you can never be sure when life will imitate art. So it’s best to be prepared for the day when a masked man will break into your home and demand you choose between undergoing a bizarre torture and sacrificing the lives of your family. Otherwise you might be taken unawares and just stare at him going “What? Why? What’s in this for you? Don’t you just want to steal my TV?”
So, in a spirit of mental preparation, I have spent some time pondering the issue of whether I would I spend a day trapped in a coffin with spiders in order to save my children from being murdered. Well, yes, I would. (Parental love has a lot to answer for.)
But would I do it in order to save my partner from being murdered? Sure, although I’d need absolute proof, in writing, that he would definitely die if I didn’t do it and definitely wouldn’t if I did.
Down one notch: would I do it in order to save my partner from being beaten up? Well.. maybe. How severe would the beating be, exactly? He’s robust, he’d probably recover from most things. And anyway, maybe he’d volunteer to be beaten up in order to save me from being trapped in a coffin, in which case I think I’d accept his sacrifice (reluctantly but definitely). I’d stock up on Savlon and bandages, of course, and be prepared for a lifetime of guilt, but I’d probably cope.
Would I do it to save a friend from being murdered? Not a close friend, a friendly acquaintance, one of the people I see once a year or so and follow on Facebook but I probably couldn’t tell you the names of their children and/or pets, or what they do for a living. Um… well, I suppose so. I wouldn’t want it on my conscience that I’d got someone killed because I wouldn’t spend a day doing something that wasn’t actually going to cause me damage. But I might suggest some form of financial compensation at that point, because while saving people from death is obviously very motivating, so is money. And I’d probably need some therapy to recover from that cosy spider-infested darkness.
I think the above may potentially be the basis for some kind of reality game show, by the way. Not one I’d willingly take part in, but then there aren’t any reality TV shows I’d willingly take part in.
Now I’ve thought about reality TV shows, I find myself wondering if I’d take part in a reality TV show in order to save my children from being mildly inconvenienced in some way. Maybe… Oh, damn it, I’ve fallen into the Dilemma Habit. This happens when you start turning every situation into a moral exercise. Would you drink gone-off milk in order to avoid a day of data entry at work? (No, for the record. Old milk makes me feel sick and I quite like data entry.) Would you walk a mile in uncomfortable shoes if it meant a stranger in Australia recovered from her kidney stone? (Sure.) Would you strip to your underwear in a tube train so that your sister-in-law would pass her accountancy exams? (Um…) Would you dye your hair an unflattering colour if it ensured that a colleague’s dad’s cat didn’t go blind? (What?)
After a while, you start to regret spending all this time and energy on decisions you’ll probably never have to make. You begin to yearn for some strange and interesting circumstances to arise that will force you to use your now finely calibrated sense of ethics. Perhaps what we need is a Dilemmas Agency. You pay them a retainer, and every now and then, they turn up on your doorstep or desk and make you choose between things. Not things involving death, obviously. Just small choices. And then, after you’ve opted for your next-door-neighbour to be shouted at by religious fundamentalists so you don’t have to hold a spider for three minutes, you realise that it’s the small choices that show you who you really are. But at least you didn’t have to hold a spider. God, I hate spiders.