I have a question for you. Would you rather wear one roller skate for the rest of your life or eat your grandmother? For me, the answer is simple. I’d eat my grandmother, since seeing as I can’t remember meeting either of them, it’d be no different than eating anyone else; namely, stringy, with a smoky aftertaste, complemented perfectly by a red Zinfandel. For others, the question is more difficult.
Sure, wearing only one roller skate would suck at times. It’d be tough to engage in a rousing game of shuffleboard without the critical stabilization provided by a second foot immobilized by friction. It’d ruin “hiking the Appalachian Trail” as a catch-all excuse, as your roller skate’s only advantage (coasting) would be of no use on the AT’s rugged paths. The roller skate would prevent you from ever fulfilling your lifelong dream of becoming a professional Contra dancer.
Despite these and countless other inconveniences, for some, the roller skate is the only choice. Eating their grandmother, despite its obvious advantages, is simply out of the question. The crippling self-doubt that would accompany such a breach of conventional ethics is too great for them to go through with it, even if it would ultimately spare them the crippling inconvenience of the roller skate. Even if they could wait ‘til granny had passed away to pre-heat the oven. Even if they could better serve their fellow man, and those men’s grandmas, with both their feet functional and their stomach full (of grandma). Even if they could eat just a pinch of grandma for two or three years, perhaps by mixing her into a nutritious smoothie.
For the hypothetical roller skate wearers among us, the ends of avoiding a life of four-wheeled imbalance can never justify the cannibalistic means by which such a life is secured.
Right about now, you might be thinking that this question is ridiculous and unworthy of exploration. However, at the root of this “Would-You-Rather” is a question of the sanctity of the cookie-cutter, morally sound human process of life and death. Can we throw aside our preconceived notions of what life and death should be if they’ll help us make a better choice? In my home state of Washington, we’ve passed a Death with Dignity law, which presents a similar moral quandary to the one I’ve offered. We’ve given grandmas from Walla Walla to Forks (oh Bella!) the choice between a painful life and an early death. The former is expected by society, but the latter might suit us better.
I’ll ask you once again, would you rather wear one roller skate for the rest of your life or eat your grandmother?
To me, this question is worth asking because it makes us weigh morally (and perhaps gastronomically) unpleasant actions against their potential benefits. It forces you to consider whether it’s okay to give up a good thing, for a good reason. There are many ways to view this question and many ways to justify your decision.
For example, how would an economist tackle the problem of granny and the skate? He’d probably start by hooking you up to his trusty Utilirometer, in order to determine the utility-maximizing decision. After a 15-minute brain scan, the economist would say to you, “Kiddo, eating your grandmother will cost you ten utiles.” To which you will respond, “True. Eating my grandmother is worth exactly negative ten utiles to me.” He will then say, “However, wearing one roller skate for the rest of your life will cost you fifty utiles.” Initially skeptical, you’ll soon realize that his trusty Utilirometer has not erred, and that your life, skate-bound, would be quite difficult. “Now that I think about it, being roller skate-free is worth fifty utiles to me.” A difference of forty utiles! That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Still, many would opt for the skate. “But think of my poor grandmother!” they cry. Indeed. What of your poor grandmother? I have a news flash for you, champ. The trusty Utilirometer has taken grandma’s reading, and she’s flat lining no matter what you do. Even so, does that make digging in okay?
Perhaps we should look to the children, the sweet, innocent children for the answer. A sweet, innocent child would never eat its grandmother willingly. In fact, it’d probably be excited at the prospect of a new roller skate. (I can roll now!) Perhaps what is right is to make the best of a tough situation and lace up that skate with all the excitement you can muster, rather than garnishing grandma’s remains with all the mustard you can muster, and accept your fate rather than betray your morals.
This is a question that philosophers have grappled with for literally tens of years. It has far-reaching implications for every aspect of society. What are our morals if not guidelines to help us live the best lives we can? If sticking to your guns and abstaining from Nanny Soup helps no one and makes your life worse, have our morals failed us?
To what logical ends would eating grandma take us? If we should do what helps the most people, shouldn’t we start the grandmother harvest early and share her precious organs in order to save multiple lives? To use a “metaphor,” that hypothetical situation would be a “tough pill to swallow.” While you may find this theoretical construction ridiculous, many do fear that our society is at risk of abandoning morals in favor of cold, heartless efficiency. Hell, half our country thinks that this hypothetical granny harvest is what a single-payer health care system looks like.
Answering the question, ridiculous as it seems, reveals something about us. We can’t simply calculate the course of action that will bring about the optimum human state and do that. We must balance indefinable emotions with cold, calculating rationality. Where on the spectrum do you lie? One last time, would you rather wear one roller skate for the rest of your life or eat your grandmother, and what does that say about you?