Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Grand Moral Dilemma from the Film Sunshine (2007)

Capa: Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus project sent a mission to restart the sun but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose to create a star within a star.***

Sunshine is a film directed by Danny Boyle made back in 2007. It is a borderline hard science fiction story. Plot: A team of seven astronauts are sent to the Sun with a nuke (the payload) so as to reignite the dying Sun and save Mankind from an ice age. En route their oxygen converter is damaged so they decide to hook up with the lost spaceship of the previous mission for repairs. In this they unknowingly pick up an unknown and unidentified passenger; supposedly a survivor from the previous mission. Of course the astronauts begin to face difficulties when this extra unidentified passenger sabotages the ships and two members of the team die. With five members left; four team members sit down to regroup after detaching from the old spaceship. The fifth team member, Trey, is in a self-imposed quarantine due to severe depression. They do not yet know of the sixth impostor. But they do know that they only have enough oxygen for four team members to make it to the Sun in order to deliver the payload.

Taken from the script:

Mace: When the Icarus Two was broken apart from Icarus One, there's something we weren't thinking about. The computer was down. The airlock was decoupled manually.
Corazon: I was on the flight deck with Cassie the whole time.
Capa: And I was with Mace and Searle in the observation room.
Mace: And I think we can all... assume it wasn't Harvey. That leaves one possibility.
Corazon: Trey.
Capa: But why would Trey do it? He blames everything on himself, he sleeps twenty-three hours a day, he's clinically depressed... Why'd he do it?
Mace: We don't know, but we can't discard it as a possibility.
Corazon: And there's something else.
[slides forward a piece of paper]
Corazon: With Searle and Harvey gone, we lost two breathers. We have enough oxygen for four crew to make it to the payload delivery point.
Capa: So we'll do it.
Mace: I'll do it. I'm not passing any bucks.
Corazon: Well, then...
Mace: We'll vote this time. Unanimous decision required.
Mace: Well, you know where I stand.
Corazon: [draws back the piece of paper] And me.
Mace, Corazon: [look at Capa]
Capa: What are you asking? That we weigh the life of one man versus the future of all mankind?
Capa: Kill him.
Mace: [looks at Cassie] Cassie...
Cassie: [a tear slides down her face] No.
Mace: Cassie...
Cassie: I know the argument. I know the logic. You're saying you need my vote. I'm saying you can't have it.
Mace: [long pause]
[gets up]
Mace: Sorry, Cassie...
Cassie: [crying] Oh God... Make it easy for him. Somehow.

So in this circumstance Capa, Mace, Corazon and Cassie understand that there is only enough oxygen left for four members to make it to the Sun so as to deliver the payload. Trey is not a part of the meeting.  He is incapacitated due to severe depression, but he is innocent. He is not an aggressor, only a possible aggressor (the team does not yet know of the unidentified sixth crew member who sabotaged the ship). They conceive of the idea to murder Trey, an innocent, with the intended end to provide enough oxygen for the team so as to deliver the payload and possibly save mankind.

The intent and consequences of the assumed action are unarguably categorized as X. But this is where a stark and clear cut distinction of the two fundamental moral categories comes into play. The motive and circumstance behind the decision to murder does not change the intrinsic quality of the chosen murder. They decided to direct severe harm to an innocent target. The act is to murder Trey, when performed in reality will directly deprive an innocent Trey of his life. A motive or circumstance cannot change the inherent quality or reality of the murderous act.  The action is directed by the mediators to impart a grave deprivation in Trey IN SPITE of motives and circumstances.   

Three of the members are more or less o.k. with this. They know that they are going to murder Trey. And they are unarguably sincere in their decision and in this extreme situation one could argue that their culpability is reduced. But their motive and consequences will not change the distinct quality or reality of their deliberate murder categorized as Y.

On the other side Cassie understands the rationale of their prospective act to murder Trey. She understands the motive and consequences, but she also understands the motives and consequences of murder DO NOT change the fundamental moral category of murder. And so she decides not to vote which is an implicit no. Of course Mace goes against his word of a 'unanimous decision' so as to go murder Trey.

What we as rational and unbiased humans can glean from this situation is that their opinions and perception of the murder cannot change the essential quality of murder either conceptually or when performed in reality. No amount of opinion or perception can change the fact that when they perform this type of act they will impart grave harm to the target.  Not even my opinion can change the quality, category and reality of a murder.  A lamb is about to get slaughtered.  Even if I never conceptualized this action or witnessed this action the act in question directs severe harm to the target.

Mace will directly deprive an innocent Trey of his life.  Together they chose to murder Trey. This is the stark reality.  They can rationalize and whine all they want but an act of murder is just that. Again, nothing can change the distinct fundamental category of a murder.  Its just the way it is.  A type of action categorized Y cannot change into a category X, even with the potential consequence of saving the human race. If anyone publicly preaches or argues otherwise his ideas are worthy of ridicule.  And I hope that he is ignorant.  

Reality is a kick in the face.

In the film, when Mace arrives to Trey a minute later; he learns that Trey had already committed suicide. Suicide is a sub-type of murder. In a suicide, the mediator and the target are one and the same individual. Trey imparts severe harm to Trey.  I forget if the audience is given the motive behind Trey's suicide, but again the motive or circumstance do not change the inseparable quality of the suicide, neither conceptually or in reality. Trey directly deprived his life in the act of suicide.  This type of act always directly imparts grave harm to a human target.  One could argue that Trey's culpability is reduced but his opinion and perception of his suicide (including mine) does not change the inseparable quality of this type of act categorized by rational humans as a Y.  All one can do is argue that there are no two distinct and fundamental categories of human actions, but this sort of argument is patently irrational:

Some human actions directly harm a target and other do not. The study of morality begins this simple.     

Morality is about facing the reality of certain types of deliberate actions. Nothing under the sun can change the quality or fundamental category of a murderous or suicidal act.  They are all inseparably directed at severely harming an innocent target and so categorized as Y.  The greatest of intentions and the most extreme circumstance in history cannot change Y into X since the intrinsic quality of specific acts do not change.  Y cannot change into X, and X cannot change into Y. The murder and suicide's categorization is based in the conceptual analysis of the act in isolation.  And in reality these types of actions being analyzed, namely, murder and suicide, ALWAYS directly impart severe harm to the victim.      

Soon the remaining members learn that all of their deliberation and action was for naught because there is a fifth unidentified crew member:

Icarus: Capa; warning. You are dying. All crew are dying.
Capa: We know we're dying. Were OK with it, just as long as we have enough oxygen to reach the payload delivery point.
Icarus: Capa; warning, you do not have enough oxygen to survive until the payload delivery point.
Capa: Please clarify.
Icarus: Twelve hours before crew will be unable perform complex tasks. Fourteen hours before crew will be unable to perform basic tasks. Sixteen hours until death. Time to payload delivery point, 19 hours.
Capa: Negative, Icarus. We have enough oxygen for four crew members to survive.
Icarus: Affirmative. 4 crew members could potentially survive.
Capa: Trey is dead. There are only four crew members; Cassie, Mace, Corazon and me.
Icarus: Negative. Five crew members.
Capa: Icarus... who is the fifth crew member?
Icarus: Unknown.
Capa: Where is the fifth crew member?
Icarus: In the observation room.

The four remaining crew members 'dying' is an indirect and unintended consequence of their act to deliver the payload with the intent of consequence of saving mankind.

These examples demonstrate the radical 'world' of morality. Rational ethics is a behavior more radical than almost anything imaginable. Morality/ethics is about facing the stark reality of our actions. It certainly is not for the superficial. And even though it is difficult to explain or practice morality; sincere men and women can find strength in the moment. They may have to be patient and wait for a brilliant new insight or pray for a miracle.

Later in the film Mace is engaged in fixing the ship after it is sabotaged by the unidentified aggressor. In the act of fixing the ship he dies, but this is not a suicide since his deliberately chosen act of fixing the ship is in connection to his crew and inherently directed toward helping his crew members.  Fixing a ship is categorized as X since it does not directly harm a human target.  Mace's death is an indirect and unintended consequence of his act to fix the ship. And he acted with the intended end and consequence of possibly saving the human race in delivery of the payload.  Mace redeemed himself of his act to murder made earlier in the film.

*** Dialogue abstracted from imdb.com Link  

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