Creative Challenge #27: The Coming Disaster

The holiday news vacuum provides us with the opportunity to present you with yet another creative challenge. It involves a conflict between science and religion. This is the scenario:

The evidence is undeniable that some natural disaster is gong to strike the location of a small town. It’s not an asteroid, because that could create too big a problem. It’s a volcano — definitely deadly, but geographically limited, and (we shall assume) predictable with virtual certainty.

You are in charge of a government disaster relief program. You and your team visit the place and advise them about what’s going to happen, and you urgently recommend that they all vacate the area as soon as possible. However, the people all belong to some kind of religious sect that rejects science because it contradicts their beliefs, and they believe their faith will protect them. They refuse to pack up and leave.

Let’s make it even worse — your sister joined the sect a few years ago and now she and your nephew live in that town. Like everyone else, they refuse to act on your advice. The disaster is going to strike in a few days, and you know they’ll all be killed. Now what? Your job is to save lives, and they’re not just a bunch of strangers — members of your own family will perish in the coming disaster.

Your options are simple. As leader of the government team, you can decide: (1) your team will forcibly remove the people; or (2) respecting the town’s freedom to make their own decisions, order your team give up and leave the area. If you decide that your team should leave, you have one more option: you could, acting on your own, force your family members to leave with you.

The form of today’s challenge is that you must tell us, with reasonable brevity:

The volcano is about to blow. What should you do, if anything, to save the town or your family?

You know the rules: A successful entry should be self-explanatory. You may enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

There may not be a winner of this contest, but if there is, your Curmudgeon will decide, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no tangible prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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28 responses to “Creative Challenge #27: The Coming Disaster

  1. However, the people all belong to some kind of religious sect that rejects science because it contradicts their beliefs, and they believe their faith will protect them. They refuse to pack up and leave.

    Adios, and good riddance, amigos! Another sect down the drain. Enjoy your afterlife.

  2. Given the priority of saving lives, I would have no qualms about lying. The rational townsfolk would heed the scientists and make their own way to safety. For the sake of saving the religious nuts (and yes, I would do that), I would drive through the town with a bull-horn while proclaiming that God Himself had appeared to me in a vision to warn me that he was about to destroy the town–probably to punish America for embracing Evilution, Abortion, and Homosexuality, or whatever. Job done.

  3. Megalonyx says: “I would have no qualms about lying.”

    I never thought of that. Olivia says she’s not surprised you came up with it.

  4. The volcano is about to blow. What should you do, if anything, to save the town or your family?

    Make sure there is plenty of transportation to get everyone out. Forcefully explain to the people who don’t want to leave, “You will die. Period.” Let them make their own decisions, just as we did before Mt St Helens erupted. If they think that they’re “Harry R Truman”, so be it. Liberty is, at times, the ability to have a death wish.
    I would, however, have all children 18 and under removed, forcibly if necessary. They shouldn’t suffer from the sins of their parents.

  5. I think Gary has the right idea, except I would replace “Forcefully” with something like “clearly and as scientifically accurate as possible”. In other words, make sure they had the information necessary to make a rational choice, and make sure that they had the needed resources to get to safety. Let those gullible enough to stay because of their religion enjoy their afterlife,as David says.

  6. I would think of a way to deceive the cultists into leaving by telling them something that would make contextual sense to them even if it sounded crazy to me. The fact that they are irrational cultists and crazy, science-hating idiots is a bit beside the point and I would want to save their sorry asses even if they understood my thinking about as well as my cat does.

  7. As being a part of the gov’mint it does not matter what is done YOU WILL BE WRONG!!! If you ignore the religious nutjobs, then you did not try hard enough and you are cold blooded. If you force them out then you are a fascist ahole persecuting the religious!! So learn from Italy, ignore the science let happen what will happen then blame the scientists for everything!!!

  8. I disagree with both Megalonyx and Maezeppa about lying. One, why feed the conspiracists? Two, there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will work. Three, you’re fighting irrationality with more irrationality? Very good chance that will backfire and make the situation worse. I think a better idea is to make predictions about the various facets of the coming eruption, such as “You’re going to see a rise in the earth at this point”, “The earthquakes will get more and more intensive, and closer together in time”, etc. Show them videos of actual volcanic eruptions.
    Finally, show them pictures of the victims of Vesuvius and ask them how they would like to be displayed in two thousand years.

  9. Gary says: “I think a better idea is to make predictions about the various facets of the coming eruption …”

    That’s very nice, but you must assume that it’s been done. The problem confronting you is that they won’t listen to you, and they won’t go — at least not voluntarily.

  10. I’d offer to save their pets and livestock and let them know that they can have them back if the event doesn’t occur. Oh, I’d also ask to have their marmalade if they have any.

  11. You’re all missing the point of this exercise. For millennia, religious people have never hesitated to use force for what they believe to be best of motives. Will you now use science as justification for doing the same?

  12. Cardinal Gary asserts

    I disagree with both Megalonyx and Maezeppa about lying. One, why feed the conspiracists? Two, there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will work. Three, you’re fighting irrationality with more irrationality?

    I grant much merit to these objections — but (perhaps perversely) maintain my original position even while admitting that I can provide no compelling rational justification for what is essentially a personal moral choice.

    First, consider a classic example: suppose you are a Dutchman living in Amsterdam in 1942, and you have Anne Frank concealed in your attic. Adolf Hitler knocks on your door and demands to know if you are sheltering any Jews in your home. Would you have any hesitation to lie in such a case? I insist that to lie in order to save a human life is the better choice here — even while I admit that one can never provide an absolutely rational basis for ‘moral imperatives.’ So the means I have proposed to save lives is valid, IMHO.

    Second: In the case our Curmudgeon has outlined here, we are to assume we possess a role in government with responsibility for “disaster relief programmes.” That responsibility must include an obligation to mitigate the effects of disasters wherever reasonably possible, and in that context, one must be assumed to subscribe to the basic belief that governments are legitmately charged with protecting citizens’s rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” No religious test is to be applied to these rights and are not to be withheld from any individual or group simply because I may find their beliefs foolish or obnoxious. So the obligation to save lives, if possible by any reasonable means, is also clear here — to me, at least.

    After all, stupidity is a lamentable human condition but not — fortunately — a capital offence. Otherwise, we would all of us be in jeopardy.

  13. Holding The Line In Florida

    Naw, science is above religion. Just because religion has acted exactly as they doesn’t mean rational thinking people should stoop to their level. As Davidk said, we’ll sort of, “fare thee well on your journey to the next life! Let us know how it all turns out. One less group of retards to deal with.” Let us put a name on this situation. Ken Ham. Would you force him to leave or let his God take care of him? Of course Hambo would high tail it out of his Bark Park as soon as the volcano began to rumble.

  14. SC says:

    You’re all missing the point of this exercise.

    The original question had nothing to do with the use of force to compel someone to do something they wouldn’t want to do. The question was, “What should you do, if anything, to save the town or your family?” By “town”, I’m assuming you mean “the people within the town” since saving the actual infrastructure itself is a moot point. The volcano is going to win that one, regardless. As for saving all of the people, family or no, my answer still stands. Give them as much information as possible to tell them that they are going to die unless they leave. In my personal case, all it will take is one call from Mom to let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are being idiotic and that they should pack up and leave right now. If that doesn’t work, well, then, I’ll be spending some time with my mother to console her as to why her child decided to do something so absolutely stupid.

    Megalonyx states,

    governments are legitimately charged with protecting citizens’ rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” No religious test is to be applied to these rights and are not to be withheld from any individual or group simply because I may find their beliefs foolish or obnoxious. So the obligation to save lives, if possible by any reasonable means, is also clear here–to me, at least.

    Except this would go against a fair amount of already-established precedent. People were not forcibly compelled to leave the area around Mt St Helens, people were not forcibly compelled to leave New Orleans before Katrina, people have not been forcibly compelled to leave many areas hit by hurricanes, despite the overwhelming consensus that they were (most likely) going to die or be injured.

    As for your use of the Anne Frank-in-the-attic analogy, that’s a bad analogy, in my opinion. In that case, Anne Frank and her family clearly want to live, and the use of the lie is the only way to make that happen. There are no other options, that I can see. I’m not lying to Anne or her family; I’m lying to the people who want to kill her and her family. It’s a subtle point, I’ll grant you, but an important one.

    In the end, the question comes down to, “How much do we do to help these people?” You help them as much as you can without resorting to force. In the end, at some point, you just have to hope for the best, even though you know the worst is about to happen.

  15. Cardinal Gary responds

    People were not forcibly compelled to leave the area around Mt St Helens, people were not forcibly compelled to leave New Orleans before Katrina

    But I have not propose — and would not propose — force nor compulsion; I argued for making an attempt to save human life “by any reasonable means” — and that cunning deception would be just such a reasonable mean🙂

    As for your use of the Anne Frank-in-the-attic analogy, that’s a bad analogy, in my opinion. In that case, Anne Frank and her family clearly want to live, and the use of the lie is the only way to make that happen.

    But — presumably — the benighted religious townsfolk also want to live, but have an irrational belief that they are not in peril. But that aside: the analogy is simply to show a case where it is arguably more moral to tell a lie than to tell the truth. And I do think it applies to the Curmudgeon’s case here — personally, I would feel obliged to make an effort to save lives, and would feel justified in telling a lie to that end.

    But if that did not succeed, I would not escalate to force.

  16. Olivia’s Dream (aka Megalonyx) responds:

    the analogy is simply to show a case where it is arguably more moral to tell a lie than to tell the truth.

    Yeah, we can go round and round, and neither of us will be able to agree on the details (to lie or not to lie), though we agree on the final point (no force). That’s because there is no straight right or wrong here. We’re so heavily into the squishy area of subjectivity that it makes whipped cream look like granite by comparison. If you were to show up and bald-faced lie to these people and it worked, I’d applaud you. However, if you lied and it didn’t work, I’d buy you a beer afterwards and say, “Well, at least you tried.”

  17. Megalonyx admits: “I would feel obliged to make an effort to save lives, and would feel justified in telling a lie to that end.”

    As long as you have so few scruples, why not bribe them with lifetime passes to Hambo’s Ark?

  18. Our Curmudgeon suggests

    why not bribe them with lifetime passes to Hambo’s Ark?

    But that’s the best idea yet! Print off a batch of phoney 1-day Ark Tickets, valid for the day the volcano is going to blow, and distribute them amongst the god-fearing townsfolk! They’ll evacuate the town voluntarily, happily paying for their own gasoline rather than doing it on FEMA’s dime!

    I think you should award yourself the prize for this competition!

  19. Eezy. Peezy ! You invite everyone in town to a huge outdoor barbq.
    While showing footage of Kilauae on a giant screen behind the town mayor as he steps up to the microphone to say grace for everyone, you stand behind him with a pop bottle full of vinegar labeled (town name here), and hold it over his head as you pour in a tablespoon of baking soda. If he can continue saying grace as vinegar and bubbling baking soda dribble over him in simulation of a volcanic explosion, you get on your Ducati Hypermotard and ride out of town. They’re not smart enough to find their car keys to leave town anyway. Crispy critters.

  20. Although it’s tempting to let the science-denialists meet the fate they richly deserve, I think (and this is a big problem) that lefty types like me really do have to try to save as many people as possible, no matter how stupid the science-denying Republicans among them might be.

    And, so far as the kids there are concerned, they should be saved, no question. They shouldn’t have to be sacrificed to the stupidity of their parents.

  21. Offer them $10,000 a head to say out-of-town for the time during which you predict the disaster. When the disaster happens, treat that money as the first instalment of Federal emergency relief. If the disaster doesn’t happen, join the sect.

  22. realthog notes

    lefty types like me really do have to try to save as many people as possible

    Except: I don’t think that, globally, there’s much to choose between regimes of the political Left and of political Right on their respective records for appalling abuses of human rights, liberties, and lifespans. And I say that despite–full disclosure–I most certainly count as a fellow ‘lefty type’, at least on the weird, Doppler-shifted American spectrum (on which scale British Tories probably register next to Bolsheviks).

    There have been folks who escaped Hitler only to perish in Stalin’s gulags, or who fought the Japanese invaders of China only to fall victim to Mao’s ‘cultural revolution.’ Neither the Left nor the Right have a monopoly on either human compassion or, at the other end of the spectrum, murderous inhumanity.

  23. Would I grab my sister and my nephew? Absolutely, and I’d fully anticipate her hating me forever and me going to jail for it. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at either consequence as they’re worth it – it’s my sister.

    Everyone else, though? I’d turn an eye to other relatives doing the same as me, but I wouldn’t use my remit or authority to remove people by force.

    Far more effective is dissuading one cult leader – just one – and letting the rest follow.

    That said, they won’t, and that’s tragic.

  24. Timothy Norfolk

    Offer to buy everything that they own at 10% of face value, contingent on the volcano exploding within a few days. Most people, when faced with financial decision like that, actually think about it.

  25. @dweller42
    You bring up an interesting point: That you are willing to go to jail as a consequence of your action. Remember the decision of Huckleberry Finn?

  26. TomS, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

    I remember is well. Reading that story was quite important in turning from a fundagelical Christian to a more progressive sort.

  27. I am thinking of a possible case on a smaller case: a person refuses to leave a burning building. Whatever the reason, the person could be mentally handicapped perhaps, it is our duty to save that life.
    So my answer is yes, the people have to be evacuated forcefully. A sect like that can be regarded as mentally incapable of thinking for themselves.

  28. Techreseller

    I believe we have a clear case of evolution in action. Eliminate these genes from the gene pool. Attempt to persuade. Then take who will come, and leave the rest to their fate.