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Water bottles, soup cans, pigeons and good and bad intentions
by Graeme J. Davidson,
5 January, 2008

Like so many of our moral actions, the consequences can be very different from our intentions – even if our intentions were originally honourable.

....Furious that he’s dumped her for another, Tina puts poison in Fred’s water bottle before he takes a journey into the scorching desert. Unbeknown to Tina, Kate’s also been jilted by Casanova Fred. She seeks revenge by boring a hole in his water bottle. Deep in the desert when the scoundrel is desperate for a drink, the flask’s empty and Fred dies of dehydration. Who killed him?
....If you answered, “Who cares? The cad got what he deserved,” you’re being a tad unreasonable. Cads have low moral standards and break hearts. But Fred didn’t stoop to attempted murder as his two exes did.
....That ethical conundrum was the basis of a question asked of students hoping to gain entrance to a prestigious university. Candidates were expected to distinguish between intentions and consequences. Kate and Tina intended to commit murder, but neither caused Fred’s death.
....Like so many of our moral actions, the consequences can be very different from our intentions – even if our intentions were originally honourable. If I asked whether you believed in saving life over material things, you’d probably agree that life was far more important. That’s your intention.
....Now let’s imagine you’re at the Queensland Art Gallery viewing their current Andy Warhol exhibition when the gallery catches fire and you’re the only person in a room with the famous Campbell Soup Can paintings. Do you try to save a multimillion-dollar picture of a soup can for posterity or a much-loved cat that’s strayed into the room? You can carry only one artwork or one terrified cat, not both. Would it make a difference if you knew you’d get a fat reward for saving the art and suffer scratches for rescuing the feline?
....Whatever your decision, you’d be fulfilling Andy Warhol’s prediction; “In the future everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes”. So, would the prospect of being on CNN influence your actions?
....Many of our ethical dilemmas are less public and more real. When I lived in the USA, I was asked by several elderly people to help them decide when to pull the plug on a dying partner.
None of us wants to put a price on love and those who asked for help intended keeping their promise to cherish their spouse. But, because the excess on their US medical insurance could eat up a couple’s assets very quickly, the price of prolonging the life of a loved one in a semi-conscious state would most likely leave the remaining elderly partner eking out a subsistence existence.
....They all said they couldn’t live with their conscience if they agreed to pull the plug and let nature take its course. But they also knew they would be resentful of making such a huge financial sacrifice to prolong their unresponsive partner’s life a few weeks longer. Sometimes the voice of conscience isn’t the best guide when it insists on slavish adherence to moral conditioning rather than to reason.
....An ethical question facing Wellingtonians right now is whether to liquidate pigeons in Midland Park. These feathered friends entertain us with antics that mirror our own social behaviour and, in the past, have braved horrendous storms or enemy fire to bring life-saving messages. Over 30 pigeons have received medals for gallantry. Yet, by pointing to carefully selected evidence of a health and safety kind, a co-owner of the Astoria café is vilifying these cooing rock doves as “rats with wings”.
....There’s no mention of the health and safety issues associated with yapping, piddling dogs that some patrons bring to outside café tables in the suburbs. That’s because these dog-loving patrons spend money. Pigeons don’t.
....More appropriately, as the Astoria café is a popular venue for lawyers, the City Council ought to consider providing free food and encouraging selective target practice for these worthy birds.
As for anti animal rights councillors with murderous intend to cull our beloved pigeons: I’ll put poison in the water coolers of these stool pigeon cads if you’ll bore a hole in the bottom.




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