An idea I had in college was to commit a slew of felonies to prove a point. These crimes, ranging from international kidnapping to first-degree murder, would easily get me awarded the electric chair, but I would argue that the Nobel Peace Prize would be the more appropriate. It was a thought experiment, not an actual plan - so do chill out and maybe don’t report me.
The concept was part of an essay that I submitted to a university-wide essay contest and won $500 for. The essay was “On Inaction” which you can Google alongside my name. At the time, I was very sad about the situation of third-world poverty. Why was seemingly no one up in arms about the preventable deaths happening by the millions in parts of the world whose people don’t have access to sufficient food, water, healthcare, women’s rights, education, shelter? Everyone around me seems rich af and clearly has the literal resources to prevent many of those far-away deaths, yet… no one does? Why is that so different from murder? A life ended that didn’t have to because of you.
My assessment was that the reason for the indifference was because the concepts of permission of preventable death and murder are treated as fundamentally distinct in people’s minds, a distinction we are taught from a young age. Do unto others doesn’t take into account that you’ll never have malaria. The result of the golden rule is not very golden.
So, I came up with a thought experiment as a proposed publicity stunt for this unconventional, but arguably important, point of view. The hypothetical proposal went like this: I would fly to some remote village in some landlocked, geopolitically irrelevant third-world country and I would ask to see a child clearly on his last days, you know, dying of malnutrition, acute diarrhea, or one of those other classic extreme-poverty-kid causes of death. When no one was looking, I would abduct the kid. I’d charter a private jet, bribe the local officials on both ends to look the other way. I would arrive in the Big Apple with the terrified, ailing child.
Back in New York, I would have devised a 5-foot-wide cube made of clear, dense, impenetrable glass with a door and an unbreakable lock. I would put the kid in the cage, lock the door, melt the key and haul the box to Washington Square Park, where I’d leave it. I’d go home and turn on the news.
At first, people would assume this contraption was just some street performance, maybe an escape act of sorts. But then people would see the look of desperation on the kid’s face; they would take note of his emaciation. He can’t be that much better of a method actor than me, the Tisch-student passersby would reason. Once the door proves unopenable, well-meaning millionaires would flood emergency services with calls. Swat teams would clear the area, a tactical team of specialists would be summoned to open the cage. But that polycarbonate cube will not open, just as I had planned.
Eventually, the child would pass away, at age seven no less. Rescue efforts would cease. After all, the kid was terribly ill, he didn’t have access to medicine or clean water and it was scorching hot where he was left to die. It would be headline news for days; NYPD and FBI investigations would commence. Security footage and eyewitnesses would lead the authorities to my door, guns drawn. I’d surrender.
I would plead innocent and offer to represent myself in court. My core argument? I didn’t kill the kid; I just let him die. Isn’t that your defense for the 10 million kids like him who die every year of the same preventable causes of death that my victim died of? Isn’t that the fate you seal for so many in the developing world, not to mention the climate-ravaged future, in your explicit choice not to donate a dollar or demand your politicians do so on your behalf?
I would reiterate my argument in my closing statement as such: Had I left the kid where he was, he would have suffered the same fate. Any one of you could have wired him fifty bucks to get him some proper nutrition and nurse him back to health. But you didn’t. Explain to me what makes me more complicit than you. Is it that I changed his latitude and longitude to domestic soil, and that makes his life feel more real to you? Is it that I failed to be the Good Samaritan that you also failed to be? You must concede that through this macabre stunt, I have successfully conflated in the public’s minds the polar concepts of murder and permission of death. And maybe that, I would conclude as I rested my case, will save more lives than the one I took.