Coffee and a Cigarette

Richi walks into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? Well for Richi, this was going to be one of the strangest nights of his life. The bar he walked into was a nondescript dive bar. A few tables lay scattered around two pool tables. A pinball machine glaringly announced its existence in a corner. Unfortunately for the machine, this was a disinterested world which had moved on from games like pinball and pool. Augmented reality was where it was at nowadays and these small establishments just couldn’t keep up. The bar was relatively empty and old 90s music was blaring from the speakers.

…..…I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain……

The reason Richi was even in this place was that it was slightly cheap. It’s not implied that Richi was stingy, he was just going through a rough time financially. He was a freelancer and it was getting tough to get new clients. The competition was really harsh in his line of work. While not particularly skilled he managed to get the job done and really hadn’t botched a job as yet. We’ll come to his job description in due time.

He was sitting at the glass counter which was smudgy, wet and epitomised the disinterest the bartender felt at his job. He was just about to order another drink when a woman sat at the bar stool next to his. He turned to look at her and was left staring. She was drop dead gorgeous. Beautiful blonde hair complemented a radiant oval face with wide blue eyes. She was wearing a red top that clung to her body accentuating her marvellous breasts and the neckline revealing just enough to drive a man’s breath away. She had beautiful tattoos decorating her left arm like a renaissance masterpiece.

Richi suddenly realised that he was staring at her for quite some time and forcefully drew his gaze away from her. He ordered his drink and was contemplating speaking to her when she turned to him and said, “Excuse me, but don’t I know you from somewhere?”.

Richi turned to her with a pallid smile on his face thinking to himself Be cool Be cool. “I don’t think we’ve ever met.” he managed to stammer.

“Strange. I’ve a good memory for faces and I’m sure I’ve seen your face before.”

“Well, my name is Richi. Does that ring any bells?”

“No, but I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen you before. What is it that you do for a living?”

Richi put on the best casual face that he could and replied, “I’m a hitman for hire.”

If any of you think it strange that a hitman announces his profession so openly, you need to ponder the times we live in.

The woman looked visibly excited.

“Now I remember. I’ve seen you on a billboard outside my office. Assassin for hire it reads.”

If you find it stranger still, that assassins advertise themselves openly, I can only say Get with the times old sport.

Richi sensed this excitement in her and it emboldened him. “What is it that you do?” he enquires of her.

“I’m a philosophy major. My name is Nina.” she replies.

Up until this point nothing out of the ordinary has happened which might lead some of you to believe that this is just a boy meets girl story. You promised us strangeness I hear you cry. Well the strange part of this tale is the conversation these two, the hitman and the psychologist, share over the course of this night. Let’s listen in shall we?

Richi: So what exactly is it that a philosopher does professionally? I was never clear on the idea.

Nina: I study ethics and morals. I must tell you, it is fascinating for me to meet a hitman. I’ve never met one before.

Richi: You don’t say. Well, I’ve never met a philosopher before. What exactly do you mean when you say you study ethics and morals?

Nina:  I study how people react to different moral dilemmas. For example, today I came across this old 19th century thought experiment called the Trolley Problem. Have you heard of it?

Richi: Yes, I’ve heard of it.

Hey! banjara’s back. You didn’t think it was going to be all dialogue, did you? Where’s the fun in that? For the uninitiated the trolley problem was put forward by Philippa Foot. She was a thinker, that one. One night after a tremendous argument with her boyfriend she decided to go to the nearest pub and get plastered. In the inebriated state she was, she thought up ways that her boyfriend would die. Following this train of thought she began thinking of train accidents. That’s how she devised the now famous Trolley Problem. The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment which goes as follows.

There is a runaway trolley barrelling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. Who tied up five people on a railway track you ask. Maybe the same guys who hired Richi to bomb a brunch. Who knows.

Anyway, the trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. How often do you stand in train yards? If the answer is too often, you might want to think about getting some hobbies. Moving on.

If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: (A) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (B) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice?

Think about which choice you’ll make while I shamelessly listen in on their conversation again.

Nina: Cool. So as a hitman the answer must be easy for you?

Richi: Obviously. Any sane person would choose to save five lives and sacrifice the one. Did you think that just because I’m a hitman I would choose to kill five people?

Nina: That’s strange. I wouldn’t expect you to place any value on human life. Why act and kill one when inaction saves you from guilt?

Richi: I don’t fully understand it myself but I would save the five.

There is a brief silence as Nina absorbs what Richi is saying. The jukebox is teasingly playing a classic by Cage the Elephant.

………. Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked, Money don’t grow on trees…………

Nina: So what would you do when the scenario changes to the classic variation of the problem?

The classic variation of the problem goes something like this: You and a large man are standing next to the railway track with the runaway trolley. If you push the large man onto the tracks it might derail the trolley and save the five people. You yourself are too light to derail the trolley.

Richi: It makes logical sense to push the large man on the tracks. You save five lives in exchange of one.

Nina: You kill people for a living so it is easy for you to say so but it isn’t that easy for a normal person to actively kill another human being.

Richi: We have all evolved from animals and have been killing each other for millennia. Why is it suddenly hard to kill a person when you can clearly save five?

Nina: Most people come up against their innate moral values. The second time there is no switch between you and the life you are taking.

Richi: But in the first case too you are for all practical purposes killing another human being. How is this any different?

Nina: I can’t explain it in a way that makes logical sense. Some things are meant to be felt not thought about. Like you couldn’t explain why you would choose to kill one to save five, this too can’t be explained.

Hey! It’s me again. Just wanted to put a star trek quote in here somewhere. ‘Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. – Spock’

Richi: Maybe because I deal with death regularly it gives me a clearer perspective. The people you refer to as normal have been killing each other for some very silly reasons. During ancient times humans used to be sacrificed to appease the gods. The greater good prevailed, in a sense. Why is it suddenly that modern man has become so squeamish about death?

Nina: It is because we live in more enlightened times. Humanity has realised the value of human life.

Richi: What enlightened times are you talking about? Oil is more valuable than human lives to some. I’ve seen people order hits just to get a promotion at their job or just because they found out that their significant other was cheating on them.  The number of people in my trade have grown exponentially. I can tell you the value of a human life down to the cent.

Nina: But that just isn’t true for most people. Most people respect and value human lives.

Richi: If most people valued human lives we would not have problems like starvation and poverty. How many people would rather own a shiny automobile than donate to charity? How many would elect capable leaders than elect people who only want power for powers sake?

Nina: Hmm. You are right of course. The way things are now it looks bleak, but I have hope for a better future. I believe in humanity. There are a lot of good people out there and they are working to change things. I believe.

Richi: Well what can I say except that hope reigns eternal. Say do you want to continue this discussion at my place?

Nina: Oh. I have a boyfriend.

Thus ended Richi’s night and this tale too. Does hope truly reign though? What do you see in mankind’s future? Being brought up on Asimov and Clarke banjara believes mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. But he worries sometimes. Don’t we all?


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