The Lesser Evil


As I stood at the platform, trying (for the umpteenth time) not to curse the Hammersmith line for running a ridiculously spaced out schedule at rush hour, an announcer informed us that some other line was experiencing severe delays because – wait for it – cables had been stolen off the tracks! My first thought was ‘At least it’s not the usual body on the track excuse’, but then I felt bad because a body on the track clearly means someone was dead or very badly injured. My second thought was ‘Oh, British thieves will steal anything!’, for which I felt incredibly guilty again but at least I could live with that thought. This got me thinking about the brain’s capacity to process bad news depending on how much we choose to accept different degrees of severity.

Apparently there is a “lesser of two evils principle” which is used in politics when a decision has to be made between two bad choices. When presented with shady electoral candidates, voters might not like any of the candidates but they decide it is better to choose the one that will mostly likely be the least scandalous or problematic in office. This way when they look back on their flawed decision they can say, ‘At least we didn’t vote in so-and-so. They would have been much worse’. War strategies have even been based on this principle; it was supposed to have influenced Cold War-era foreign policies and is also how some “developed” countries assess their actions against modern-day dictators.

So, if I apply this principle to my delayed train scenario, my brain accepted that it was better that TFL had to replace the stolen cables (that surely cost thousands of pounds) than that a life was lost/person maimed. Which clearly sounds like a good assessment in this scenario but also sounds like a dubious way to access all bad news/scenarios. I guess it’s just another mechanism the human brain has developed to cope with the things life throws at us.

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