The Principled Conservatism of The Last of Us (HBO)
Our heroes battle the scourge of a deadly fungus, zombies, and utilitarianism
[Spoiler alert: I am going to be discussing the season finale of the HBO series, The Last of Us. So if you’re planning to watch it and don’t want to know the ending, please set this article aside for another day. Also, trigger warning: The Last of Us is violent. So if that’s a discussion you want to avoid, it’s probably best to skip this one.]
I. The Trolley Problem
The Trolley Problem is a staple of Intro to Philosophy classes in American colleges. I hate The Trolley Problem. But the bougiecrats absolutely love it — it’s their favorite thing. The quintessential presentation of The Trolley Problem comes from Michael Sandel at Harvard and it takes up the better part of the first chapter in his book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? PBS turned his book into a 12-part TV series (the first class is below):
As you probably know, the set up of The Trolley Problem is as follows:
A runaway trolley is bearing down the tracks. Ahead you can see that, if left unchecked, the trolley will kill five workers on down the line. But you also notice a lever that would enable you to switch the trolley to a different track. Ahead on track two is “just” one worker whose life will be eliminated by your actions. Do you have an obligation to switch the track to “save” five lives while killing one?
My theory is that bougiecrats love The Trolley Problem because it gives them permission to play God. They already feel like the chosen ones because they have been told that all their lives. And here they are on the first day of college getting to choose who to kill! Is being a bougiecrat great or what!? They are being trained, by the best colleges in the country, for the role that they will fulfill professionally — playing God as a doctor, politician, CIA agent, management consultant, or regulator.
The Trolley Problem is the embodiment of a philosophy called utilitarianism that goes back to Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. The philosophy can be summarized as, “the greatest good for the greatest number.” If the pluses outweigh the minuses, that is what we must do as a society. So if pulling the lever kills one but saves five, then that is the right thing to do.
I have numerous criticisms of The Trolley Problem and in recent years others have taken it apart as well.
To begin with, the people debating this problem are not engineers, they are studying to become social scientists. They don’t know how trolleys or train tracks actually work. And yet suddenly they are just supposed to start pulling levers this way and that and killing workers because they know best!? No, stay in your lane Chad, no one wants you to start taking over the train system just because you took an Intro to Philosophy course at Harvard.
But that just reinforces my point which is that the real purpose of The Trolley Problem is to teach these young bougiecrats that they have a right to play God.
My second problem is that it presents us with a false choice — you either kill five people or kill one person — what’s it going to be, sport? This constrains creative problem solving. Did anyone ever think to perhaps yell out to the workers that a train is coming? Or wave to the driver about the dangers ahead? Students never think to ask whether there might be an option C where no one is killed (which is how trolley systems are supposed to work).
In one version of The Trolley Problem people are tied to the tracks.
Yet students are never permitted to ask why people are being tied to the tracks in the first place nor are they permitted to suggest that untying them might be a better option rather than running them over. The point of the lesson is that we just have to kill some people so we better get on with it. How very German.
In a particularly gruesome variation on The Trolley Problem students are asked whether they would push a fat person in front of the train (or throw a fat person off a bridge in another variation) to save five people. What the actual f*ck!? Again, could they possibly come up with a more worthless example!? It is doubtful that a single human body, no matter how large, would actually stop a train (buffalo did not stop them so it is unlikely that a human body would). Still no yelling to warn the workers up ahead? Still all-knowing about how the train system works just by virtue of birth? As you can see in the video above, most of the people debating this are America’s version of Brahmins who have won the genetic lottery. Why are they engaging in deranged fantasies about human sacrifice of fat people in an Intro to Philosophy course? How come the bougiecrats are not being asked to jump in front of the trains themselves if it’s such an effective way to save some lives?
The answer to all of these questions is that the real purpose of this thought experiment is to let the Brahmins experience the thrill of, and become addicted to, the idea of playing God.
II. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is a narrative video game that took the world by storm in 2013 and it was turned into a nine-part TV drama by HBO this year (the season finale aired this past Sunday). Set in a fictional 2023, a fungus makes the leap into humans, because of global warming!, and turns most people into flesh eating zombies.
The Last of Us tells the story of Joel Miller (played by Pedro Pascal) and Ellie Williams (played by Bella Ramsey). Joel is a black market smuggler with a violent past. Ellie is a 14-year-old girl who is immune to the deadly fungus because of an exposure that she survived on the first day of life. Joel’s task is to get Ellie across the post-apocalyptic wasteland to a rebel basecamp where Ellie’s natural immunity will be used to develop some sort of treatment or vaccine to stop the pandemic.
This is a variation on a plot that we’ve seen many times before (Contagion, released in 2011, is the most egregious example). In the movement, this plot device sets our teeth on edge because you can never vaccinate your way out of pandemic (that just fuels the evolution of variants), it’s really difficult to develop a vaccine (you don’t just shake up a bunch of serum with some formaldehyde), and vaccines never work as advertised. More often than not these plots are predictive programming designed to get the public hyped for vaccines and technocratic totalitarianism (indeed during the current crisis, public health officials have admitted that they got many of their ideas from watching Contagion). Even though I like zombie movies, I was wary that this series was going to be yet another long commercial for Pfizer.
So I was delighted on Sunday night when The Last of Us flipped the standard script.
[This is the part where I give away the ending, so shield your eyes if you’re planning to watch it later and want to be surprised.]
In the season finale, Joel and Ellie make it to Salt Lake City, Utah. There they are ambushed by their erstwhile allies, a group of survivors called the Fireflies. Joel awakens in a field hospital surrounded by armed guards. He is informed by Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, that Ellie is undergoing surgery to develop a cure for the deadly zombie fungus. Earlier in the series we had hoped that Ellie’s blood would be sufficient to save humanity. But Marlene reveals that the surgeon believes a less harmful variant of the virus had grown inside Ellie and that they must remove the fungus in order to develop a cure. Joel gets a wide-eyed look as he notes that the fungus resides in one’s brain — they aren’t just drawing Ellie’s blood, they are doing brain surgery. The teenage Ellie is thus being sacrificed for the good of humanity.
It’s The Trolley Problem all over again — set in a zombie apocalypse. Kill one person to save humanity — that’s the choice.
Marlene says to Joel, “I have no other choice.”
Joel responds, “I do.”
Joel is not going to allow the 14-year old girl in his care, who over the course of the show has become an adopted daughter, to be sacrificed for the “good of humanity”. While he is being led away into exile he overpowers his guards, kills them, then shoots his way through the hospital and into the operating room, where he kills the surgeon and saves Ellie. Joel then kills Marlene, steals a car, and drives Ellie to safety in Wyoming. This is a stunning turn of events in a culture built around utilitarianism.
I quietly found myself feeling elated by this ending. Science fiction is not telling us about the future per se, usually it’s a commentary on the present. To me, the filmmakers are saying, enough already with this utilitarian nonsense. No, you don’t get to sacrifice one person, no matter how noble your intentions. FIND A BETTER WAY.
Joel thus becomes the embodiment of a certain kind of beautiful principled conservatism that goes something like this: Parenting is a sacred obligation. The state does not have the right to overrule a parent. If that means you need to overthrow the state to protect your child (which is what Joel does in taking over the hospital), so be it. A parent’s obligation to protect a child supersedes all else. Even if the child might want to do otherwise (there are hints that Ellie might have been willing to sacrifice herself “for the good of humanity” if presented with the option) children do not get to make that decision (because they are children).
The Fireflies were stuck in the false choice of The Trolley Problem — kill one or kill many. They could not conceive of any other possibilities. And Joel was saying no, there are principles and obligations that are higher than utilitarianism. A father’s obligation to a child in his care supersedes the interests of the state. FIND ANOTHER WAY.
III. Takeaway — let’s overthrow the scourge of utilitarianism now during the Fauci/Gates Apocalypse so as to prevent the next one from happening
It was jarring to watch The Last of Us immediately after watching the Academy Awards. At the Oscars, speech after speech celebrated diversity, particularly queer individuality, and then pivoted immediately to demanding collectivist solutions to everything — without ever realizing that these principles are in conflict with each other. Apparently the Hollywood elite (what el gato malo calls neiman marxists) celebrate diversity so long as everyone thinks exactly the same.
To then switch over to HBO and see people challenging utilitarianism and putting forth a completely different philosophy was a welcome surprise.
Needless to say the bougiecrats are furious about this season finale. Slate.com was out with a hit piece immediately after the broadcast ended screeching that The Last of Us made a disastrous choice “that comes close to wrecking everything the show has accomplished.” (Disappointment is the bougiecrats’ favorite put down.) The bougiecrats, long-taught that they have a right to play God, are mad when the rest of us do not play along with their twisted fantasies about how the world should work. Of course you should sacrifice the one, they are saying. That’s how things work around here.
No. There is a new sheriff in town. We’re not playing by your dumb rules anymore.
The dirty little secret of utilitarianism is that it never was about “the greatest good for the greatest number”. That was just a marketing gimmick to trick the peasants into sacrificing themselves for capital. The bougiecrats were always going to do what the bougiecrats always do which is to enrich themselves.
If you watch the meetings of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) or the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), they are all utilitarians. But they never actually weigh benefits verses harms. They just play God — constrained by false choices, gleefully choosing who will live and who will die — in ways that enrich themselves. In the hundreds of hours of meetings that I’ve watched over the last 18 months, not once have these so-called “experts” ever contemplated alternatives that would mean sacrificing no one.
Western allopathic doctors believe that you sacrificing your child to enrich them is the greatest possible good. That’s the system we live under. And it is time for this sick era to end. Parents have a sacred obligation to protect children — and that means protecting them from these useless toxic shots. The rights of parents supersede the state. If the choice is between murdering one or murdering five, FIND ANOTHER WAY by which you sacrifice no one. We must dethrone the modern day Mayan High Priests trained in The Trolley Problem at Harvard and the other Ivies. And we must replace their murderous philosophy with a principled conservatism that values every life and sees individuals and families as sacred once again.
Update, March 14, 2023
The more I think about The Trolley Problem the madder I get.
One of the giveaways that The Trolley Problem is actually about something else is the bourgeois contempt for workers that runs throughout the scenario.
Presumably there is a conductor on the trolley. But this person is invisible, never mentioned, and just assumed to be incompetent.
And the thought experiment assumes that there is a very important lever that is just sitting there, unattended, for the public to switch the tracks whenever they want. That makes no sense. A switch like that would reside in a control room filled with workers who dedicate their careers to keeping workers and the public safe.
Finally, the workers on the track are also assumed to be deaf and incompetent. If you work on train tracks every day the #1 thing you are looking out for is oncoming trains. But no, they are completely helpless without the Harvard managerial class coming in to save them!
The Trolley Problem is featured at places like Harvard because it is training the Brahmins to become management consultants (which is what most of them end up doing). Management consulting is one Trolley Problem after another. Do we dump the toxic waste in the river or in the town’s drinking water? Let’s do both, Chad. Because if the company doesn’t survive then the town doesn’t survive so it’s really for the best. Then we can sell a follow-on contract to the public health department to manage the clean up later. Ka-ching!
To me, what’s so insidious about The Trolley Problem is that it erodes and erases ethics while pretending to teach ethics.
Blessings to the warriors. 🙌
Prayers for the vaccine-injured and everyone fighting to stop the iatrogenocide. 🙏
Huzzah for everyone working to build the better world our hearts know is possible. ✊
In the comments, please let me know what’s on your mind.
As always, I welcome any corrections.
It is thrilling to me to find common ground with so many people who were once political adversaries. If you believe in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and are willing fight for truth and liberty, you are my tribe, whether Left or Right (I started out on the Left, moved toward the Right 30 years ago.) COVID tyranny has been a clarifying moment.
Two of my major themes combined:
Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie Williams in The Last of Us, sings "Oceans" by Hillsong United. 🥲