Chapter 38 – Are We Responsible for Other People’s Decisions?

Michael explains that while humans think they are making one choice, they are in fact, unwittingly, making dozens of choices they are not aware they are making.  This is what results in people being sent to The Bad Place, who, in previous centuries, would not have been sent to The Bad Place.  The lesson that writers Christopher Encell and Joe Mande make is that life is too complicated to be good.  However, as I will show, it is that the afterlife is, in fact, unjust because it confuses responsibility.

Michael explains to the Judge that actions that should be neutral or positive point gains result in negative points.  Tomatoes are given as an example.  The purchase of a tomato gains a person 3.019 points because it is a nominally healthy foodstuff.  However, buy purchasing the tomato, a person actually ends up with over negative 12 points.  The reason being that the tomato was grown using pesticides.  The use of pesticides in and of itself is bad.  Additionally, there are more negative points for the effects on the environment.  The workers who pick the tomatoes are underpaid resulting in negative points.  The trucks used to ship the tomatoes are inefficient and therefore, pollute more and contribute to climate change.

The afterlife is making one responsible for the decisions of other people.  To see why, I want to use a though experiment from Bernard Williams.  Williams has a famous story involving Jim and Pedro.  Jim is traveling in a South American country when he stumbles upon government troops about to kill twenty innocent villagers.  Pedro, the captain of the troops, says that since Jim is an honored visitor, he will give Jim a choice.  Jim can kill one of the villagers and the other nineteen will be let go as part of the special occasion of Jim being there.  However, if Jim refuses, then there is no special occasion.  Jim will be allowed to leave, but Pedro will shoot all twenty villagers.

The utilitarian answer is that the person should shoot the one villager.  Given the choice between one person dying or twenty people dying, it is better that one person dies.  However, Williams argues that this utilitarian reasoning is wrong.  It is not a case of killing one to save nineteen.  Instead, it is a case of Jim killing one person or Pedro killing twenty people.  Utilitarianism makes a person responsible for the outcome.  In doing so, it makes one responsible for what other people do.  Williams is correct.  Jim is responsible for what he does, he is not responsible for what Pedro does.

The same faulty reasoning applies to the afterlife.  A person is responsible for buying the tomato.  The person is responsible for making the salad.  The person is responsible for eating the salad.  The person is not responsible for the store selling the tomato.  That was the mangers decision.  The manager, of course, is not responsible for the pesticide use or underpaid labor.  The person or persons responsible for that are those running the farm.  One may lose points for contributing to climate change by driving to the store to buy the tomato or by using pesticides in one’s own garden.  However, one cannot be held responsible for the decisions of other people to pollute.

The lesson of the episode is supposed to be that life is too complicated, but the reality is that the problem is that the accounting department is confusing responsibility.