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The Utilitarian Ethicist Part Three

By Kevin Guilfoile


Dear Utilitarian Ethicist,

The other morning I woke up, went to the bathroom and turned on the light. Across the room I saw a little mouse. I figured if I walked into the room it would run and then I would have to set a trap to catch it. Instead, I threw a towel at it and stepped on it. I lifted the towel to find it sort of spread eagle on the floor. I picked it up and put it in the toilet and flushed it. I saw its legs paddling as it spun away. Do you think it is still alive?

G.E. Evanston, IL


Dear G.E.,

Ifm reading your letter for the fourth time now and Ifm wondering if you even know what an ethical dilemma is. In fact, your conscience seems to be suffering not a bit in the wake of your little home crush film. Do I think itfs still alive? Well, how the hell should I know? I mean, I doubt it. Jesus. Now, if your question had been, "Was it right for me to hand down an excruciating death sentence for this helpless creature who wandered into my house guided by nothing but its own instinct for survival?" then I could have walked you through the history of Buddhist thought on the subject, inserting, where appropriate, my own brilliant and radical ideas regarding animal rights, and together we would have come to the conclusion that it would have been more ethical for you to have crushed the skull of a colicky toddler than a healthy mouse whose right it is to live and breathe and enjoy life every bit as much as it is yours and mine and, in fact, as beings with superior intellect and power, but not greater rights to life and happiness, it is our moral obligation to protect our interspecies brethren, even if it means sacrifice to members of our own tribe.

More importantly, where the hell did you get a toilet that can flush an entire live mouse? Thanks to my contractorfs cowardly compliance with the 1992 Federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act, it takes three or four flushes just to rid my powder room of the solid, non-digested left-behind of that eveningfs Glenfiddich-and-Lean Cuisine dinner.

I used to have a terrific toilet. When you flushed it, your dirty business concluded, it made a sound like a jet leaving the deck of a Pacific carrier -- WHOOOSH! Paper towels, spiders, scarabs, roaches. If I were a sociopath like you, and had found a live possum in the house, as big as my arm, I have no doubt that I could have wrapped him loosely in tissue and flushed him to Indiana with a single pull on the handle. Now that itfs been replaced with an impotent, porcelain Chindogu, three flushes per event are about average, and the bathroom plunger never even dries between rescues. These days, an arm-length possum wandering into the house would have to be clubbed messily to death with a bat.

In Las Vegas, Nevada there is a hotel called The Bellagio, and out in front, right along the new Vegas strip, is an 8.5-acre lake feeding a magnificent fountain. According to the Bellagio web site, the fountain boasts 1,200 nozzles and every 15 minutes the nozzles shoot jets 16 stories into the air, each stream dancing jubilantly to songs like "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity, and Lionel Ritchiefs "All Night Long." To operate this $40 million novelty, the Bellagio requires 22 million gallons of water.

The Bellagio, for those who need to be reminded, sits in the middle of the Mojave Desert which, according to a 10-year-old named Michael who put his diligently researched science report on the internet, receives less than five inches of rainfall a year against an evaporation rate of over 100 inches. My home, on the other hand, occupies fertile prairie. When we have a water emergency here, it usually involves sump-pumping our basements before the flood warps our orange crates full of Corey Hart and Spandeau Ballet records. With the 22 million gallons hoarded by the Bellagio for the mild amusement of its guests, more than 120 regular bowel movers like myself could flush their magnificent old-style, high-flow toilets twice-a-day, every day, from their cradles to their graves, with no net loss to global water reclamation.

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Dear Utilitarian Ethicist,

Just last week, I was visiting a friend whofs doing grad work at Princeton. Well, my friend and I went out on a bar crawl. I dropped him off and was driving home when I heard two loud bumps. I'd run over an Australian ethics professor. No one saw me. Ifll never drink and drive again, but should I turn myself in? Ifve learned my lesson, and it wouldnft serve society any by punishing me. Yet I still feel guilty. What should I do?

--D.C., Waterloo, Canada


Dear D.C.,

"Princeton?" An "Australian ethics professor?" "Two loud bumps?" Despite your clever Canadian camouflage I know exactly to whom you refer: He is my bitterest rival, my arch foe: the man who steals from me the ideas he most fancies, and mocks the ones he cannot comprehend. We donft need to spell out his name in this column, although we can display it as an easy-to-solve anagram: REPETE RESING. Itfs enough to know that he appropriates my theories in the pages of prestigious academic journals, then condescends to me at cocktail parties, as if he were bigger than Wittgenstein and I did not hold a prestigious chair at the third-best University in America.

Remember that movie, "I Know What You Did Last Summer," in which four teenagers -- drunks like you -- run over a similarly horrible man? Freddie Prinze, Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, a guy I donft know, and Jennifer Love Hewitt incompetently dispose of the still-twitching body and it comes back a year later to haunt/slash/kill them. Your scenario is similar, although the man you were incapable of finishing off for good tortures us all with tedious articles in the Times Magazine in which he boasts of being a better person than you and me just because hefs willing to kill retarded babies and doesnft eat meat. Well, Ifd happily kill retarded babies and I never eat red meat but I donft go around lording it over everybodyfs heads.

Last week, your wounded ethics professor limped into a Virginia Hilton and gave a speech in which he claimed that Christianity impedes the progress of animal rights by perpetuating the fiction that humans are fundamentally and morally superior to animals. On this point, he and I agree.

Roadkill is roadkill.

This essay originally appeared on the website dezmin.com.

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