The Train

“Think about this,” the question is prompted, “two pairs of tracks run parallel, on the left are two workers, and on the right are four. You are standing beside the lever that can change the course of a train incoming from the right to the left. A train is coming on the right, too fast to stop, if it continues it will kill the four men working on the track. Do you choose to change the train from the right to the left or leave it be?”

There is silence. And for a moment I thinkL'Arrivée_d'un_train_en_gare_de_La_Ciotat.jpeg about the outcomes, which I would prefer. My stomach aches, anxiety. But that’s what the question was designed to do.

In a rush, other options are suggested. The question curves around them to stop them from flying out of the court.

“I would yell.”

“They’re too far away.”

“I would warn them from the loud speaker.”

“The loud speaker is broken.”

The question has none of the variables of real life, because the scenario is a scenario. The point of it is to make you choose, or at least expose the fact that you can’t.

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Only with trains.

And, to be honest, I don’t know. I’ve never known and I don’t know anyone who does. And I couldn’t answer that question about the men and the train, but I’m very suddenly aware of it, and that is the only development. All it teaches you is to stay away from train stations.

But the point is if you’re questioning if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, then you’re already fucked. The train is already speeding towards you and you have reached the point of no return. Nobody talks about the train, because the train is posed like a force of nature. But it’s not, it’s a train, and something has had to go very wrong for us to have come to this point.


I wanted Hillary to win.

But that doesn’t mean I liked her pantsuits.

I liked the way that she was a woman, I liked that she was unyielding in the face of her opponent; I liked that skit she did with SNL. I liked her daughter, and her dignity. I even liked the way she holds her chin a little bit higher when she listens to something she doesn’t agree with even though I hate it when people do that to me. I liked the way that she stood. But I didn’t like her when she spoke, when she made her speeches. I thought she smirked too often and her smile was too thin. There were issues. When she made speeches she had arrogance, she spoke like she had it in the bag.

The only speech I liked was the one after she lost, she didn’t smirk in that speech, and her smiles seemed a little lighter. She spoke with dignity, with grace. She could have ignored the fact that she had lost, or named it unjust or corrupt. But she didn’t, she accepted her loss and she said that she was sorry, and that she was glad that she had had a chance. She looked like she was finished with that; done with that person who she was when she made speeches before that.

And I knew that Hillary would win.

We watched the election, mum and I, in an attic in Brooklyn, and I knew she would win. We ate Lebanese pizza from down the road, and chips and artisanal donuts, and drank beer. We watched the election like you watch a fixed game. It was nice. And I knew she would win. I went to sleep when Hillary was winning like I knew she would, and when I woke up again she hadn’t won and suddenly I didn’t know that she would win anymore because she hadn’t.

And it took a little while for that to sink in.

And the next morning we mourned that, that thing that we had known.

And there were fewer people on the subway that day, and weeping gay men in Union Square holding up signs and I spent the day wondering why I didn’t know anymore.


This afternoon, I exercised self-restraint and didn’t buy a coffee when I really wanted to, so that I would have the money to buy sweetened condensed milk, so that tomorrow I can make caramel. After doing that, I’m going to go to Harper’s speech, and after that I’m going to go to the doctor. And I’m not going to save or damn anyone.

At most I’m going to walk a lot.

Because it’s not my call.

I don’t know if we’re better together, or even what the specifics of “we” are, but I know that one person yelling at the sky is pointless, but a thousand make a protest. And nothing is united entirely, but trying has had some results.

Because it was not just one weeping gay man in union square.

And it wasn’t just one that protested outside Trump tower.

And it wasn’t just one person that voted against this outcome.

But here we are, Donald Trump is the president elect and respecting democracy means accepting that, because we’re here now.

And he’s driving the train now.

And in the metaphor, there is option A or B, the lives of the many, the lives of the few. But this is the real world, and in the real world we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into the victim role, because there will always be loud speakers, and there will always be other factors and sometimes, we are going to have to yell.

4 thoughts on “The Train

  1. I couldn’t make the choice either. In fact, I skimmed over the details knowing that I would not be responsible for having a solution, an answer. I wanted to get to the rest of the post, the feeling part. And I got there and felt so much more at home. I knew which way was up. And therein lies the rub. We crave the comfort of knowing, of the known, the predictable, the visible and overt. And so often these are not there so we grasp quickly for whatever appears like it might be the next best thing and we tell ourselves some stories, to calm our nerves, to relocate that precious sense of comfort we were craving in the first place.
    This post speaks gently and peacefully to the tremendous disorientation so many of us experienced and continue to experience. Realizing that we will probably have to yell is hard for many of us. We feel so underprepared, so out of character and yet we will rail against the injustice of it all. We will yell. Not once but often and over and over. We have to.


  2. You win the deep metaphor prize.

    I see 50 million and change on one side of the tracks, 50 million and slightly less change on the other, and the other 100 million who just decided to stay home, not realizing the train is headed their way.

    There will be yelling. Please keep writing.


  3. Pingback: On Advocacy: Hybrid Pedagogy’s 2016 List of Lists - Hybrid Pedagogy

  4. My heart is still heavy from the train metaphor and my mind is still racing with a million solutions, knowing that the aim of the metaphor isn’t to come up with viable solutions.

    On a Vconnecting hangout w Kate and Audrey during OpenEd16 i think i called Trump winning the unthinkable… But i said that even if Hillary wins, America has a problem. A year earlier, in a different hangout, before Trump was nominated as Republican candidate, I said that if 10% of Americans supported Trump, America has a big problem. At this point, where he has actually won, clearly the problem is even bigger… But the problem has been brewing for years. And unfortunately not only in America.

    Let’s keep on yelling together


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