Decision of a person at 2nd tier or above - kill, die or else?

What would be your decision as a person at 2nd tier or above if you were A and the 20th day were now? How would you describe your decision based on integral theory (or more deeply, or on whatever logic)?

The following abbreviated story is from “Justice” by Michael J. Sandel.
(Please bring your mindfulness first before reading…)

"In the summer of 1884, four English sailors were stranded at sea in a small lifeboat, over a thousand miles from land. Their ship had gone down in a storm, and they had escaped to the lifeboat, with only two cans of preserved turnips and no fresh water. A was the captain, B was the first mate, and C was a sailor — “all men of excellent character,” according to newspaper accounts.

The fourth member of the crew was the cabin boy, D, age seventeen. He was an orphan, on his first long voyage at sea. He had signed up against the advice of his friends, “in the hopefulness of youthful ambition,” thinking the journey would make a man of him. Sadly, it was not to be.

From the lifeboat, the four stranded sailors watched the horizon, hoping a ship might pass and rescue them. For the first three days, they ate small rations of turnips. On the fourth day, they caught a turtle.
They subsisted on the turtle and the remaining turnips for the next few days. And then for eight days, they ate nothing.

By now D, the cabin boy, was lying in the corner of the lifeboat. He had drunk seawater, against the advice of the others, and become ill. He appeared to be dying. On the nineteenth day of their ordeal,
A, the captain, suggested drawing lots to determine who would die so that the others might live. But C refused, and no lots were drawn.

The next(20th) day came, and still no ship was in sight. A told C to avert his gaze and motioned to B that D had to be killed. A offered a prayer, told the boy his time had come, and then killed him with a penknife, stabbing him in the jugular vein. C emerged from his conscientious objection to share in the gruesome bounty. For four days, the three men fed on the body and blood of the cabin boy.

And then help came. A describes their rescue in his diary, with staggering euphemism: “On the 24th day, as we were having our breakfast,” a ship appeared at last. The three survivors were picked up. Upon their return to England…"

I think I need to give a little explanation. I was a little worried when I posted this question as it is an extreme case. But personally, I think this kind of case is happening to someone somewhere in this world, though it would not be dead or alive, but it could be the same tough and suffering to the one in the situation. See the newspaper - there are so many similar cases like that, but we just avoid being in the case or just criticize as the 3rd-person. So I raised this case - I would really like to hear how persons at 2nd-tier or above would decide, think and behave, not as an outsider, but as an insider; not as a philosopher, but as one of those living in a common daily life. And it will be really helpful to a person like me at 1st-tier to get diverse opinions, for us to be pulled up. I’d appreciate your sharing.


I don’t have any answers, just wanted to appreciate this post. I am a huge fan of Sandel, and remember reading about this moral dilemma in that book. Maybe Ken and @corey-devos could do a segment on the Ken show about how Integralists handle famous ethical dilemmas, like this one or the “trolly problem.” Maybe we can even compile a list of classic moral dilemmas for them to tackle. Thanks for your interest in the subject!

Thanks for your appreciation, @HawaiianRyan It would be great honored if this question is talked and responded by KW, himself. Hope that it happen!

I just recently watched a DVD of a movie called “In the Heart of the Sea.” It was based on a non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820, which inspired Melville’s novel “Moby Dick.” Encountering the gigantic albino bull sperm whale, the crew of the Essex ended up in small whaling boats, food and water ran out, one man died and the others cannibalized him. Later, desperate, they cannibalized another crew member, who volunteered to sacrifice himself, as he was near death and had no will to go on.

So this problem or moral dilemma you present, ILP0000, resonated in the context of that movie/story, among other things.

I don’t know that I have an answer either, but I do notice several things in the “Justice” story. During The Ken Show this past week, which was on lines of development, Ken differentiated ethics from morals–ethics answering the question “what is good,” and morality referring to “what is right.” The point was made that a group can have a code of ethics that all group members agree to as a definition of what is “good” within the group, but this “good” can be highly relative, i.e. an outsider might not think the code quite as good as do the members themselves. (Think of white supremacy groups and the ethics-glue that holds them together…)

So, as pertains to these sailors in the “Justice” story, there wasn’t an agreed-upon group ethic regarding cannibalism–C refused to draw lots to determine who would die when Captain A suggested it; perhaps C at that point had a moral conscience that either the taking of life itself wasn’t “right,” or, that cannibalism wasn’t “right” (although in the days ahead, he did eat, didn’t he?)

As Captain, A got off to the right start, I think, in suggesting the drawing of lots if there was to be sacrificial death/cannibalism in order to protect/preserve as many lives as possible, but he seems to have regressed with his exclusion of C in the decision-making about killing D. He also excluded D, although we don’t know if D was alert enough to even know what was going on.

So I think the ethics of this group/culture was lacking; not only was there no agreement about what is “good” in their situation, there really was no cohesive group, period.

As to the morality or what is right in the situation, while it’s hard to know what one would do in a desperate situation such as this, I personally have less problem with the cannibalism so that some can survive, than I do with the taking of D’s life. But even with that, I have mixed thoughts/feelings. On the one hand, I think, if D was really close to dying, couldn’t they wait just a little longer? On the other hand, I think that out of mercy, we do kill suffering animals, so euthanizing a suffering human can be an act of mercy too, but one hopes that the suffering human has a say in the situation, and D did not.

Also, visiting the right-hand quadrants, science tells us that a body can survive 1-2 months without food; this group was on the 20th day, so my rational mind, if it were still functioning in such a situation, would take that into consideration. Also, the story says they had no fresh water, but given that science says a body can survive only 3-7 days without water and this crew was on the 20th day, they apparently had found some way of having some drinking water (maybe like Robert Redford in another excellent sea-faring survival movie, “All Is Lost,” they were able to collect dew drops of fresh water from some ‘sweating’ piece of plastic…)

All in all, my biggest objection to A’s decisions/behavior is the taking of D’s life. Even though it was done so that 3 others might survive, and even though D appeared to be dying, it doesn’t seem morally right to me to kill one of one’s “own” in order to cannibalize him and feed self and two others. No, thank you. But of course, I wasn’t there…

I’m not sure exactly how this would map onto Wilber’s tiers or state-stages, but it seems to me that a person who has become aware of the subtle but profoundly real interconnectedess of all life would make decisions based less on abstract intellectual reasoning and more on the state of mind of each person involved, and their immediate needs and wishes. As Ginny Whitelaw (I think) said at the “What NOW” conference nearly 16 months ago, at the higher tiers we don’t so much think through decisions as metabolize them.

Also, it seems to me that the higher up we are among the tiers, the less identified we are with our physical bodies, and thus the less traumatized in the face of impending physical death. And if we have already had consciousness experience of our subtle bodies, we KNOW we are more than our physical bodies. Which, it seems to me, would change the whole dynamic, shifting it away from a desperate grasping to preserve physical life and toward alleviating suffering in the present moment as much as possible.

And if some or all of those in the boat have any credence in karma and reincarnation, that would shape the dynamic, and any decisions made. And if any of them has had an actual experience of remembering past lives, and is therefore sure that who we really are is not limited to this one physical body…

An interesting question!

I appreciate all your responses above.

Let me explain why I raised this topic: two things I wondered about (regardless of any decisions, or the breakthrough answers that look not much meaningful in this case) are the true meaning of “transcend and include,” and the reasons of the differences on their decision.

  1. As far as I understood, if people transcended and included the previous stages - the first-tier, here for instance - they must be non-allergic and non-addicted to any values in the 1-st tier. And KW describes in “A Theory of everything” that higher-tier persons can go down at their will, if my understanding is correct. That would mean, I infer, that when it comes to an environment where they need to go down to 1-st tier environment, 2nd or higher persons (say, in every aspect such as grow-up, wake-up, etc.) make any decisions without any hesitation, regret, sense of sin, or else because they already transcended and included low-tier values, But I am not sure whether my idea is right or wrong…
    To put it differently, we do not always come across win-win situation, but “chicken game” or “zero-sum” situation, unfortunately. When there are no alternatives for both or many to make happy, so they need to go down to 1-tier value, how would they feel, think and decide? Would they still be calm? Would they still be happy? Would they still be with True Self? Would they still be fulfilled? Would they be self-forgiven?

  2. Even if one is completely in 2nd-tier in all (on most) aspects, their decision would be different, I guess. One may prefer less people’s sacrifice, or self-sacrifice, or same portions of sacrifice, or etc. And I am curious what would make the difference - is it due to psychograph, or typology or else? It could be a big topic I may raise as another thread…

Anyone’s any opinions or advice on 1 and/or 2 are welcomed!

We know that some people will “sacrifice” themselves for saving others whether they are related or not. Not sure if there is evidence on what motivates these “saviors” or where they stand in their moral development but maybe we can try to make some guesses. There is a general acceptance (somewhat unconscious) that women and children should be saved first in a case like this and that captains are to be held responsible for their crew. In this case, it appears that no one was ready to sacrifice themselves and so the captain, as the “leader”, went for the weakest. We can assume that this came out of his own reasoning of the situation while taking into account his mental and physical conditions. We don’t know all the details obviously and in such a life or death situation, one’s direct experience (inner state and outer context) are paramount. Most people won’t be confronted with a dilemma like this one in reality. Someone’s affected state and conditions of being lost at sea for 20 days without food and water makes a big difference in how they act and think. Someone with lots of awakening experience might be better equipped to face such an ordeal (we definitely have evidence for that).

From a developmental perspective, we can assume that our survival drive starts as less encompassing than, let’s say, our self-actualization drive. I think that, if the captain had been coming from a more conscious and aware self, he would have proposed to sacrifice himself. This would have “given” more chance for the others to survive (that is if they are capable of eating one’s flesh and that they aim for the most to survive). Then, the risk of having two lives lost would have been higher but there is no way to know that at the moment the decision was made. Therefore, I think he went for a more probabilistic stance (taking into account that he first proposed that chance should dictate their faith and that one of them could be used as food in the first place which could both be described as a values stance or a certain level of virtue) and other factors in his self-awareness we can only try to emulate from our own perspective.

Another route would have been to wait and see until the weakest die of exhaustion and then use him as food as a last resort or not. In this scenario, it seems the orphan had the highest chance of dying first (maybe because of drinking sea water). But again they could all have died on that boat imminently just like a major cataclysm could kill all or most complex life forms on earth tomorrow morning. From a “god’s view,” this has no absolute consequences. Such scenarios probably occurred more than once without any recorded trace and involution and evolution kept on. Coming back to earth, we have evidence that some ants will sacrifice themselves in an attempt to protect their colony. Or we can think of someone killing oneself with the purpose of killing others to defend his or her cause. They might believe in their absolute truth to justify killing others (absolute pain, absolute right and so on). Or again, we can think of how we are rapidly annihilating life-supporting conditions on earth by trying to “save” or “promote” our own individual asses (it’s a bit more complex than that but we can draw a similar pattern on a wider span and longer time frame). It appears that a “lower depth” consciousness has a survival instinct that is quite different than one at a “higher depth”. Another interesting pattern is how we humans seem to need to develop a sense of self to maybe and eventually have to let go of it more and more. I like the idea that every move evolution makes is to get closer to unity consciousness. It might appear to be failing miserably at it but it keeps trying. Not sure why this is happening but here we are, and talking, and thinking, and all the rest.

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