I want to talk about the ethics involved in the whole Incursion situation in New Avengers.
For those who don't know, this is how the Incursions work: 2 parallel universes come into contact with each other, with the contact point being Earth. This process takes 8 hours. If the 2 Earths touch, both Earths, and both of their entire universes, are destroyed. But, if one Earth is destroyed, then the other Earth, and both universes, are saved (until the next Incursion, which will take place between the saved Earth and a new parallel universe).
The Illuminati (currently Reed Richards, Dr Strange, Black Bolt, Black Panther, Namor, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Beast) fully understand this situation. They have, just in case, built a bomb that can destroy another Earth, but have avoided using it. They have managed to save our Earth several times without having to destroy another Earth directly by themselves, and so have avoided the crux of the ethical question at hand: is it worth it to destroy another planet in order to save your own planet as well as your universe and the other universe?
However in New Avengers 21 they finally have to decide whether to destroy another Earth. They now have no other choice: either destroy the other Earth, using their bomb, or do nothing, in which case both universes are destroyed.
After lots of hand-wringing throughout the series, all the Illuminati say they can't actually pull the switch to set off the bomb, offering various ethical arguments for why they can't. Finally Namor says he'll do it, and in fact he does, thus destroying the other Earth, but saving our Earth, our universe, and the other universe.
I believe Namor made the correct ethical decision, and the rest of the Illuminati are fooling themselves and even being selfish. Here I'd like to examine their arguments, and point out a classic case from ethics and philosophy that is a very similar situation.
The classic case is called the Trolley problem, and you can read about it here. Also, This American Life did a great piece on it, here.
The original version goes like this: a trolley is going down the tracks. If it keeps going on the same track, it will run over 5 people who are tried up on the track. However, if you turn a switch so it runs down a different track, then those 5 people will all survive--but instead it will run over 1 person who is tied up on that alternate track. Do you turn the switch and run the trolley down the alternate track?
An alternate version goes like this: The trolley is going down the track, and there are 5 people tied up like before. But, you can stop the trolley by dropping a large weight on it. As it happens there is an enormously fat man next to you. If you drop the fat man on the trolley, it will stop the trolley and save the 5 people, but kill the fat man. Do you throw the fat man off the bridge and stop the trolley?
In surveys, most people choose to flip the switch in the first example, but less people choose to throw the fat man over the bridge in the second example, even though in both cases they are making a choice to sacrifice one life instead of 5 lives. This is usually because people feel much more active and involved in the second case, like they are doing the killing, whereas in the first problem they are just flipping a remote switch and they feel less personally responsible for the single death.
I would argue that the Illuminati don't see that these two problems are basically the same problem. Let's look at what they say:
Reed says, "I don't think I can. I know it's a necessary evil. I know I would be saving hundreds of trillions of live at the cost of mere billions....But even with all things hanging in the balance...there is a line." So Reed is basically looking at the Trolley question directly through the lens of the Fat Man version, and saying that he won't flip the switch/push the fat guy: he would rather have 5 people die than be part of killing the one, or to put it in the case he's actually facing, he'd rather both universes die than be part of killing the one earth and saving the other earth and both universes.
Stark, Beast, and Banner all agree they don't want to use it without explanation. Beast and Banner have in the past however agreed that they feel like using the bomb would somehow make them lose their humanity. Beast says in 19: "What if this isn't an exercise in survival, but a question of humanity? You tell me--who here knows better than you and I the reality of that struggle...and how easily the human gives way to something less moral and more primal."
Strange won't do it, but only because he had already tried to destroy the planet through magical means, and the Illuminati stopped him, so he's mad at them.
Black Bolt doesn't say, but the implication is that he won't do it.
Then Black Panther, an ethical utilitarian if ever there was one, says he'll do it. He is backed by the spirits of past Black Panthers who say that he needs to do whatever it takes to keep his own Wakanda alive. This is a different argument than the trolley question; it's saying that our Earth, with our Wakanda, is actually more deserving of life, regardless of the numbers question. That's a whole different point and less defensible.
However Panther balks. He says, "The horror of it--the inhumanity. Murdering all those people. Killing a world. ...It's wrong." Then: "Shouldn't such [an act] be beneath us? The very nature of it...the ignobility of it."
Reed follows up with him: "When we got to the end of ourselves, we found that there were things we would not do. And you know, I am not ashamed of that. You shouldn't be either....It matters."
However, Namor counters: "'It matters.' The way you people talk about your lives---like they mean something. 'It matters.' I am the greatest man I know...but compared to this, I'm nothing. Just as you...are nothing...."
Reed tells him "it's not worth it."
Namor returns, "These lines you won't cross...these things you won't do..they SHAME you. How dare any of you put yourself--your damned morals--above the lives of every living thing? The truth is, you people aren't worth that...and neither am I. Our lives are a pittance." Then he sets off the bomb.
I would argue that Namor sees this problem correctly. (As he says, hilariously, next issue, they should thank him for doing it.) Among the others, Richards, Panther, Beast, and Banner are all arguing that their own personal feeling of sin/shame/humanity/self-worth are more important than the lives of everyone in both universes. In other words, they don't want to kill everyone on the one earth, thereby saving the rest of both universes, because they would feel bad--for the ten remaining minutes before they themselves are destroyed!
Namor explicitly points this out--he says they're putting their morals over others' lives. What would all the dead people in both universes care about how badly one person feels, compared to the fact that their own lives are ended?
And note that the other Illuminati aren't even necessarily trying to stop one of their compatriots from setting off the bomb for most of this conversation--Reed keeps trying to pass it on to someone else for a while. No one tries to stop Black Panther, for instance, although they do tell Namor to stop. By implication, they are OK with the other Earth dying, they just don't want to be the one to pull the trigger themselves.
I believe the Illuminati in this situation are completely off their ethical rocker, and Namor is the only one of sound mind. Basically I'm annoyed because Hickman is trying to present this as a legitimate ethical dilemma for the heroes, and I don't think it is. If the situation was, you kill one earth to save just your own earth, I could see it. That could seem selfish, although selfishness can still be defensible. But it not only saves your earth, it saves both universes. The choice is obvious. And for making it, Namor gets attacked by Panther and blamed for his actions by all the Illuminati in the next issue.
Anyway. Thoughts on the ethics of the Incursions? Does anyone agree with Reed/Panther/Beast/Banner? Any thoughts on the Trolley problem?