- Ellie Kurttz/National Theatre
Audiences for “The Majority,” a new play at the National Theatre in London, are being turned into guinea pigs for a social experiment, which deals with whether it’s acceptable to kill people who hold far-right political views.
In short, a lot of people are.
Some 11% of the audience on press night this week essentially said they would kill a Nazi sympathiser given the chance.
More than a quarter decided they were less worthy of being saved in an emergency than other people.
The question was especially urgent as recriminations continue over the violent rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, and threaten to engulf the White House.
Here’s how “The Majority” works :
The play, which opened on Monday night, poses a series of yes/no questions of increasing moral complexity. The audience answers in real time using electronic voting pads.
The group of around 250 people* was asked increasingly fraught variants of the trolley problem classic thought experiment, which soon took a political turn.
Audience members were first asked the regular version: Whether they would pull a lever to redirect a runaway rail trolley so that it kills only one person, instead of five if they do nothing. Seventy percent said they would.
When the proposition involved more direct action – physically pushing somebody in front of the car to save the others – the figures flipped. Twenty-eight percent said they would, compared to 70% who wouldn’t.
But the original dilemma got significantly more fraught when audiences were asked to consider the political opinions of the people they were potentially saving.
When asked to consider whether they would save five neo-Nazis (who are non-violent but hold abhorrent views) by sacrificing one “normal” person, 43% said they would.
- Ellie Kurttz/National Theatre
This means a big chunk of the audience effectively changed their minds about saving people based on their views – 70% would make the trade-off to save regular people, but only 43% would do it to save Nazi sympathisers, a difference of 27%:
- Business Insider
A later question, which asked whether people would redirect the train to kill a neo-Nazi, even if there was nobody to save, found that 11% would do it, even though it’s hard not to consider that murder.
The experiment was conceived by dramatist Rob Drummond, who wrote and stars in the one-man play that deals with political apathy and political extremism through a personal story interspersed with questions to the audience.
The name “The Majority” comes from the two referenda – Scottish and European – which have defined recent UK politics and were both clinched by narrow majorities.
Depending on how people vote, the show ends up differently – plot events get skipped over and the audience even decides if their fellow viewers are allowed a break for the bathroom. It’s showing until August 28.
*It’s worth noting that the audience of London theatregoers is nothing like a representative picture of the UK. Ninety percent said they were politically “liberal,” 91% were white, and only 8% voted for Britain to leave the EU.