The Afterlife Keeps the Score

Are the Choices We Make Really up to Us?

The Afterlife Keeps the Score

Another spiel about an idea I love from The Good Place series.

In season 3, as the characters try to figure out whether humans have even been able to enter the Good Place recently (or ever), they find that the scoring system is super flawed. Or rather, that it is too accurate and actually takes into account all the unintended consequences of our actions.

They discover how seemingly good actions, that used to get you lots of points, now amount to negative totals because they reflect the increasing complexity of the world.

In the series, the scoring system is what the Afterlife "accountants" use to determine whether a human deserves to be sent to the Good or the Bad place after they die.

For example, offering flowers to someone seems, at first, like a wholesome and pretty "good" action. But if you ordered them on your phone —that was made in a sweatshop— you're giving money to a racist billionaire CEO who sends his female employees pictures of his genitals. (don't quote me on this fictional example from the series) So these are all very bad things that affect a bunch of people negatively but were unintended by your initially good action.

Another example could be buying a tomato. Fine. Not particularly "good" in terms of points but certainly not bad, right? Well, when we're buying that tomato, from that seller, from that market, from that farm, we're choosing this over other options. And if that farm uses pesticides which causes who knows how many people to develop who knows how many diseases, suddenly, buying that tomato doesn't seem so innocent.

The problem with our world that the series surfaces is that we think we're making one choice, but in reality we're making dozens of choices we don't even know we're making. Now, what is this a matter of; traceability? transparency? ethics? trust? A bit of everything I would think. Because if we trusted the ethical values of all the other players in the big game of society, we wouldn't need transparency or traceability. But we do need the latter to hold them accountable.

It's crazy to think about just how few of our choices are really up to us in a complex society like ours. So many of our options we only get to choose from a menu that is offered to us by companies (and their unethical practices), the government (and their lobbies), society (and its norms and expectations).

Every purchase is a vote. Every citizen action happens within what is made possible. Every societal stance is another one not taken.

How can we aim to choose well when we don't even know what we're voting for?

Blue sky photo by Tengyart on Unsplash