Ethos Education

Chronicle: How does human decision making differ from the decisions of animals?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Consider the purpose and value of morality.
  • Understand different concepts of right and wrong.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on the implications of the kill-or-be-killed implications of the natural world.
  • Reflect upon a film clip and assess whether a character was right or wrong to enact revenge on a school bully.
  • Reflect upon the similarities and differences between humans and animals in how they engage with other individuals.
  • Understand Christian teaching about humans being made in the image of God, and its consequences regarding moral responsibility.
  • Analyse six different approaches to making moral decisions and apply each to the dilemma from Chronicle.
  • Apply the six ethical approaches to one or more other hypothetical moral dilemmas.
  • Reflect upon the importance of moral considerations when making decisions.
  • Synthesise learning by describing their own approach to making moral decisions.

STARTER:

Play a game of Apex Predator with the students. You will need to photocopy and cut out sufficient numbers of Species cards and Mutation cards for the students. There are sixteen different species cards. You will need one Species card for every student (or pair of students) in the lesson (there are sixteen Species cards – more than that would make the game take too long to run for a classroom context), and four copies of the set of Mutation cards.

Explain that you are going to set up an animal eco-system, where they will each represent a different species trying to live, thrive and survive. Explain that in each round of the game they will encounter another species, which may or may not attempt to eat them.

Deal out the Animal cards, one card being randomly assigned to each student. The cards tell them how strong, fast and ferocious their species is, as well as what it eats and what kind of terrain – water, land or air – it occupies.

Each round, you will randomly pair up the cards by number, and the matched students compare their species. An alternative to randomly pairing numbers is to have half of the class move clockwise round the room while the others remain in their places throughout. The important thing is to find a way of deciding which species encounters which without allowing students to actually choose, enabling them to avoid the ones they know they will lose to.

Each species can score one point for surviving the round, and another point for managing to eat. To determine what happens follow this process:

  • Compare terrain: If neither creature lives in a terrain that the other can occupy, no contact occurs. Both creatures survive (gaining one point); herbivores eat (gaining one point) but carnivores go hungry.
  • If both creatures share the same terrain, they fight. Each adds up its scores for strength, speed and ferocity. The one with the higher score wins.
  • If a carnivore wins, it survives and eats the loser (winner scores two points, loser scores zero points).
  • If a herbivore wins, it chases off the loser (both score one point for surviving, winner scores an additional point for eating the surrounding vegetation).
  • In the event of a draw, both survive but fail to eat (scoring one point each).

After the first round, each student should be randomly assigned a mutation card. This card will allow the species to evolve and develop, making it more or less effective against rival species. Give out new mutation cards each round, but students can never keep more than two mutation cards – when they draw their third, they have to decide whether to keep the new one and give up one of their previous ones, or to reject the new card and delay further evolution.

At the end of the game, find out which species has accrued the most points. Ask the winning student why they think their species became the dominant one in the ecosystem. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be comparing the way people relate to one another with the way that animals do so, and looking at how the differences between humans and animals are reflected in questions about right and wrong.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film Chronicle (20th Century Fox, 2012, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain to the students that three high school friends, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) have all somehow acquired super-human powers of telekinesis. Explain that one of the boys, Andrew, has always been the least popular of the three, and in the scene you are going to watch, he finally uses his powers to hit back at a bully. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what he does and to his attitude towards his actions.

  • Start time:       0.54.17 (beginning of chapter 18 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.56.02 (pausing at 0.55.14)
  • Clip length:      1 minute and 45 seconds

The clip starts with the camera showing Andrew’s point of view as he walks through the school corridors. It ends after Andrew uses his powers to crush an old car. We suggest pausing the clip at 0.55.14, after Andrew flushes the teeth down the toilet and before the scene cuts to his reflections on evolution and the natural world.

When you pause the clip, ask the students if they can understand why Andrew reacted as he did to the teasing. Even if the students say they can understand his reaction, do they think it was an appropriate one? That is to say, was what Andrew did a reasonable response to the actions of the bully? Remind the students of Andrew’s analysis of his actions (examining the state of the teeth, commenting on his telekinetic technique). How would they describe his feelings about what he did – is he proud, remorseful, emotional, calm, etc.? You might like to refer back to the Starter activity, asking students who had a weak, ineffectual species that was transformed by useful mutation cards (such as the ‘Super Predator’ card) how it felt to suddenly become more powerful within the game.

Now continue the clip to show Andrew’s later reflections on his powers. How do the students think that Andrew’s thoughts about ‘apex predators’ relate to the previous question? Remind the students of Andrew’s words:

‘The lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle, right? You don’t feel guilty when you squash a fly.’

Ask the students what they think Andrew is implying in this clip. Draw out from them that Andrew suggests he is entitled to treat normal people (i.e. those who don’t have super-powers like him) however he wants to, because he is a more powerful creature than they are. He implies that human life should follow the same values as the natural world, where the strong devour the weak and feel no guilt about making use of their natural strength.

Do the students agree with Andrew? Should strong humans feel no guilt about what they do to weaker humans, as lions don’t feel guilty about killing and eating other animals? What counter-arguments could be made in response to Andrew’s point of view? You could ask the students to consider the differences between humans and lions. Unlike other species, humans have a self-aware consciousness that gives rise to a sense of morality. Christians would argue that this self-awareness and moral sense come from humans being made in the image of God (see Genesis 1: 26-28).

Explain that the Bible goes on to say that as well as making humans – unlike any other creatures – in his image, God also gives humans the responsibility to look after his creation, including the other animals.

Ask the students how this differs from the scenario Andrew paints of an apex predator who rules fearlessly over all lesser creatures. Draw out that whereas Andrew’s concept is one of power (the apex predator can do whatever they like because no one can stop them), the biblical pattern is for the top creature to exercise responsibility for lesser creatures, to look after them and use their superiority responsibly rather than selfishly. The problem with Andrew’s perception of his place in the world, from a Christian point of view, is that it completely fails to account for responsibility or morality.

Morality can perhaps be defined as how we determine whether something is right or wrong. Although the Christian faith is concerned with these questions, different thought-systems, both religious and non-religious, have also attempted to define morality.

Give out the What Should I Do? Handout sheet and read through it with the students. Ask the students to consider how someone with each of the worldviews described would be likely to respond to Andrew’s musings. This activity could be done either as a whole class exercise led by you, or in small groups. You could also ask the students whether they can recognise their own approach to the dilemma in any of the descriptions on the worksheet.

Ask the students to apply the ethical frameworks from the worksheet to one or more of the following moral dilemmas:

  • In a difficult time for the economy, your parents have lost their jobs and have little or no money coming in. They are struggling to pay household bills and your whole family is going very short of food. You are in a shop and notice that the shop assistants are all too busy to see you. Do you steal some food?
  • You are in charge of the points on a railway line. A train is out of control and is hurtling towards a bus full of passengers, which has stalled on a level crossing. The emergency doors of the bus have jammed making it impossible for anyone to get out. If you switch the points, the train will miss the bus, but will go down another track where a car containing your family is stuck. Do you send the train to kill your family or the bus full of strangers?
  • After a party, a friend of yours who has been drinking heavily all night offers to drive you home. What do you do? Do you try to persuade your friend not to drive? Do you physically restrain him from driving? Do you decline the lift but say nothing? Do you accept the lift?
  • Your next door neighbour is an elderly widow with cancer. You are working as a security guard at a local pharmaceutical company which produces a cancer drug with a high success rate when used to treat this particular form of cancer. Sadly, your neighbour cannot afford the drug and you are unable to raise enough money to pay for the treatment on her behalf. You would be able to create an opportunity to steal sufficient quantities of the drug for her treatment. What should you do?

Ask the students what problems they can see with any of the ethical approaches on the worksheets – which ones tended to produce solutions that the students were particularly unhappy with? Which ones were hard to apply to different situations? Do the students feel that any of the approaches provided a consistently good and useful response to moral decision making?

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, which could be set as a homework task, ask the students to write a short statement explaining how they would approach a difficult moral decision. What factors would they take into account? Could their approach be described, to a greater or lesser extent, by one of the six ethical frameworks described on their worksheet? When they make decisions, how much does whether they are doing ‘the right thing’ matter to them?

YOU WILL NEED:

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