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Jayne's avatar

If you could erase all trace and all memory of your acts, would you follow the same moral code?

Asked by Jayne (6771points) July 5th, 2009

I’m not talking about men in black suits wiping down rooms for fingerprints and erasing people’s memories with little sticks that flash. Imagine that you have the power to rearrange all the particles in the universe at any time to exactly recreate the recent past, down to the memories of everyone but yourself (because this isn’t supposed to be an exercise in time travel, let’s say you can only revert one month into the past or less). You can, in effect, undo everything that has been done by anybody or anything over that month, and only you will remember how it all went down. Your life is now like a video game with checkpoints wherever you want them, enabling you to always make the best decisions and leaving you free to explore to your heart’s content.

So, what do you do? Do you forsake your ability and live your life as normal, do you use it as a buffer against bad decisions, so when you say something hurtful or do something thoughtless you can make it all right, or do you tell everyone what you really think of them to their face, rob a few banks and live the good life until the cops catch up with you and then * poof * back to normal with no harm done. It’s not just that there are no consequences for you; ultimately, no one has to bear the burden of what you may have done, and the only lasting effects are the knowledge, good or bad, that you gain. The possibilities are endless, ranging from the benevolent to the sordid. So how would you use it? And does it matter? For those of you who believe in absolute morality, is an evil act still evil if, one second from now, that evil act will exist nowhere but in your memory and in the past? Or would you simply be too afraid of how this double life and safety net might change you to explore it at all?

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18 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I probably wouldn’t do anything I consider evil
I’d sleep a whole lot more and not feel guilty about it
and I’d have a lot more sex with a whole lot more people

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I wouldn’t change anything recently, but boy, if I could go back and change things from a few decades ago, I’d say, sign me up. But then again, without those horrible past mistakes, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons I did from them. But man, was I a stupid, selfish, rotten son of a bitch as a youth. I am glad I am not that person anynmore, because I fucking hate him.

ru2bz46's avatar

I don’t do good deeds in order to get anything in return (especially since I subscribe to the “no good deed goes unpunished” school of thought). I do them because I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see the joy on somebody’s face, or the belief that someone is better off in the cases where I never see the beneficiary (such as blood donation).

At the same time, I do not avoid doing evil deeds out of fear of punishment. I do the right thing even when nobody is looking, such as passing up a shot on a deer that is crossing a creek and, therefore, temporarily disadvantaged. To me, it doesn’t matter what other people think, but what I think about myself. Therefore, I would follow the same moral code.

Lovey_Howell's avatar

Sure, I can think of quite a few things I’d like to erase from memory especially my own memory but would having that capability change me ? Not at all. I don’t “follow” a moral code but, I have an integrity that I’ve sustained for the purpose of living my life in the manner which I see benefits not only myself but those people I love as well as those people I don’t even know. I hardly claim to have lead this great life that has been inspiring to others or beyond fufilling for myself, but that is the intention. That intention is what directs my actions and that wouldn’t change if I could go all “Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” on the world.

Dog's avatar

So we can re-arrange the memory of those around us?

When on a deadline I would take the time to finish my work on time. Then those who feel neglected by my need to earn a living could think I was with them all day.

This being said – I think it would lead to insanity over time. If a person had this ability they could not help but think others must have it too so what would be real? Take the blue pill.

Jayne's avatar

@ru2bz46; so you would think poorly of yourself for doing something even when that something ultimately has no effect on anybody else?

ru2bz46's avatar

@Jayne Yes. I judge myself by my own standards, and those standards are higher than the ones by which I judge others because I am in full control of my actions. (Somebody else may have extenuating circumstances about which I know nothing, which may cause them to act poorly.) To me, it doesn’t matter if nobody else knows what I did because I would still know, and I would hold myself accountable for those actions.

Jack79's avatar

Let me get this straight: will the action itself be erased, or only the memory?

Say I rob a bank and get caught. Do I erase the whole thing and it’s as if nothing happened, or do I still keep the money from the bank and nobody remembers how it went missing?

In both cases I’d have to be honest and say “yes, I’d abuse the ability as much as I could”. I’ve got a magic ring that grants me wishes and I’m using it all the time. I’d probably not overdo it, and I’d still keep the same moral code (ie I wouldn’t go raping girls and then erasing their memories), but I would certainly try to tweak things in my favour. Maybe even do good deeds (do the dishes in someone’s house and let them wonder who it was).

Jayne's avatar

@Jack79; yes, everything is exactly as before, the only difference being that you remember everything that you did. No money for you; but you can remeber having fun with it while you had it.

Dog's avatar

If that is the case I would not get benefit from working.

I would abuse it though- I would use it to explore national monuments and other interesting things. (You know- sneak behind closed doors in the white house etc) If I was caught I could erase being caught from their minds and my record.

ru2bz46's avatar

@Jayne The game sounds a bit different than I originally thought. Now, it’s sounding like it really is just a game…in vibrant 3d with technicolor. With the ability to make it as though nothing ever happened, then it’s pretty much like a playground to be used for testing theories. Hmmm…should I cut the green wire first, or the blue wire? BOOM! OK, so it’s the blue wire.

OK, I’ll use it – a lot! I still wouldn’t change my moral code, but I’d be a hell of a lot bolder than I am now. If I made the wrong choice, I’d undo it and try again. Hmmm…for a while anyway. Eventually, life would get boring without the challenge and risk. Screw that. I don’t want the power.

Harp's avatar

It wouldn’t change my behavior. I feel strongly that one’s intentional actions have both external and internal repurcussions: what we choose to do changes both our environment and our minds.

Part of the reason for behaving in a moral way is to avoid inflicting unnecessary harm on the world, but another reason is that living morally shapes how we relate to the world. The rewind scheme this question describes would eliminate the external effects of one’s actions, but not the internal effects.

If I were to choose to act in way that my moral sense would normally prevent just so that I could temporarily enjoy some benefit from it, that would to some extent shift my perspective, making it incrementally easier in the future to seek my advantage without thought for the welfare of others. Yes, I could keep rewinding afterward to erase the damage, but I can’t imagine that, over time, I wouldn’t become more of a self-serving, uncompassionate jerk as a result.

It would be tempting to use such a trick to fix past screw-ups, but I think that the end result of that ability would be to make me less attentive to my actions. That attentiveness has tremendous value of its own, and I’m constantly trying to increase it, not decrease it.

There might be circumstances where using this ability once or twic would have an unambiguously positive net result, but I think that having and using it regularly over time would be quite corrupting on a personal level.

filmfann's avatar

At that point, I think it would be more important to me to be the good person I normally try to be.

fireside's avatar

There may be short-term material or sensual benefits, but the gradual disintegration of any type of moral compass or opportunity for real growth would be a tragic loss.

Learning to pay attention to the results of your words and deeds, rather than just wiping them away, should be the goal and creates the most long term gain.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Evil is evil no matter who knows about it. This would be a giant integrity check. Doing what’s right not just when nobody is looking.. but when nobody is knowing.

I would probably use it as a buffer.

Jack79's avatar

I just read the last post as “Elvis is evil” and thought “what did HE do? Need to get my eyes checked

Blondesjon's avatar

My decision making process has always been malleable. There are a few hard and fast rules but I am a go with the flow kind of guy. This philosophy has gotten me to where I am in my life and I like it.

I don’t think I’ll fuck with a good thing.

CMaz's avatar

No you would not. People that have lost long term memory “become” other people.
Not having the suppressed experiences of your past. Frees you up to do things and behave is ways that otherwise would have held you back or made you go in another direction.

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