“A runaway trolley is barrelling down a track towards five people who are unable to move. You have access to a lever that may redirect the trolley down another track that has only one person. The man who placed you all into this cruel scenario is also the man who cured cancer. Are you on high enough moral ground to judge him?”

– my version of the Trolley Problem

I feel like people get far too preoccupied figuring out whether or not an individual person is, overall, a “good person.” It’s hard enough attempting to quantify the moral value of any single action (what charities to donate to, whether or not a purchase is ethical, etc.) and I feel like further abstractions of this concept are just far beyond what any human mind is capable of.

For example, I’ve seen a whole lot of discourse (read: random internet comments) regarding whether or not Bill Gates is a “good billionaire.” For a good amount of time, the answer seemed to be a resounding “Yes,” with everything the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has accomplished as a charity. “He eradicated polio” is often cited, alone, as reason enough to say Bill Gates has had an exceedingly positive net contribution to the world – add on all the other diseases the foundation has helped reduce (AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis) and it’s hard to argue against the interpretation.

But recently, I’ve seen far more pushback against the narrative that Bill Gates is an unquestionably positive force for good. People have been questioning the level of power the Gates Foundation holds over the nations they’ve helped, whether or not the positive contributions are outweighed by how much control over their resources have been ceded to Bill Gates. Not to mention Gates’ possible links to Jeffrey Epstein and his less savory past as a monopolist at the head of Microsoft.

But I’m not here to perform the moral calculus over Bill Gates’ soul – as I’ve said earlier, I think that sort of thing is far beyond what any individual human mind is capable of. But I also think it’s perfectly fine to say something like, “Bill Gates has done a whole lot of good things and a whole lot of bad things,” and leave it at that?

In other words, how many babies do you think Jonas Salk could have kicked before people stopped calling him, “The man who cured polio?”

– James