The Moral Dilemma of Memory and Recall

Memory and Recall

Infinity 2 1998 by L. Liwag

Not Sophie’s Choice

What do you do with information that you never wanted in the first place? I mean the kind that you knew might be out there, but you really did not want to know, because in the knowing, someone would be hurt? The kind, that once revealed, could not be unrevealed, no matter how much you wanted it to go away? The kind, that once you found it, could really really change the very fabric of something? What do you do in that situation?

Do you go ahead and open the file and read, knowing that what’s inside is going to change your life forever? This is what could be categorized as a moral dilemma, and in philosophy, the moral dilemma has been argued since Plato. For example, do you return a borrowed weapon to a person who is not in his right mind knowing that he might do harm to himself or someone else because he has asked for the retur of his property? The question might seem like a no-brainer; however, you do have a moral obligation to return property that is not yours, do you not? However, the needs of the many in Plato’s case clearly outweigh the needs of the one, the man who is not in his right mind, so perhaps this is not such a clear case of a moral dilemma.

But what about the file with the information? You know that the file contains information that you need to know. The file does not belong to you. Technically, you are snooping. Opening the file will reveal the information that you need in order to make an important decision. Leaving the file alone will respect the owner’s privacy, but will leave you in ignorance. The uncertainty here may arise from the uncertainty of the consequences. For some people, the answer is very apparent: You must respect the file owner’s privacy.

However, let’s say that there are extenuating circumstances. For example, this file owner has been caught in deceptive practices before, and therefore, there is a high likelihood that he is doing so again, even though you do not want to believe that this is the case at this time. Do you leave the file untouched and remain ignorant, even though you have reason to believe that the file owner is behaving badly again or do you violate the file owner’s privacy in order to prove or disprove your theory? Is this a case in which either decision is going to leave you feeling guilty no matter which decision you make, guilty as in carrying some moral residue for your action or inaction?

Amazing isn’t it that something that seems to be so clear-cut as opening a file can become so problematic. But the truth is, nothing is clear-cut. Nothing is clean and neat. If you open that file and read it, and the information confirms what you believed to be true, then you now have to carry the burden of that knowledge. If you open that file and read it, and the information disproves what you believed, then you now have to carry around an incredible weight of guilt for intruding upon a person’s privacy and disbelieving said person when he was actually telling the truth in the first place.

This is actually a lose/lose proposition, and you have put all of your money on black. And guess where the ball just landed? Red.

You now know more than you ever wanted to know. You have violated someone’s privacy. And you feel as if you are covered in layers and layers of slime that no loofah will ever be able to penetrate. Congratulations. This is why you are not in the intelligence business.

Unfortunately for you, this is only the first step in your journey. You will now have to act on what you have learned. The threads have just begun the slow process of unraveling. Gird your loins. It is only going to get more painful from this point forward. You have no idea of how slowly a heart can break and what can fall into the vast crevasse that opens in the middle.

Infallible Memory of Greek Pantheon



Memory assails me

pierces my being,

sharp as a needle

withdraws recall like blood

in its relentless pursuit

to overtake my consciousness.

Vial after vial it sucks.

It will not be sated

until it possesses all,

every hoarded corpuscle

of forgotten remembrance.


It matters not that I bathed

carefully in the waters of Lethe,

bartered for reborn innocence

in exchange for my soul.

There may as well be rubber tubing

pulled tautly ‘round my arm

forcing my veins to yield their secrets

like an addict.


I awake on the floor,

naked, battered, and sore,

remember everything in its stark detail,

all the years of hiding

gone, stripped from me.

I cannot put back

what has been released

I cannot unsee

what is burnished now in blood

on the broken shards of mirror

strewn about on the tiles surrounding me.

This then, is what awaits me—

past is present,

step into now.


Lolita Liwag

November 24, 2008




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