This Boat Which Is Not One

“Be what you are becoming without clinging to what you might have been; what you might yet be.” ~ Luce Irigaray, “Ce Sexe Qui N’Est Pas Un”

♦ ♦ ♦

There is a hypothetical, posed as an ethical dilemma, in which you find yourself adrift on the ocean in a lifeboat overfilled with survivors, and the group must decide who to toss out. Do you cast overboard people least likely to survive under any circumstances — the sick, the elderly, small children — or do you put the healthiest into the drink — the strongest swimmers, with the best hopes of enduring?

Still image from Lifeboat (1944) via

I have never understood why this is a dilemma: I will go overboard the moment we know someone must. I go overboard if I’m healthy; I go overboard if I’m frail and haven’t dogpaddled in over a decade.

I do not wait to see first who can be coerced to drown in my stead. I go overboard because the value of the many is infinite.

And because the value of the one is also infinite.

Anyone who comes over with me — or who offers to take turns, that we both may last longer as we hope for rescue — I will welcome their choice. If instead you sit, able-bodied and capable, taking up salvation with the assurance of one who believes your life has greatest value — that too is your choice. I will focus on floating and my own breath, leaving you to yours.

The value of my life is infinite. I will not tarnish my own divinity by asking another to sacrifice themself unwillingly.

In Hitchcock’s film version of this dilemma, the boat’s survivors are all rescued at dawn, the inevitable proven not inevitable after all. If I too were to survive my night overboard — if we both make it back to shore alive, me the waterlogged and you the self-privileged survivor with the unused backstroke — it is there, on dry land, that all the rage of that storming ocean will fill my voice.

And there, with my words, I WILL DROWN YOU.

2 thoughts on “This Boat Which Is Not One

    1. I’ve been thinking about this post, and your comment, ever since. And I have had to acknowledge how much privilege I carry in my background and my social identity — and how that effects the way I think about this hypothetical (and how I act when comparable situations occur in my real life). As a white cis woman with straight-passing privilege, an upper middle-class family background, and no visible disabilities, I am far from the front of the line for folks getting chucked overboard…which may make my stance here far easier for me to say (as you point out) than for others.

      Still pondering the implications. Thank you for the invitation to challenge myself further.


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