Astonishingly, my first foray into educational screenwriting did not produce a flood of studios clamoring for my script. So I’ve written a sequel with lots of big action scenes. (More)

My first educational screenplay, Tribalism and You, was almost nominated for an award by a prestigious Hollywood organization. Except I forgot to attach the script to my email submission. On the other hand, I also forgot to send the email so it kind of balances out.

Still, I was sure it would have won, had I sent it and had they read it. My son, Regis Phlyphytyphts Phlyphytyl IV, was more skeptical. “It’s too talky,” he said. “Movies need big action scenes.”

I explained that this was an educational film, but he was insistent. “Look at those old films, dad. They had bombs going off and stuff. Not just people talking.”

He had a point. So, in keeping with Hollywood tradition, I’ve written a sequel.

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[Exciting chase music as a runaway train speeds down the tracks.]

FATHER: Wow, son, that train is headed straight for those five innocent people!

TOMMY: Gosh, Dad, what should we do?

NARRATOR: [voice over] Tommy was a born hero. Or a born killer. There’s not much difference in … [dramatic pause, add reverb] Tribalism and You Too.

[Opening credits cut between five terrified people on track and speeding train.]

NARRATOR: [voice over] Pull the switch, Tommy!

TOMMY: [Looks up.] What switch?

NARRATOR: [v.o.] The one beside the track. It will send the train onto a spur and there’s only one person on that track. You have to sacrifice one to save five, Tommy.

TOMMY: Umm, okay I guess.

[TOMMY pulls switch. Quick cut to TOMMY standing on overpass behind an old man as a bus speeds toward five more people on the road below.]

TOMMY: [Looks lost.] What happened?

NARRATOR: [v.o.] Movie magic, Tommy. Now push the old man! He’ll fall off the overpass and the bus will kill him, but it will slow down before it hits those other five people. You have to sacrifice one to save five. Push him now, Tommy!

TOMMY: [Hesitates.] Uhh … do I have to? Isn’t there–

[Quick cut to TOMMY and FATHER sitting in room. TOMMY is crying. He opens his eyes and looks startled.]

TOMMY: [Wipes cheeks.] What the–

NARRATOR: [v.o.] More movie magic, Tommy.

TOMMY: Your movie magic is making me dizzy. Just sayin’. And stop with the crashes already.

NARRATOR: [v.o.] Now, now, Tommy. We were just demonstrating Joshua Greene’s “Trolley Problem.” If you’d been in an fMRI–

TOMMY: [Confused.] A what?

NARRATOR: [Sounds impatient.] A functional magnetic resonance imaging device. It lets doctors look at your brain. If you’d been in one of those, we would have seen your brain work much harder when you were on the overpass, because it feels worse to push the old man in front of the bus than it does to pull the switch and redirect the train onto the other track. It feels worse, but really it’s the same thing: you sacrifice one to save five. That’s called utilitarianism.

[TOMMY gives FATHER a “What is this guy babbling about?” look. FATHER shrugs.]

TOMMY: Can you spell that?

NARRATOR: Sure. Utilitarianism. U-T-I-L-A … no, U-T-I-L-I … I think, wait … umm…. That’s not important. What’s important is that in his new book Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, Dr. Greene explains why we could have peace if we all adopted the same moral language of utilitarianism.

TOMMY: I haven’t read that book.

TAMMY: [Walks in.] But I have.

TOMMY: Who are you?

TAMMY: I’m Tammy. The ingenue.

TOMMY: The what?

TAMMY: Your love interest.

TOMMY: [Wrinkles nose.] Ick.

TAMMY: [Nods.] I know, but movies need love stories too. So I’m here and I read Dr. Greene’s book.

NARRATOR: [v.o.] You’re kind of young to read a book like that, Tammy.

TAMMY: [Puts hands on hips, glares upward.] So? I’m smart.

[TOMMY giggles. His FATHER nods.]

NARRATOR: [v.o.] Okay, anyway, Dr. Greene–

TAMMY: [Crosses arms.] Dr. Greene isn’t the only expert on this, you know. Robert Wright at the New America Foundation has written lots of books about morality and evolutionary psychology.

NARRATOR: [v.o.] Those are awfully big words for such a little girl.

TAMMY: [Looks impatient.] I said I was smart. And stop interrupting me. It’s rude and patronizing.

[TOMMY gives FATHER an “I’m impressed” look. FATHER nods.]

NARRATOR: [v.o. Quietly] Yes, ma’am.

TAMMY: As I was saying, Wright says the problem isn’t that different tribes use different moral values. It’s that most of us can’t tell the difference between sound moral reasoning and basic selfishness or tribalism. If we or our tribe win, we tell a story to explain why that’s the way it should be. If we or our tribe lose, we tell a story to explain why that was wrong. And studies in cognitive science show we’re way better at telling and believing our stories than we are at finding truly sound, moral justice.

NARRATOR: [v.o.] And that’s why we need to be more careful about how we think.

TAMMY: [Rolls eyes.] You’re missing the point, Mr. Oh-So-Above-It-All Narrator Guy. That’s like telling a person with a broken leg that they need to walk better. When it comes to moral justice, our brains just don’t work as well as we believe. Sure, studies show you can get better at setting aside your self or tribal interest, with years of daily meditation. But who has time for that?

NARRATOR: [v.o.] Well–

TAMMY: Bottom line, any proposal for societal improvement that begins with “First let’s ignore millenia of evolution and [makes air quotes] ‘Be Better People'” is a pipe dream. What we need are cultural and institutional structures that buffer our human weaknesses and encourage our strengths.

NARRATOR: [v.o.] I think that’s all the ti–

TAMMY: [Harrumphs.] Fine, cut me off. [Turns to TOMMY.] Wanna go get ice cream?

[TOMMY looks at FATHER. FATHER smiles.]

TOMMY: Sure!

[TAMMY holds out her hand. TOMMY takes it.]

TOMMY: Just one thing. No trains or buses.

TAMMY: [Smiles.] That’s fine. I’d rather walk with you anyway.

[Romantic music swells. End credits.]

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Okay, Hollywood. I’ll be checking my mail for offers.

Good day and good nuts.