i didn’t give up my seat on the bus
I didn’t give up my seat on the bus today to the tired, heavyset woman standing beside me.
What exactly is it that offends you about this?
If we are two organisms jostling around on a rock in a vacuum, I would say I think the arc of the moral universe is indifferent towards me keeping my seat. At this long term level of morality, you being offended makes no sense.
If it’s polite for a man to give his seat to a woman, I would say I think you’re a misogynist.
If the stronger should protect and care for the weaker, I would say I think this is the specific level of morality where you have the strongest argument. As the more capable being, I have a moral obligation toward beings less capable than myself, and to keep my seat would be the moral equivalent of a conquistador annihilating a tribe or an extraterrestrial annihilating the human race. If you look at the situation through a morally-nearsighted lens, I have a moral imperative to bequeath the poor soul my seat. At this short term level of morality, the high ground belongs to you.
If sitting is the new smoking, however, I would say I think my moral imperative would be to keep my secondhand smoke to myself. If sedentary lifestyles kill in the medium term, then I am doing this woman a favor by keeping her on her feet. I exercise a lot more than she does and am therefore more capable of assuming on my shoulders the considerable risks involved in sitting. She may or may not even literally tell her friends that she doesn’t need the gym because she gets her exercise standing on the bus every day for an hour.
If diminishing pain and maximizing pleasure is your morality, the minutes of discomfort she may have to endure today will save her from a world of pain in the future.
If by sitting in her stead, I can prolong her life for even a mere hour – by keeping her heart rate up, her muscles flexed, and her blood circulating, which in turn will increase her organs’ lifespan, her physical capability, and her quality of life – do I not owe it to her to snatch that seat away, to remove the danger that lies in her path? Am I not sacrificing my own wellbeing for hers?
Should not we all grab the seats for ourselves, laying down our lives on the altar for humanity? Or is humanity under the perpetual curse of an instinctively narrow purview of morality that prevents us from seeing into even the medium term much less the long term?