A Litmus Test of Equality

“The pumps will buy you time … but minutes only. From this moment, no matter what we do, Titanic will founder.”
“But this ship can’t sink!”
“She is made of iron, sir. I assure you, she can. And she will.”
Andrews and Ismay in “Titanic”

Here’s something to think about:

Imagine that a ship sinks, Titanic style, either you are on a lifeboat or you die in the freezing water before help arrives. There are 50 places in the only lifeboat available. Those who get those places will survive, those not on-board the lifeboat will die. Unfortunately, there are 100 people on the ship.

Imagine there are 50 women and 50 men. Let’s say they are similar in age, education, number of children, marriage status, etc., just the sex differs. And the sex of the selected group of survivors plays no role in their chances of survival (e.g., rowing is not necessary).

Let’s further assume you have 30 minutes until the ship sinks, long enough to decide and select. You are the captain, you have the only gun, you are in power and can and must decide. The responsibility rests on your shoulders. Sure, not your fault that the ship sinks, but it’s your responsibility to decide who gets the lifeboat seats.

The question is: Whom do you put on the lifeboat?


Think about it for a moment. You find my answer below (white on white, so highlight the text between the two lines to read it).

Decide to use chance only. Each person gets a number, you pick 50 at random, that’s it. That’s fair, veil of ignorance style. The sex of the person shouldn’t play the slightest role. Just let random chance decide. Not 50:50 on an attribute no one can control. Because it does not matter. Not a bit. And any attempt to go for 50:50 just shows that the person values arbitrary “sameness” of sex (an attribute no-one can control) over overall fairness. And a 100:0 women vs. men would show a strange sense of women are worth more than men. Which is very strange and scary … and despite the positive discrimination towards women actually very condescending towards them and very sexist (in the sense of prejudice regarding sex, which is was sexism is actually about). If 0:100 women vs. men — well, that’s rare. Perhaps you went a bit too far here as well, or if you never left where you started, not far enough.

Anyway, that was my answer. If you think you have an interesting one, leave it below. I’m interested in knowing about it.


P.S.: Yup, I left children out of the equation. But while I see them as a separate category who should go first (ask as a comment if you want to know the reasons), the same rule should apply for girls and boys.