This post is about this story by Ursula LeGuin. You should go and read it, and come back. It's not long.
Okay, so you get the gist: a city where everyone is happy, but by some mysterious mechanism, this is all caused by a little child being locked in a dirty closet and mistreated. Everyone in the city knows it, but if they show the child any comfort, the city's happiness will be destroyed.
Some people, the "ones who walk away from Omelas," leave the city when they find out. They don't want the happiness that comes from torturing a child. And of course that's the course we are expected to agree is moral.
But when I read the story, I wondered why they just left. Why didn't they save the child? Is it really enough to refuse to participate, when there is a child you know is in utter misery?
I guess the question that raises is, do you have the right to take away the happiness of everyone in the city? And how much happiness would you be taking away? If the child is rescued, does the whole city devolve to that level of misery, or simply become a more average city?
Or would the people just grab another child and put it in the closet?
Would you still rescue the child even if you knew they would? Just because you had to do what you could?
There was a Doctor Who episode to this effect. The city was powered by torturing a starwhale, and each citizen had the choice to vote against it, or forget it was happening. Most people chose to forget, and at first it seemed that that was that. Not enough people wanted to release the starwhale. And it was pretty fair, because it seemed the city might not survive at all if they let the starwhale go.
But the Doctor, of course, does not accept moral dichotomies. If presented with a trolley problem, he'd find a way that everyone lives. So naturally it occurs to him that he doesn't have to abide by the people's vote, he can singlehandedly free the starwhale. But is that right? What if the starwhale destroys a city full of children?
I'm curious what you guys would do. Walk away? Free the child? What facts would affect your choice? What would you do if you were ignorant of what might happen?