Nick Beckstead argues “what matters most (in expectation) is that we do what is best (in expectation) for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions of years or longer.”
I agree with this. If you think that someone is worthy of moral consideration no matter where or when they are born, and that the universe will be around for a while, the effect of today’s actions on the far future probably outweigh their effect on people alive today.
However, it is possible that the action to take today that is morally best over the life of the universe is not the same as the action to take today that benefits people most, or is most publicly acceptable. In fact, the two are extremely unlikely to be similar.
Take an easy example. Many agree that animals are deserving of equal or near-equal consideration, and that we shouldn’t exploit them to eat them. It seems fair to say that, from a simplified perspective at least, the best thing to do is to not eat animal products, and encourage others to do the same. However, much of the world today disagrees with this, and thinks veg*ns are annoying, unethical or pushy for suggesting that.
In the same way, we can imagine many scenarios where someone works out with reasonable certainty that the best way to maximise the utility of universe in the long run is to do X, which happens to be a very controversial thing in today’s terms.
As someone who wants to make the universe as good as possible, but also cares somewhat about what people think of me, this really sucks. I’m forced to balance these two desires.
I think it very plausible (49.99% likely if I had to put a number to it) that the action today that creates the most good in the universe is one that would be frowned upon (to put it very, very lightly) today.