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Peter Singer - The Life You Can Save
Posted: 03 August 2009 04:40 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Peter Singer has been called “the world’s most influential living philosopher,” by The New Yorker and Time Magazine listed him in “The Time 100,” their annual listing of the world’s 100 most influential people. He is DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne. He writes a regular column for Free Inquiry magazine, and is the author of dozens of books, including Practical Ethics, Rethinking Life and Death, and Animal Liberation (which has sold more than a half million copies), Writings on an Ethical Life, One World: Ethics and Globalization, The President of Good and Evil (about George W. Bush), and The Way We Eat. His most recent book is The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Peter Singer details how twenty-six thousand children die each day of preventable diseases and poverty worldwide, and contrasts this toll with the public’s moral outrage over the blackest days in our history, such as 9/11/2001. He talks about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth regarding the poor, and questions why most Christians today have seemed not to make ending world poverty a priority, instead focusing on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which are not mentioned by Jesus. Singer argues that when people in affluent societies value even small luxuries more highly than saving the lives of the world’s poor, that it is morally equivalent to standing by when one could easily save someone from drowning.  He says that “if you’re not doing something serious to end world poverty, that you’re not living an ethical life.” He suggests that much philanthropy, such as charitable giving to the arts, should be less of a priority than fighting world poverty. He recommends various aid organizations that merit financial support, such as Oxfam International, and highlights GiveWell, whose purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of other aid organizations. He suggests that it is often more efficient for private organizations to administer aid than it is for governments to provide poverty relief. He argues against various challenges to his position: that giving to the poor may foster their dependence, that charity should begin at home, that the poor deserve their lot, and that our lack of concern about the world’s poor may be a natural function of our evolved human nature to care primarily about our own kin. He argues that while his ethics is informed by the worldview based in the sciences and Darwinism, that it is not derived from Darwinism, and he argues against “Social Darwinism,” and “the survival of the fittest.” He explores the strategic implications that the demanding nature of his ethics has for its more widespread adoption in society. He talks about the meaning and sense of purpose that fighting to end world poverty may create in one’s life. And he expresses the hope that skeptical and nonreligious people will become more motivated to fight world poverty, even without religious incentives, and that they will become part of a new culture of giving.

http//www.centerforinquiry.net/peter_singer_the_life_you_can_save

 

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Posted: 04 August 2009 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Ok, world poverty. Yes, it should be fixed. It’s a fixable problem - as far as I understand we even have the resources to do it - and it’s a damn disgrace for the world that we as a collective haven’t fixed it.

But really, blaming every individual living in western world, just on the simple basis of “other people are worse off” (which was Singer’s argument as presented on the interview) doesn’t seem like an ethical code that holds water. Quite frankly, it sounds a lot like the kind of emotional propaganda crap we see all the time by charity collectors.

Let’s analyze this. Now, Singer himself said that if you’re just trying to get by, you’re quite ok, and you can start giving when you’re better off. But why? The other people - CHILDREN DYING!!! - don’t have anything, while you have a house and a car, or hey, even just a bike… now by the moral code of Singer, those other people are still worse off. A lot worse. So you in the end, you should be giving all your monetizeable property away, and every dime you make should be given right away to the dying children, even when you’re living on the street and hungry. Because for you, it’s just a small relief for hunger. For them, it’s life. Surely you can suffer a bit, even a lot, if it means you’re SAVING A DYING CHILD!!!

And that’s how the ethical model of equating all situations really falls apart. If you really do equate the situations, if you really think about saving a dying child, it really shouldn’t matter if you’ve saved a bunch already. Yet another child is dying, and you can still save her, so what’s your excuse? I mean this most seriously. In the discussion a child dying of poverty was equated to a child drowning - now if you’re hungry and only have money for one lunch, and you see a child drowning, you’re not going to go eat - no, you’re going to save the child, even if you’d lose your money diving into the water. And this is where we get if we morally equate those two situations. Singer is himself still letting children drown!

Now the real difference there is of course the blunt fact that the child happens to be near you. Helping every drowning child you come across will still keep you doing ok, even if you ruin a few pairs of expensive shoes every once in a while. But golbal poverty is an endless pit, and thus has to be tackled by other means. You just can’t morally equate it.

Ok, so what if we give only something. I gather that’s what Singer was saying too (albeit with an undertone that it’s never enough to be a good person, but still). So I give 20 eur every month from my salary? Huh, not enough? But, that’s like 5 cafe tasty latte’s already? Ok, ok, so what about 50 eur? Sounding better, sure, but could I afford more… well, ok, it’s 1000 EUR then! I might have to get a smaller apartment, though… oh that wasn’t required? Right, so can I keep my Wii game console too? No? But the larger apartment is ok? And this is because…?

Really, who decides what’s enough? Ok, to be fair I think Singer is arguing the we as individuals should decide for ourselves. But if I decide too low (like, 0 eur), then it’s suddenly not ok anymore, and I’m a bad person again. So in the end, it’s really Singer’s (or our neighbours) subjective moral judgement we’re subjected to, not some sort of clear moral model about saving dying children.

Now I know I come off as agressive on this, but I really would like to understand the argument, if there is one. Because what I hear is just mindless blaming, which I hoped would have been questioned a bit more strongly on the show too. And I’m agressive on this, because global poverty really does mean that pretty-innocent-girls (as well as not-as-sympathetic-adults) are really dying of preventable causes. And that is disturbing. It’s a serious issue that doesn’t deserve the cheap emotional ammunition it’s mostly buried within.

So what do I think needs to be done? We, as a collective (for example the UN), need to estimate how much money/resources it really takes to fix the problem, and then mandate that amount to be collected from everyone in the western world, not just people who get easily emotional and offer to give to charity. None of this “help this poor cute child” emotional crap, but rather “we must fix this once and for all”, accompanied by facts. Sure, there are some tricky fluid lines there too (can the poorest skip this payment, who’s really in “the western world”, should rich people have to pay more, etc.), and a completely fair system of course cannot be worked out. But I think professionals could get a good enough distribution worked out - sure the rich will probably get of too easily, they always do, but if the problem gets fixed and it’s not too unfair, we should go with it. And that means me and my emotional friends are not the only ones paying their due.

And if it’s morality you’re after - well, I see two alternatives: One is to consider exactly how much everyone should give for the problem to be fixed, and then just give your part and blame the rest of the people. Second one, the one I’m taking, is that you should suggest to the politicians to come up with a plan like I described. And you need to vote for politicians that would do this, and blame the rest of the people who don’t. These are both based on Kant’s categorical imperative (act in the way that if everyone acted as you, the right conclusion would be reached), which I think does make a sound moral code. Now, neither of these actually solve the problem unless other people join in… but neither does giving half your income to charity.

Meanwhile, if you feel like it, go ahead and give to charity (especially ones rated by givewell.net - organizations like that are an essential part in making charity system work). Just don’t go blaming others for not SAVING A DYING CHILD!!!

[ Edited: 04 August 2009 04:52 AM by Ilari ]
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Posted: 04 August 2009 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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A compendium of earnest moral truisms - at a level that would put a bright highschool student to sleep. Why is this guy ‘influential’?

Totally devoid of any class component or analysis. All us ‘Rich westerners’ are guilty? Evidently this guy is completely out of touch with what is happening to working people in the advanced capitalist countries for the last couple of decades.

Oxfam? WTF? We need a revolution! - to end world poverty by all means, but the intellectual poverty on display in the ivory towers of bourgeois thought is downright disturbing on a whole different level.

Seriously though, it’s no coincidence that capital, while tightening the screws on labor at every opportunity at the same time beats the drums all the more loudly for greater ‘chartitable’ giving - particularly through the workplace. The pressure - even on the lowest paid workers - to donate to this or that charity or social support agency promoted by the employer can be quite intense. This dovetails nicely with mantra of ‘tax cuts’ intoned by the bourgeoisie: the increased social misery created by an underfunded and deteriorating safety net can be dumped in the hands of private charity - i.e. a ‘voluntary’ tax - primarily borne by the working class - or at least those lucky enough to have retained their jobs.

The same is true on an international level. Singer’s banalities ignore the stranglehold which Western imperialism, backed by military force, continues to impose on ‘Third World’ economies - i.e. a key source of the endemic poverty he purports to address.  In fact, his ‘charitable giving’ fantasies, presuming they were even remotely applicable, would constitute another prop to reenforce the status quo - at no extra cost to the exploiters.

[ Edited: 04 August 2009 11:49 AM by Balak ]
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Posted: 04 August 2009 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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There are always Marxists and liberals who prefer to compel others to do good rather than do it themselves. They benefit those in power (themselves) but no others.
A problem with most giving and redistribution schemes, including Singer’s,  is they assume static conditions when reality is dymanic, changing and particularly changing in response to the programs. The poor and their needs can and will expand to absorb any amount of giving or redistribution. Poverty can be diminished only by the method it has been diminished in Western Civilization, by giving people order and a fair legal and property rights system, giving them liberty and opportunity, giving them a relatively predictable future, allowing them to capitalize their property, that is use and exploit it for production and development and use it for collateral on loans, providing systemic incentives for work, planning, and investment, minimize government interference, obstruction, and taxes. A Christian or Christian-like moral environment is also vital: honesty, admiration of hard work, delayed gratification, individual responsibility, general benevolence. Selected examples aside, conservatives give more than liberals. I’m an atheist, but Christians, for all their failures, still put conspicuous public atheists to shame in benevolence.

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Posted: 04 August 2009 08:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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My selfish gene prevents me from giving away my hard-earned money.  I worked very hard for the nice things I have; therefore, I will not be giving away any of my things as well. 

If all of us gave 10% of our salaries to the poor, it still wouldn’t put us any closer to ending poverty.  Why don’t we address the real problem?  Our estimated world population is about 6,797,670,863 (wolframalpha.com).  Our population is increasing exponentially, while our resources are insufficient to meet the demands of our current population.  We must first address and solve this population explosion before we can do anything else. 

Next, we must focus on the basic human necessities such as water, food and shelter. Let’s start with water, for example.  The poorest areas of the world don’t have access to clean, running water.  All the money in the world couldn’t help these poor people unless someone decides to build the infra-structures necessary to provide them with clean, running water.  Doing this alone, will prevent many of the illnesses, which plague the poor, caused by water-borne bacteria and viruses.  This in turn, will save millions of dollars in medical costs overall.  What good is it for me to find out my donations helped cure a boy’s blindness knowing that the unsanitary water he drank, will infect him and send him right back to the hospital?

So, anyone have any ideas on how to control the population explosion?  Is there a correlation between poverty and overpopulation (overcrowded cities)? 

What about teaching people not to breed if they can’t even feed themselves?  I think this is a very common problem in very poor nations.  I never understood this concept and I never heard anybody address this issue publicly.  This is also a problem here in the U.S.  I recently saw a piece on CNN of a young male, who fathered 10 children from 10 different women.  The young man is working part-time earning minimum wage while most of the young women he impregnated were living on food stamps.  At my job, the janitor, who makes the least amount of money in the company, has the most kids(10kids) out of all the employees (55employees) working in my company.  He brags about having 10 kids while earning $10/hr.  I often see extremely poor people all over the world raising children with their extended bellies; the family is dying from hunger, completely destitute, yet the mother in the background is pregnant and is crying for help in a foreign language while the caption on the bottom of your t.v. screen reads, “Please help us…..we are starving to death.”

[ Edited: 04 August 2009 08:08 PM by tcm92678 ]
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Posted: 04 August 2009 10:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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tcm92678 - 04 August 2009 08:04 PM

 


So, anyone have any ideas on how to control the population explosion?

Deal with poverty?

  Is there a correlation between poverty and overpopulation (overcrowded cities)? 

Yes, the poor have more children.

Stephen

[ Edited: 04 August 2009 10:34 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 04 August 2009 10:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I would question whether we the west are as well off as supposed.

Of course we are in the sense of our living standards at the moment but why do we have those standards? It seems to me partly because we’ve been somehow managing to get away with spending more than we earn.

I heard Billy Bragg say something similar to the following on the radio. It’s a sorry state of affairs when half the world is poor and the other half is in debt!

Stephen

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Posted: 05 August 2009 04:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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There are obviously far too many people and increasing. I don’t think there is any solution for this problem. The closest thing would be a neo-Victorianism, a sexual counter-revolution, what the 21st century would call a “sexually repressive environment,” that links sexual behavior very tightly to responsibility and hold it extremely private. This would have numerous other benefits, but it took thousands of years to get to the Victorian era and it is hopeless now although humiliating and torturing the original sexual revolutionaries would make me feel a little better.
  I would like to see the money spent on contemporary, popular, and liberal follies such as spectator sports, golf, urban pets, rock and other even worse nonmusic, dirty movies, “master plans” and zoning enforcement, non-cost-effective symbolic and gestural recycling, and “alternative” quack medicine voluntarily redirected to the poor by moral exhibitionist liberals before they expropriate my resources.

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Posted: 05 August 2009 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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So if we choose to ignore Singer’s plea to help, what is our reason? Are we all relieved of responsibility because any one of us cannot fully solve the problem? Or do we give nothing because we can not give away all that we own?

Have your self centered rationalization and sleep well as long as you are able - if you are peace with yourself and your creator, there is nothing else that really matters.

I shall continue to do what I can and make donations, and yet still hold something back for me - the best balance of selfless and self centered I can achieve.

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Posted: 05 August 2009 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I suggest living conservatively. Repair and reuse when possible. Don’t squander on fads and follies. On the personal level help those less fortunate as personally and directly as possible in contrast to institutional help for those far away. On the collective level support conservative and free market political efforts because the market and liberty, despite the inequality and other objectionable aspects, do far more to ameliorate poverty and want than anything else. Support history, local history, and science museums and organizations more, arts less. The former impart more salubrious lessons.
  In every decade of the last 200 years, some societies have diminished poverty far faster than others – not the same societies every decade. There are reasons for that. Those reasons rarely, if ever, involve redistribution.

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Posted: 05 August 2009 07:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Expropriate the means of production, give the exploiters honest jobs, create a global planned socialist economy based on an international system of workers councils and other organs of popular democracy. ...Problem solved.

OK not solved exactly ...but on this basis alone will we finally be in a position to start undoing some of the damage inflicted by the past century of racist imperialism and the dictatorship of capital, while at the same time laying the basis for a society which can liberate the infinite potentials of each individual, and our species as a whole.

My slogan: MAKE CHARITY HISTORY!

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Posted: 06 August 2009 03:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Who will do the expropriating? Who will do the planning? Who will do the enforcement? Where are their wisdom, virtue, and incentives coming from? History has a pattern. Coercive utopians who obtain power produce monumental debacles of blood, poverty, cruelty, death, and misery. They do usually serve themselves well, however. Most of the problems of capitalism stem from concentration of power. This kind of alternative concentrates it far more with corresponding worse results.

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Posted: 06 August 2009 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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We have way too many religious people in the world, and religiosity correlates strongly with mindless breeding. If we could find ways to spread a secular world view to more of the population, then that would tend to suppress unnecessary baby-making.

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"There was a time before reason and science when my ancestors believed in all manner of nonsense." Narim on Stargate SG-1.

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Posted: 10 August 2009 08:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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en13 - 05 August 2009 06:54 AM

I shall continue to do what I can and make donations, and yet still hold something back for me - the best balance of selfless and self centered I can achieve.

FWIW, of all the statements made above, in my view the one I’ve just quoted is the most sane and the one that best represents the humanistic viewpoint Paul Kurtz started CFI and its sister organizations to advance in the first place.  Not coincidentally, the quoted statement is also, again in my opinion, the one which best leads to happier and more fulfilling lives for real living human beings, not least those on the giving side of the equation.

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Brad

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Posted: 10 August 2009 09:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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AdvancedAtheist - 06 August 2009 02:26 PM

We have way too many religious people in the world, and religiosity correlates strongly with mindless breeding. If we could find ways to spread a secular world view to more of the population, then that would tend to suppress unnecessary baby-making.

So which one is it? Does religiosity correlate with mindless breeding or does religiosity cause mindless breeding?

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Posted: 11 August 2009 12:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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AdvancedAtheist - 06 August 2009 02:26 PM

We have way too many religious people in the world, and religiosity correlates strongly with mindless breeding. If we could find ways to spread a secular world view to more of the population, then that would tend to suppress unnecessary baby-making.


I think people naturally breed less when educated and in a relatively safe environment.

In The UK, for the moment, at least, people expect to live. We know that most things that would “get us” in poorer places, don’t get us here as we have enough doctors, nurses, hospitals surgeons drugs etc and so can plan our futures.

In places in which this isn’t the case, the breeding isn’t mindless, it’s that the circumstances are different.

You can’t expect people to wait to have a child when they are much more uncertain whether they will live or die. And you can’t expect them to restrict having children to 1 or 2 when they are much less certain whether those children will live.

Religion has very little to do with it, it’s the precarious circumstances they live in.

Stephen

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