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World Poverty Essay


In his article, The Singer Solution to World Poverty, Peter Singer, one of the most controversial and provocative philosophers of the modern time, offers ideas on Americans’ moral obligations and ethics on the issue of world poverty and hunger. The statements Singer makes are what most would call at least “unconventional”, if not “disturbingly provocative”. In the very introduction to his paper, Peter Singer talks about the values of issues like common goods in comparison to human life and health. The author presents the arguments that selling children for organs is basically the same as to buy luxuries and unnecessary things instead of helping those who are in need. In other words, both actions are morally equivalent and there are no ethical distinctions between them. Using the “Central Station” movie as an illustration to support his ideas, Singer figuratively slaps the reader across the cheek for lack of activity in charitable organizations. Reading the article clearly stimulates inner discomfort, which is in its core the feeling of guilt Singer provokes so skillfully.

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But when I read Singer’s essay I felt a strong need to contradict his arguments, for each of which I had a statement of my own. I was rewarded to read the same counter-arguments presented by numerous opponents. Especially the work of Garrett Hardin called “Lifeboat Ethics”. Step by step, Hardin presents arguments that question the very essence of charity and support. He introduces the analogy of rich and poor people attempting to survive in the open sea with limited food supplies and boat capacity. Each nation in the world is represented by a lifeboat with room and food for sixty. Rich countries (approximately one third) have an extra place and thus extra food, while the poor will soon consume all they have and try to get on the boats of the rich, which in the end will lead to the death of them all either from drowning (if overcrowded) or from starvation. An even if the rich boats survive, how should one determine which survivors to take on board and which to leave dying the open sea? How ethical is feeding one million of poor, if in the end, given the existing birth rates and higher levels of survival, there will be ten million of poor and hungry in several years. I realize those counter-arguments might sound too cruel but they certainly have strong logical support.

Although Garrett Hardin’s argument might look a bit lop-sided, because it does not address the issues Singer’s essay does, his argument is more persuasive to me. I admit that it is partially because it coincides with the arguments I prepared for Singer when reading his article, and I admit that such criticism could be provoked by the feeling of guilt one experiences upon reading his article, but that is what human nature really is. First of all, we are not self-denying, neither ascetic, nor altruistic. Humans are selfish, they have needs and want to satisfy them at whatever price there is. This is the law of nature that illustrates Darwin’s survival of the fittest principle. Secondly, humans have basic needs as well as higher aims they need to satisfy. Although most of us realize that extra things we buy all not essential, it is equally true that without small joys our life would be blank and tasteless. Of course, I am not talking about endless foolish cash spending, I truly believe blind consumerism is harmful and even evil, but constant self-denial would hardy do you any good. Third, ascetic life can hardly be called natural; it is rather an element of religious followings or philosophical search of life’s purpose. Austere ascetic life is a priori asocial and harmful to humanity, first of all, because the human race would not survive if we were living all alone. Secondly, the culture would suffer irrevocable change or even would have disappeared. One would hardly provide an objection to the statement that culture and pleasures are deeply interconnected.

And finally, if we follow Singer’s recommendations, we give all we earn above a necessity level to feed children and those on need, why would one work so hard to earn more? Humans are not at all altruistic and will never accept the moral justification as the basis for sacrificing the joys of life (their life and the life of their families) in order to feed other nations, especially, being aware of the problems of future parasitism of such people and the uncontrollable levels of birth rates. If we were ready to feed and support them for the rest of their lives, that would be great, but improbable. But if we are to help now, is it ethical to support them and leave them helplessly hoping for our help in the future? Cruelty has different facets, feeding the hungry is one of them.
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