And I had to read this piece of garbage for my English 105 class. For a philosophy or even an economics class I can understand, but for an English class? There was no reason to make us read this.
I was asked multiple times while I was reading this essay if I was okay, because the further I read the further my jaw dropped and the wider my mouth opened. I probably looked rather scary to be honest. All I could say when I finished was that I was actually going to douse the book in gasoline and light it on fire when the semester ended. Considering I actually think that book burning is a worse thing than burning a country’s flag, you can see how serious I am. I told the other person in the hotel room with me that I had possibly just read one of the singularly most morally reprehensible things ever…for multiple reasons.
The first being that it actually read like a real life application of the “moral” code that destroyed the Twentieth Century Motor Company in Atlas Shrugged. You can sort of distance yourself from that story when you read it in Ayn Rand’s book, because it’s fictional. When you find someone talking about doing something similar in real life; advocating those same principles and actually believing they will work, it is much harder to distance yourself.
The second issue is that Singer writes this essay as if he is so completely right. That there is no way you could ever argue with his philosophy or logic. He is so self-assured and, I suppose, that a man who has written so many books that are widely recognized and read and a man who has taught in huge colleges and universities, might have cause to feel self-assured about his logic and philosophies.
The problem is…I think that the only people who would believe his writing are those that already support his ideas. He is ‘preaching to the choir’ as they say. The point of any good philosophical book or essay should be to make those of the opposing view actually question their views…not laugh at you…or feel the need to throw up or take a shower after reading it.
I’m 21 years old and on my first reading of this essay I was already picking his logic and philosophy apart. If a 21 year old, Journalism student can do that, clearly you have some issues with either your writing or premises. In Singer’s case…I would say it’s a bit of both, a lot of the latter though.
By all means, before I rip this essay apart with my bare hands and liberal use of my teeth, read it for yourself. Form your own opinion on it first. Then read what I have to say and see if you agree. If you don’t, then let me know. I would love to know what other points of view this essay could be read from.
Okay, this is going to be a long one. Maybe I’ll break it into pieces.
In the Brazilian film “Central Station,” Dora is a retired schoolteacher who makes ends meet by sitting at the station writing letters for illiterate people. Suddenly she has an opportunity to pocket $1,000. All she has to do is persuade a homeless 9-year-old boy to follow her to an address she has been given. (She is told he will be adopted by wealthy foreigners.) She delivers the boy, gets the money, spends some of it on a television set and settles down to enjoy her new acquisition. Her neighbor spoils the fun, however, by telling her that the boy was too old to be adopted —he will be killed and his organs sold for transplantation. Perhaps Dora knew this all along, but after her neighbor’s plain speaking, she spends a troubled night. In the morning Dora resolves to take the boy back.
Suppose Dora had told her neighbor that it is a tough world, other people have nice new TV’s too, and if selling the kid is the only way she can get one, well, he was only a street kid. She would then have become, in the eyes of the audience, a monster. She redeems herself only by being prepared to bear considerable risks to save the boy.
At the end of the movie, in cinemas in the affluent nations of the world, people who would have been quick to condemn Dora if she had not rescued the boy go home to places far more comfortable than her apartment. In fact, the average family in the United States spends almost one-third of its income on things that are no more necessary to them than Dora’s new TV was to her. Going out to nice restaurants, buying new clothes because the old ones are no longer stylish, vacationing at beach resorts —so much of our income is spent on things not essential to the preservation of our lives and health. Donated to one of a number of charitable agencies, that money could mean the difference between life and death for children in need.
All of which raises a question: In the end, what is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one —knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?
Singer asks his first question. One with I will answer, with ease I might add.
There is an obvious distinction here. That distinction is how the money that being spent is made. I know for a liberal like Singer, who clearly sees money as evil (A true “Bertram Scudder”) (note I say “a liberal like Singer” so don’t come shouting at me, “I’m a liberal and I DON’T think money is evil!” Clearly you aren’t like Singer then.), would find it difficult to understand the difference between money that is made ethically and money that is obtained by selling a child to have his organ’s harvested on the black market.
Instead of comparing Dora (a woman who took money for doing something she believed was right, only to later discover that she was wrong and then does her best to fix her mistake) to a family using their ethically earned income to buy themselves luxury items. A better comparison could be made between Dora and the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company.This CEO makes hundreds of thousands of dollars off of a drug that his company been developing for years. This drug is supposed to do great things. Only after it starts to be prescribed, people start getting sick or dying because of an unforeseen side affect or a side affect that one of the scientists covered up in tests. The CEO didn’t know he was doing anything unethical by putting the drug on the market, but when he finds out something is wrong he does a total recall of the drug and begins doing his best to make amends for what he, unwittingly, did.
In Singer’s defense, he admits there are differences between the two scenarios…however the difference he sees are definitely not the ones I’m see.
Of course, there are several differences between the two situations that could support different moral judgments about them. For one thing, to be able to consign a child to death when he is standing right in front of you takes a chilling kind of heartlessness; it is much easier to ignore an appeal for money to help children you will never meet. Yet for a utilitarian philosopher like myself —that is, one who judges whether acts are right or wrong by their consequences— if the upshot of the American’s failure to donate the money is that one more kid dies on the streets of a Brazilian city, then it is, in some sense, just as bad as selling the kid to the organ peddlers. But one doesn’t need to embrace my utilitarian ethic to see that, at the very least, there is a troubling incongruity in being so quick to condemn Dora for taking the child to the organ peddlers while, at the same time, not regarding the American consumer’s behavior as raising a serious moral issue.
The American economy, in fact the economy of most of the world, is built on production and consumption. Of course, the more I read about Singer’s background and his philosophies, the more I realize that we will always disagree because he would much more prefer a socialist society where no one really owns anything, no one is actually paid for anything, they only get enough to take care of their basic needs (his argument exactly, later in the essay). Yes, because that has always worked so well. *rolls eyes*
Singer’s essay is not horribly long, but I don’t want to post my response to it in one large post…that would be a little overwhelming. For me and for you.
So I’ll post this tonight and continue my response tomorrow. See you then!