Response to Peter Singer’s Solution for World Poverty: The Third Degree

Did you know that the term “The third degree” is thought to have originated from a practice that The Masonic Lodges use?

(Yes, those Masonic Lodges. The movie “National Treasure” didn’t invent the Masons you know. They are a real, slightly creepy, group. I lived across the street from a Masonic Temple for a year…)

In Masonic lodges there are three degrees of membership; the first is called Entered Apprentice, the second Fellowcraft, and the third is master mason. When a candidate receives the third degree in a Masonic lodge, he is subjected to some activities that involve an interrogation and it is more physically challenging than the first two degrees. It is this interrogation that was the source of the name of the US police force’s interrogation technique.

Anyway, interesting bit of trivia from The Phrase Finder.

On to the essay. (Parts I and II here)

One genuine difference between Bob and those who can afford to donate to overseas aid organizations but don’t is that only Bob can save the child on the tracks, whereas there are hundreds of millions of people who can give $200 to overseas aid organizations. The problem is that most of them aren’t doing it. Does this mean that it is all right for you not to do it?

Suppose that there were more owners of priceless vintage cars —Carol, Dave, Emma, Fred and so on, down to Ziggy— all in exactly the same situation as Bob, with their own siding and their own switch, all sacrificing the child in order to preserve their own cherished car. Would that make it all right for Bob to do the same? To answer this question affirmatively is to endorse follow-the-crowd ethics —the kind of ethics that led many Germans to look away when the Nazi atrocities were being committed. We do not excuse them because others were behaving no better.

Singer once again reverts to Poisoning the Well as his attack…and this time he compares it to Nazi Germany. I’m pretty sure that invokes Godwin’s law. Depending on what message board you are talking to, that may or may not mean he automatically loses the argument. While I see no problem with, on occasion, comparing certain people to Hitler and his cronies…I only do it when what they are actually doing is comparable. Once again Singer is blowing his comparisons way out of proportion.

Now you might say that the comparison of the Nazis was just a good example of “follow-the-crowd ethics”. Well I can think of a lot better comparisons that don’t invoke Hitler and the Gestapo. The choice to use the National Socialist party as his comparison (Really hilarious when you consider that this guy appears to love socialism) was intentional, because, as I said in a conversation with The Conservative New Ager last night before we went to see The Debt, the mention of Hitler has a very visceral reaction of disgust from people. It’s why Godwin’s law was created after all, people like comparing others to Hitler in debates, because that tends to scare off their opponent.

We seem to lack a sound basis for drawing a clear moral line between Bob’s situation and that of any reader of this article with $200 to spare who does not donate it to an overseas aid agency. These readers seem to be acting at least as badly as Bob was acting when he chose to let the runaway train hurtle toward the unsuspecting child. In the light of this conclusion, I trust that many readers will reach for the phone and donate that $200. Perhaps you should do it before reading further.

If you have read parts I and II of my reaction to this essay you will realize that what Singer said in that first sentence is completely untrue. I won’t go over that again.

Then he makes this appeal to an irrational emotional reaction. “Go, donate now. Don’t think logically about it. Don’t research the organization. Just donate. Do it because it will make you feel better, after all I’ve done such a good job of making you feel guilty so far right?”

I’m trying desperately to think of the last person I heard on TV to push that idea of “do this now, it’s the right thing. Don’t think about it, just do it. You have a moral obligation. Don’t bother to think critically about what you are doing with the money, just do it. You’ll feel better afterward, I promise.”

Oh right…that was Obama’s “Jobs speech”. Let’s not talk about that right now.

That’s all for now. Except that I want to tack on a bit of an addendum to what I wrote in the last post. Something that The Conservative New Ager said in a comment, but you may not have read the comments. I apparently missed this line in the essay when I discussing the implausibility of Unger/Singer’s “Bob” scenario.

He has invested most of his savings in a very rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti, which he has not been able to insure.

TCNA said that “if something is worth money, there’s an insurance company out there that will insure it–again Singer doesn’t seem to understand how capitalism works–so in reality there would be no economic loss.”

And that’s the truth. If it exacts and it’s worth money, there is a an insurance company that will insure it.

On another side note. I just started reading Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, I might post about it when I finish the book. My parents have also promised to buy me a subscription to Glenn Beck TV for my birthday, which was this past Tuesday. Happy Birthday to me ^_^

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7 Comments

  1. “I’m trying desperately to think of the last person I heard on TV to push that idea of “do this now, it’s the right thing. Don’t think about it, just do it. You have a moral obligation. Don’t bother to think critically about what you are doing with the money, just do it. You’ll feel better afterward, I promise.”

    Thanks for that comment above. I felt so fuzzy after the Presidents speech. Annoyed and fuzzy. The audacity and manipulation behind his words frustrated me because of the whole “moral obligation” which always makes for a difficult argument. It leaves people who disagree looking like asses, for EXACTLY all you stated in this analysis. You have such great clarity. You’re able to cut through the b.s. and get to the substance behind the words. Well done you!

  2. Pingback: Response to Peter Singer’s Solution for World Poverty: Quatre « The Snark Who Hunts Back

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