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Peter Singer and The Life You Can Save

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DrunkGirlfriend from Castle Geekhaven
Jun 30th 2011 at 4:03:54 PM

@OTOH: Except welfare doesn't work. If welfare worked, I wouldn't be skipping meals regularly, and I wouldn't have had to dig food out of dumpsters as a child. I'm also a bit close to this issue.

edited 30th Jun '11 4:04:04 PM by DrunkGirlfriend

"I don't know how I do it. I'm like the Mr. Bean of sex." -Drunkscriblerian
Jun 30th 2011 at 4:06:53 PM

@DG: That's horrible, and it should be fixed. But there's no reason you can't combine political activism for welfare at home with charity abroad.

@JB: The people in the communities that aid aims to help are often heavily involved with the whole process themselves. It's not about us deciding what's best for them - it's about us going there and asking them what they need, and trying to provide it.

"War doesn't prove who's right, only who's left." "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
Jun 30th 2011 at 4:10:12 PM

No, it kind of is. "Were building roads and giving them food" is kind of what happened under the British Empire. Most of Africa under British control just plain didn't starve whilst it was in place (I would quote specifics at you, but it was about 2 years ago that I did that particular module, I do apoligise).

Thats the problem, what happens if people just decide to stop giving money or slow down their payments because they don't have the cash as their own nations are in trouble? Because that is what happened LAST TIME.

Jun 30th 2011 at 4:19:55 PM

Which is why aid should be targeted at helping communities become self-sufficient, like the Millenium Villages Project, which helps villagers decide what they need, and provides aid mostly as investments towards self-sufficiency. They provide tools and expertise farmers need to get the most out of their land, so that they can eat and sell the rest. It's a one-time cost that will bring returns far into the future.

"War doesn't prove who's right, only who's left." "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
Jun 30th 2011 at 4:25:41 PM

ARGH! Stuff like this happened LAST TIME! The british empire built up huge number of places so that they could "work on their own", what happens if the arsehole drops out of the market on that particular crop as it did with groundnuts in the 1930's? Then you have a load of people farming a useless crop that isn't selling.

The whole idea of the Empire in Africa was so that it could have self sustained colonies that could make money in a larger context. Unfortunatly the "larger context" was the empire as a whole and when that started going Pear shaped it all fell apart. How can we not say that something similar cannot happen now?

Say for instance that you try and get fairtrade stuff taken seriously and bought by others across the globe, if the arse falls out of that market then it means you have screwed them over even more so if (during the boom times) someone has decided not to bother farming corn as well as bannanas because you can get more money and buy better food on "just bannanas".

The problems are exactly the same, espeically as a number of them have deep roots in cultural stuff.

Jun 30th 2011 at 4:41:12 PM

Wasn't the point of imperialism to get raw materials and cheap labor to support Britain's industrializing economy, not to lift the poor out of poverty? Anything they did would have been directed towards that goal, not the goal of helping the poor have a self-sustaining source of food or medicine or anything else, regardless of what they said.

"War doesn't prove who's right, only who's left." "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
Jun 30th 2011 at 4:45:51 PM

Thats the main reason. But the point was to try and not cost the "home country" much money either, and its easier to do that when there are massive amounts of people who are making money over there.

You had "to make money" as an important objective, but at the same time you wanted to get to sleep at night, so there were schools built (the literacy rate for women was actually higher if I remember correctly) and children sent to Britain to learn, and rice bought at cheap rates in India to sell in Africa.

The thing is you wanted your colonies to be self sustaining and to (hopefully) turn a profit, because that way it would cost YOU less money to run it. Its a fundamental difference in how the British and French empires worked, but it meant that Britain was much more keen to let "locals" (usually powerful magnates but also the middle class on occasion) run their pwn matters because it lowered costs.

Jun 30th 2011 at 4:54:50 PM

Hmm, that's a good point. And the fallout happened because problems in Britain meant they couldn't do any of that for the colonies anymore? That is unfortunate, but between starting those programs and stopping them, were there not people who were fed, clothed and educated? The education especially is important, because those who benefit from it can do more to help others in their community. The Indian independence movement was lead primarily by locals educated in British schools, for example.

I think that the possible state of the aid recievers if people stopped giving should definitely be considered and planned for as part of the aid itself, but I don't think that we should just not do anything for fear that at some point we might have to stop. If you think agricultural aid and the like is too risky and could screw up the local economy too badly if it stopped, what about medical things like surgery, immunization, and malaria bed nets? Even if some catastrophe made it so that aid had to stop all of a sudden, there will still have been those people whose lives were saved because of proper medical treatments or vaccines. It's nice, but not necessary, to improve the economy as a whole by aid - lives saved have a value of their own.

edited 30th Jun '11 4:55:04 PM by OnTheOtherHandle

"War doesn't prove who's right, only who's left." "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
Jun 30th 2011 at 5:00:50 PM

There were even doctors and so on. The problems started when African nationalists started taking over, and suddenly the entire thing goes to hell as factionalism and tribal loyalties start splintering new democracies like a band saw. OFC Britain cannot help but take a far amount of the blame, especially as there WAS no plan to really decide "WTF happens if we leave?" and the creation of tribal leaders to run the places.

But its a horrible idea to think that British rule might have done better in Africa if it had been extended, because the people who worked over there were thick as pig muck... but evidence can still be found for it.

Its just horrifying that an empire that was built of selling drugs to China and set up the worlds first concentration camp might still have been better for Africa than it was. OFC we can't KNOW.

edited 30th Jun '11 5:08:30 PM by JosefBugman

BlackHumor Unreliable Narrator from Zombie City
Jun 30th 2011 at 5:23:33 PM

Thread Hop: I come in a weird place on Singer's argument; I would argue it's not wrong to not save the drowning child, because it's never wrong to not do anything. You are never morally obligated to do anything; although it would be right to save the child it is not wrong to not save the child.

So the rest of his argument kind of falls apart after that.


@Bugman: I'm suspicious of the assertion that any statistic was better in Africa in the past, partly because "Africa" is an entire continent and it's hard to make generalizations about it but mainly because most quality-of-life statistics go up over time regardless of what happens.

I'm convinced that our modern day analogues to ancient scholars are comedians. -0dd1
Jun 30th 2011 at 5:43:42 PM

@BH: I think you have a right not to save the drowning child, and you shouldn't be thrown in jail for failing to save him, or indeed recieve any sort of official punishment, and the same goes for charity. But I have a strong emotional reaction against someone who fails to save a drowning child, and I would condemn them for it. So I'd be hypocritical to have no reaction at all when people fail to donate to organizations that save lives. Even if I adjusted for the comparatively more difficult process of donating to a charity and the degree of uncertainty involved, no reaction seems to imply that my moral standards are inconsistent, And That's Terrible.

And I disagree that things always get better with time. Rome had a much better standard of living than Medieval Europe, if I recall correctly.

edited 30th Jun '11 5:44:50 PM by OnTheOtherHandle

"War doesn't prove who's right, only who's left." "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
BlackHumor Unreliable Narrator from Zombie City
Jun 30th 2011 at 7:46:47 PM

@OTOH: You remember wrongly, it's a common misconception.

For a short while after Rome fell, Europe had a lower standard of living due to the turmoil. Then it went back to normal. By the time of the Renaissance Europeans had a significantly higher standard of living than they did under Rome. (I mean, how could they not, after 1000 years?)

I think people don't realize how bad a standard of living the Romans had, especially compared to nowadays. Imagine what not having anesthetics, antibiotics, or any serious understanding of disease will do to your life expectancy and you start to get the picture.

edited 30th Jun '11 7:47:28 PM by BlackHumor

I'm convinced that our modern day analogues to ancient scholars are comedians. -0dd1
MarkVonLewis Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die from Somewhere in Time Relationship Status: Too sexy for my shirt
Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die
Jun 30th 2011 at 8:00:45 PM

Well I know my reasoning - I just don't give a fuck.

Truth be told, there's so much bad stuff happening, I had to stop caring long ago. Besides, even if I do give to charity, I have no concrete evidence that the money went to save someone. Hell the charity could fabricate stuff about the person I supposedly saved. Whereas saving a drowning child myself, I KNOW for a fact the kid is saved.

Honestly, I'd rather spend my money on me, family, and friends, rather than some person thousands of miles away I don't even know. In my hierarchy, people I know rank way higher than strangers.

Medusa strippers, where the phrase "my eyes are up here" is a dangerous phrase.
BlackHumor Unreliable Narrator from Zombie City
Jun 30th 2011 at 8:08:55 PM

In my hierarchy, people I know rank way higher than strangers.

This I think is the essential problem; people in Africa are entirely not in one's monkeysphere, so few people bother to help them.

I'm convinced that our modern day analogues to ancient scholars are comedians. -0dd1
MarkVonLewis Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die from Somewhere in Time Relationship Status: Too sexy for my shirt
Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die
Jun 30th 2011 at 8:11:13 PM

More or less. And for me that ain't changing. Way I see it, I don't need to be worrying about people I don't even know.

Medusa strippers, where the phrase "my eyes are up here" is a dangerous phrase.
Gault Laugh and grow dank! from beyond the kingdom Relationship Status: P.S. I love you
Laugh and grow dank!
Jun 30th 2011 at 8:18:28 PM

But you know they're suffering, right? Intellectually speaking you're perfectly aware of this even if you don't personally feel much impetus to help?

edited 30th Jun '11 8:18:57 PM by Gault

yey
MarkVonLewis Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die from Somewhere in Time Relationship Status: Too sexy for my shirt
Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die
Jun 30th 2011 at 8:22:17 PM

Yeah, I know this, but don't really care that much. A lot of people suffer; it's an unfortunate side-effect of living.

The book's message is good, really. More people should help. Just not me.

edited 30th Jun '11 8:22:30 PM by MarkVonLewis

Medusa strippers, where the phrase "my eyes are up here" is a dangerous phrase.
Gault Laugh and grow dank! from beyond the kingdom Relationship Status: P.S. I love you
Laugh and grow dank!
Jun 30th 2011 at 8:25:03 PM

Pray tell, why?

That's kind of the advantage of being sentient. The ability to use your intelligence to override your baser instincts and make rational decisions. It appears that it's been wasted.

edited 30th Jun '11 8:25:10 PM by Gault

yey
MarkVonLewis Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die from Somewhere in Time Relationship Status: Too sexy for my shirt
Too Strange to Live, Too Rare to Die
Jun 30th 2011 at 8:27:49 PM

Way I see it, helping my friends and family over strangers is a rational decision in my book.

Besides, I often don't have the kind of coin to really make a difference in third world countries. Anyway, I've said my piece, I'm out.

edited 30th Jun '11 8:28:46 PM by MarkVonLewis

Medusa strippers, where the phrase "my eyes are up here" is a dangerous phrase.
Jun 30th 2011 at 10:51:52 PM

either you're a good person even if you let the kid drown for fear of your shoes getting wet, or you're a bad person for not donating to life-saving charities.
I prefer to abandon this whole good/bad/moral/immoral business altogether. It's too theoretical, and too reliant on emotions I prefer to keep turned off. Rather than asking whether my decisions are all consistent with some make-believe abstract principle or another, I ask myself what actual real-world outcomes my actions are liable to have, and which outcomes I find acceptable.

Gault Laugh and grow dank! from beyond the kingdom Relationship Status: P.S. I love you
Laugh and grow dank!
Jun 30th 2011 at 10:55:09 PM

[up] But aren't those also at least as if not even more so inherently subjective and theoretical?

We have developed morals for ourselves for a lot of very good reasons, and empathy exists as a part of that morality.

yey
Jun 30th 2011 at 11:41:38 PM

But aren't those also at least as if not even more so inherently subjective and theoretical?
If so, then "theoretical" was simply the wrong word. The bottom line is that the "adhere consistently to abstract principles and avoid hypocrisy at all costs" approach is definitely too something for my preferences, even if I can't put my finger on the proper adjective. As for "subjective", I didn't mention that.

We have developed morals for ourselves for a lot of very good reasons, and empathy exists as a part of that morality.
Empathy involves experiencing feelings that I prefer to avoid experiencing. Therefore I prefer to avoid experiencing empathy.

Jun 30th 2011 at 11:44:34 PM

The drowning child analogy was more intended to provoke thought than to seriously suggest that you're an evil person for not donating every penny you have to starving kids in the Third World. In fact, I interpreted it as a method of showing that principles break when pushed too far and applied too consistently and logically, even principles as dear to (most of) us as the value of human life. Of course, it was also intended to spark thinking about your own morality and just how acceptable it is for you based on whatever standards you have to let people suffer whom you could have easily saved. Why would the typical person be guilty in one scenario, but not the other? The short answer? Evolutionary psychology. But instincts can be overcome, and they can also be worked with to produce a better outcome.

After the radical thoguht experiment, the rest of the book is pretty much practical advice to painlessly increase the amount of good we as a community can do, by exploiting our natural biases. For example, what if most big companies had a policy where they donated 1% of the wages of every employee above a certain cutoff wage to charity, while including an opt-out program? An opt-out program provides exaclty as much freedom of choice as an opt-in one, but people are vastly more likely to donate in the former case because their brain tells them not to mess with defaults. Billions more each year could be raised in this way, and corporations get a PR bonus, too.

edited 30th Jun '11 11:45:27 PM by OnTheOtherHandle

"War doesn't prove who's right, only who's left." "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
Jul 1st 2011 at 12:07:03 AM

"Africa is not rich enough in terms of soil to feed itself"

Citation Needed.

And better than thy stroke; why swellest thou then?
Jul 1st 2011 at 1:05:58 AM

Sorry, I should have clarified "Africa does not at the moment possess the agrarian resources neccesary to feed its own population as it grows at a very fast rate and whilst large scale conflict continues". If anyone needs me to clarifying stupid crap I have said I will try, sorry again!

@BH: Well it mainly comes from stats from Famine ridden regions that the british controlled, I am sorry that I don't have the statistics tehy do come in useful, in terms of areas that the British had a higher level of influence in (than say, the French) there was usually a greater degree of stability in those regions than there is now.

Is that helpful, again sorry.


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