"What's the point of reading all those books, if we don't learn from them?"
The above dialogue is inspired by one of the arguments Peter Singer wrote while concluding his original essay 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality', which went on to become a pillar for the international effective altruistic moment. Known for his works on animal ethics and global eradication of poverty, Singer wrote this essay in 1972 upon realising a large-scale famine in the Bengal region of India and pitiful consideration from affluent nations towards providing aid to the people suffering. His essay was read worldwide and aged well. Later his recognition, Singer went on publish several other works in the same field and become one of the most valid and influential philosophers of the twenty-first century.
Lessons To Learn
Right from the very start, Singer asked to change the entire moral conceptual scheme of the society that is allowing us to take the value of life for granted. As shaped by the modern era, for some people, death by starvation is not considered such a big deal among other contemporary measures of demise like- cancer or death by natural causes, or being caught in a war, or fighting your inner demons. Singer carefully guided those people to read no further his essay. As for others, he argued a general policy should be adopted- if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.
The above-mentioned quote may seem like wishful thinking, or a moral goal to reach, or an obvious rule of thumb, or a ripoff from the Spiderman, depending on the category you belong to. But in reality, today, very few people can actually adhere to such an orthodox principle, because most consider it a little too orthodox to follow; and/or they are already doing the best they can. The latter is the bread and butter of the populous regions and hence Singer clarifies what he meant by anything of comparable moral importance in detail, followed by the example of a child in a pond which is well-known and widely used as an analogy in various forms today.
One of the factors which allow people to abstain from following the above-mentioned principle is Proximity or simply put, the location of where they are and where help is required. This also includes those who are willing to help only the people of their own community or country. In his essay, the author argues that for achieving equality in our nation, we have to stop using the excuse of distance for discriminating against the people outside when it comes to necessary aid. Equality must not be considered only inside our own devised moral circle, rather we should expand our range to maintain the universal notion of equality.
Even when deciding to put our foot forward, many obtrusions come our way. One that is prevalent is the surrounding filled with knowns and unknowns, but none is concerned about the issues of the outside. In such a case, one feels less guilty about doing nothing if one can point to others, similarly placed, who have also done nothing. The author argues that we live in a world where we can't use the excuse of unawareness anymore; hence, to counter that, people often overestimate the number of people supporting or doing something for a particular cause. In any disaster scenario, the available resources are always going to be way less than the estimate, as the people who should provide the resources are not always doing their job by following the same overestimation by others. We should not assume that the government is always doing what is required when it comes to helping other nations. Foreign policy and politics don't align with the values of ethics and humanitarianism and are often run by compromised officials. Singer stressed the fact that most of the major evils like poverty, overpopulation, pollution etc. are dealt with on a divided stand but in fact, are problems in which everyone is almost equally involved.
In the last part of the essay, Singer highlighted the value of charity and the major ideas associated with the concept of giving money. It is a commonly accepted virtue that doing charity is a kind act, but 'not' doing charity is considered as that an equally respected choice. The author criticises this notion in great detail. He argues that, if a person is well-fed and affluent enough to contribute, the choice of not helping should be considered morally wrong. The value of money, used to satisfy our unnecessary needs, is a lot more for someone in need of food and warmth. The author states that Utilitarian theory plays a key role to prevent us from even exploring ways to help others and urges people to consider adopting either the strong or moderate approach to revise their moral values.
Reflection On Today
50 years after Peter Singer posed the imperative question to end his essay—What is the point of relating philosophy to public (and personal) affairs if we do not take our conclusions seriously? — the sights of the 70s are reminiscent if we are willing to look at them. We have more than one famine-like scenario in war-torn nations across the globe. Although relief groups like UNICEF are more active than before, even they alone cannot put a cease to the suffering.
The economic growth of developing nations like India is at an all-time high, but that is a mere eclipse to the underprivileged who don't even know that help exists. According to the book The Precipice by Toby Ord, around two dollars a day is recognised as a threshold for extreme poverty. According to the latest reports, at least 1/3 of the global population with extreme poverty belongs to India, with at least 667 million people expected to be in extreme poverty by 2022. The stark feature of this report is, as before, there is still no data provided by the government. The estimates were made by the data provided by (CPHS), conducted by the CMIE, which the citizens, living in India, know is riddled with discrepancies.
According to my very educated guesstimate, the numbers would correspond to the threshold of 1.5$ a day rather than 2$, and there are several millions of people in between. As of 2022, most jobs(for educated individuals) provide a pay of a maximum 4$ a day and the figure hit 2.5$ when it comes to hands-on jobs with more than 10 hrs of absolute work. That means the guy serving you a 6$ coffee in 5 minutes is eating a meal worth 2 dollars after a six-hour shift of serving 60 coffees.
These figures are only valid for the forecast major metro-regions of India(which are a lot) because the pattern gets much darker and fictional if data is extracted from the rural underdeveloped regions of the country. The chances of that are next to none. The common trend pertaining to the rurals is to move to a metro city or region, to find work or opportunities to work. This is quite a normal scenario, frequent and adopted throughout the world by people struggling. The difference here is the duration and education. Because the pay is so poor and the balance is so much inclined, those who get lucky enough to get involved in a job, to avoid living in slums, and which requires no use of education find themselves stuck there years later with the same 2$ a day wage and 20$ in the bank account.