Ordinary people living in the 21st century are evil. There is a good chance that most people you know, including yourself, are evil and selfish. If you don’t question the way society functions. You are breeding the devil.
Before you think I have lost my mind. Give me a few words… or paragraphs to explain this further.
Let’s say. One fine morning as you wake up. You see a text from your boss,
“MEETING AT 10AM SHARP. BE THERE”
You spring out of your warm bed. It’s already 9am. You find the best office shirt you can put on. All suited, you leave your home.
As you’re pacing down the red-brick street. You pass by a shallow pond. Taking a peek into the pond. Your face is overshadowed with horror. There is an infant in the water crying for help.
Would you sacrifice your nice ‘meeting’ clothes and jump into the pond to save the infant’s life? “Ofcourse”, most people would say.
But let’s say you didn’t save the child. The reason why is because the price of getting your clothes wet was too high of a luxury to sacrifice. A paper published in 1972 argues that this is exactly what most people do.
If you walk to the meeting and tell everyone about why you didn’t save the child. They would regard you as a cold-blooded person
In 1971, Peter Singer published his essay on “Famine, Affluence and Morality” which argues that affluent people are far more morally obligated to donate to humanitarian causes than it is considered normal in western cultures.
Think about it for a sec…
When you see some tech giant entrepreneur donating to a charity. You regard him as a higher moral being. You regard his action as a nobel one.
As a society, we regard the action as supererogatory.
Supererogatory means an act which you don’t necessarily have to do BUT if you do it. It is considered good. Paying for the cup of coffee of the person standing next to you in line is supererogatory.
On the contrary, Obligatory is something you have to do. There is an OBLIGATION.
If you are a barista in a coffee shop. It is your job to serve coffee to customers.
In his paper. Peter Singer argues that donating to charity (or famine relief) is not something supererogatory. It is an obligation of affluent people.
You might say,
“Wait a minute, Mr. Peter. It’s my hard-sweat and tears-earned money. Who are you to tell me about the obligations of where to spend it?”
I thought the exact same thing. Yet, when you actually listen to what Peter Singer has to say. You become convinced to change your mind.
Here is the argument he puts forth,
If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening without thereby sacrificing anything of moral significance, then we must, morally, do it.
Hunger, disease, and other sources of suffering, disability & death are very bad.
The luxuries on which we spend money are not of moral significance.
By donating money to famine-relief agencies, we could prevent hunger, disease, and other sources of suffering disabilities and death.
Therefore, we must, morally, donate the money that we spend on luxuries to relief agencies.
The conclusion then becomes the following:
Ordinary People are Evil
Since this essay was published in 1972. It has been a topic of debate. It has also sparked a lot of controversies.
If you follow along all the four premises put forth. If you agree to all of them. Then, logically, you must agree to the deduced conclusion.
Let’s come back to the drowning child example.
Just like you would sacrifice the luxury of looking good to save the child. You regard the luxury of looking good as insignificant.
Why wouldn’t you do the same to sacrifice the luxury of buying new trendy clothes?
When it comes to shiny cars, or trendy clothes, or even newer models of electronic devices. We think we can spend as much money as we want. Even though our old clothes, although a little out of fashion, are just about fine. The new clothes, car, or phone simply have a higher significance.
However, If you spend more on luxuries than you spend on donating to world problems like famine relief.
You accept the arguments put forth in this essay.
It’s exactly the same as you not saving the child because the luxury of looking good was too important for you. In other words, You, infact we all are, just as cold-blooded as the person who doesn’t save the child.
You can put forth the case that the drowning child example doesn’t necessarily relate to world problems. The reason why is because the child is drowning right in front of me. The famine, however, is in a remote part of the world far away from me.
The answer to this argument is also given by Peter in his essay. He states that proximity could have been a problem in previous centuries. In the 21st century. You are connected the same to a famine-infected remote part of the world as you’re to your local neighborhood.
So, proximity isn't a problem.
One more case you can put forth is that in the example of the child. You assume that there is only me (a single person) standing there to save the child. In the real world. There are a lot of people who can and most probably will save the child.
Why does the entire responsibility fall on my shoulders?
You see, the presence of other people only proves beneficial if they do something. In that case it’s a very good thing.
But let’s assume that they didn’t do anything. They just stood there and watched.
Everybody cared too much about their Gucci clothes and Prada Glasses.
Is that an excuse to escape your moral responsibility of saving the child? If you walked to the meeting room telling everyone,
“I didn’t save the child because no one else didn’t either!”
How would that sound to the moral minds of your co-workers?
In other words, if no one else sacrificed their luxuries to save people’s lives, would you do the same?
This isn’t an attempt to make you feel bad about the luxuries we choose for ourselves. The paper, and this interpretation of it is just an attempt to make us more conscious about the choices we make.
Because the choices we make, albeit how small, have a ripple effect.
If you sacrifice buying the latest model of the iPhone. Donate some of the money to a charitable organization. It could end up saving the life of a kid somewhere.
The kid would grow up to be healthy. There is a good chance that the kid you save would have children. In turn, his children would have more children… and so on.
As a result, You didn’t just save one life. You saved an entire life tree. You saved a generation.
With this context in mind. I leave you with the following question,
“Would you as an inexperienced swimmer jump in the river to save a child from drowning?”
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