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In nature people always found ways to separate themselves and others based on physical, geographical, mental, economic, social, or religious features. From the early days, there has been survival of the fittest. People are separated by their countries and the economic situations in those countries; some progressive and advanced, while others suffer in terrible conditions and starvation. There are approximately 360,000 births and 151,600 deaths happening in our world daily to keep the balance of nature, and 29,000 of those deaths are children (Population Reference Bureau). In the essay “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” Peter Singer provides a solution to save children’s lives, but he turns the idea of donating into a moral obligation that takes an intense commitment.
In his essay “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” Peter Singer argues that if you don’t donate money, you are a complicit individual who chooses to allow the children to die. Children die due to poor political and economic situations in certain countries, lack of food, lack of resources, and lack of rights, and that isn’t an average American’s fault. Yes, one can donate money in hopes of preventing death, but there is no guarantee that the donated money will reach the child, let alone save the child’s life. Singer defines himself as “one who judges whether acts are right or wrong by their consequences” (2), implying that the ends are more important than the means. Therefore, unless a person physically takes care of a dying child, there is no way to know whether he/she saved a life and fulfilled his/her ethical obligation. By arguing that individuals need to donate money, Singer contradicts himself because a donation is a simple mean of escaping the guilt that Singer forces upon his reader, without actually achieving the ends that he argues for- the saving of a life.
“I can see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty so dire as to be life-threatening” (Singer 4). Why does a middle class man that risks his health every day at a construction site have to sacrifice most of his earnings for a child that he’s never even seen? Is sacrificing your own life, to an extent, to help someone else the ethical thing to do? No. It’s not selfish, nor complicit, to pick yourself when you have to choose between two lives and one of them is yours. The essay mentions that $200 is an amount that can save a child’s life in a developing world. The $200 that one might donate is actually worth more because the person gave up time and health to get that money, essentially giving it a greater value. Therefore, if the child’s life is priced at $200, but the donated $200 is worth more than what it is, then the child’s life doesn’t justify the donation. If a person puts in his/her time or personally invests the money in the dying child, that would lead to an actual saved life, justifying the time and effort, versus a donation which could essentially lead nowhere.
“Again, the formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away” (Singer 4). Luxuries give people pleasure, versus donated money that doesn’t guarantee a saved life, and therefore doesn’t guarantee pleasure. Scientific research demonstrated that pleasure is necessary for survival. According to Berkshire Research Group, pleasure stimulation and reward pathways are our natural drive, lack of which creates reward deficiency and makes a person subject to depression, anxiety, and poor performance. Therefore, owning a luxurious item might actually be a necessity. Each person has ethical obligations to him/herself that surpass obligations to others, and one of those obligations is happiness. By giving away, or sacrificing, our luxuries for someone else, we sacrifice our own happiness for someone else, and that is unethical in relation to our own lives.
Moving to a new house might not be a necessity, but it improves the life of a family that moved. That family isn’t required to donate the money they saved for a new house when they can use it to improve their own living conditions. When people have a goal that requires extra money, they work hard for it because they know that at the end they will be able to buy what they desire so badly. If people will give all of their surplus money away to charity, they will no longer have the drive to earn as much money. The members of the family that moved to a new house are responsible for each other’s lives and wellbeing before they are responsible for someone else’s. If buying a new house provides happiness for an entire family, which by definition is more than one person, then that family fulfilled more of an ethical obligation than they would by donating that house money. Happiness is an ethical priority and a necessity that can’t be measured in money.
We live in a capitalist society where a person’s earnings correlate with his/her way of life. What determines the limit of wealth and draws the line between surplus and necessity? Peter Singer donates 20% of his earnings to charity, and states that “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” (1). Deriving from this statement, an average american family should donate roughly 33% of their earnings to charity, and the question arises, why doesn’t Singer? He uses 80% of his earnings for necessities, yet expects people to only use 66%. In addition, donating all the surplus money can lead to individual financial instability, and people need extra money in case of emergencies, otherwise they will starve. Saving the “money not used for necessities” is an essential part of surviving, which after all, is a necessity, and comes before anyone else’s life. If people will sacrifice all of their “unnecessary” money, it is unclear how much benefit it will actually cause versus how much damage, let alone if it will be an effective way to solve world poverty and save dying children.
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