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The Life You Can Save

2009-04-04 01:19:35.874972+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

Princeton philosopher Peter Singer[Wiki] has had a few mentions here. I thought I'd written up a review of the one book of his I read a few years ago, which I thought could have been read as satire; it wasn't so much a set of arguments that made sense as it was discussion which showed how loopy his premises were (even though, presented on their own, most people would happily adopt them).

Anyway, included here mostly for completeness, Philip Greenspun looks at the silliness of Singer's latest screed, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-05 15:09:12.945888+00 by: Diane Reese

I'll make a shout-out here for kiva.org, where you can participate in direct microfinance support of the working poor around the world with as little as $25. I've been lending for two years, have made nearly 3,000 loans, and have a 98.2% repayment rate (and the remaining 1.8% defaulted because of problems with the local microfinance agencies, *not* the borrowers themselves). When my loans are repaid, I re-lend the money to another deserving borrower, and may the circle be unbroken. Microfinance won't solve the problem of global poverty either, but it's an important component, and allows for the dignity of those requesting help: it's a hand up, not a hand out.

And while I'm spouting platitudes, I'll add that as the old saying goes, if you give a man a fish, you feed him for the day, but if you teach him to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime. The working poor who get loans through kiva.org and other microfinance institutions already know how to fish: they just need a loan to buy a net, and they expect to pay you back.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-05 18:49:22.800511+00 by: petronius

Singer is an odd duck. His advocacy a few years ago for euthanizing the sick and elderly seems larely forgotten. I did see one piece written by a severly disabled activist who went to confront him at Princeton, only to find a charming and compassionate man who was hard to dislike. The problem is that ideas like his get taken over by people who actually would like to put them into operation, and will with a vengence.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-06 13:04:33.307859+00 by: Dan Lyke

Diane, I just think of that old aphorism that if you give a man a fire, he'll be warm for the evening, if you light a man on fire, he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

But, more seriously, I think that's to a large extent Greenspun's point: We change the third world by turning its culture to a place where they're not simply running up against new limits that are put in place by a larger aid structure.

Petronius, here's where you linked to that article, and it was well worth the read. One of the reasons I wonder if Singer is satirical performance art is that if you take his premises, then his conclusions are fairly obvious, and if you haven't done much philosophical reasoning his premises can actually seem rather benign.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-07 17:17:10.944552+00 by: Nancy

I have long supported kiva and I also throw a little money at modestneeds.org. Unlike kiva, it is not repaid, but also unlike kiva, you can help your immediate geographic neighbors and I like that as well.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-07 20:39:26.607677+00 by: Diane Reese

Nancy, kiva is adding US-based MFIs this year: stay tuned, you may yet be able to help a neighbor through their platform.