Today, many people in the developing countries die of poverty related causes. However, at the same time, there are many and extravagant individuals who spent fortunes on luxuries. The momentous question arising from this is, ‘Are we responsible for other people?’
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What should we do when faced with such situations? In reaction to this question, I will address two opposing viewpoints on how to deal with poverty. First the metaphor used by Garret Hardin of the ‘lifeboat’ and second, investing in luxuries like Bob and his Bugati illustration by Peter Singer.
As an environmentalist, Garret Hardin used the earth imagery as a space ship with different countries as lifeboats, with the lifeboats and poor countries swimming in the moral sea. When the space ship goes adrift, these lifeboats can save people. However, they have a limited capacity say for only fifty people (Hardin 126). When the boat has forty, it can take ten more.
If people on the lifeboats pick up more drowning individuals, they risk their own future survival (Hardin 126). Besides, the criterion of choosing whom to save is tricky. If the people on the lifeboats decide to save the few or none, their survival is possible if they can protect the boat from other people trying to get aboard (Hardin 130).
It is clear that Hardin does not believe in reforms of social problems like corruption, incompetent leaders. He supports the hard way to learn.
Instead, Hardin believes, the richer or more developed nations should simply stop assisting the impoverished countries, as that problem will eventually manage itself. Famines and disease check the population (Hardin 130). If we constantly help, population will grow unchecked, hence the need for more help. This will cause strain on the resources.
Singer highlights stories of Bob, who has a Bugati from savings and considers it immensely valuable yet not insured. This is his joy and pride. One day while packed at near a railways siding, he notices a runaway train headed to hit a child further down (Singer 61).
The only way to stop that would be to sacrifice his car, to stop the train by pushing it on the track but he does not. The train kills the child. This is comparative to the rich states, which have the ability and opportunity to help by contributing to humanitarian aid like UNICEF and Oxfam America (Singer 62).
I sympathize and, therefore, support Singers argument, which I deem logical and morally sound that it is sensible to make decisions on things based on the outcomes likely to be drawn – a classic utilitarian theory.
Singer’s claim is that suffering and death because of lack of food or access and affordability of medication is unacceptable (Singer 61). If it was in our abilities to prevent these things from happening by sacrificing something else of comparable moral significance, we should do it.
The analogy used for instance, saving a boy’s life by sacrificing his Bugati, Bob would have done a morally correct thing. However, this needs some moral clarifications like why save a child he did not there in the first place.
Hardin’s opposing view is that we do not have a moral duty to redistribute justice since it would cause more population growth beyond what the earth can sustain (Hardin 130). His argument is based on Neo-Malthusian thought where exponential growth of the population does not match. Comparably, states as lifeboat cannot take on more passengers since that may cause it to sink (Hardin 130).
This view does not hold water to me. First, some models of development purports that increase in wealth cause a decrease in population. This could explain why developed states have comparably lower birth rates than poor states. It makes sense, therefore, to sacrifice and give aid to help improve population policies of poor states.
Hardin also assumes there is scarcity of food, which is not true in the case of developed nations as this, disregards the extravagant spending on luxuries by richer states (Hardin 130).
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Besides, his views seem to be terribly harsh, as they seem to support deliberate ‘culling’ of poor people to decrease population. It is killing when we stand by and watch someone die when we were in a position of saving the life. This is morally wrong to overlook conscious choice of saving sacred life (Singer 61).
Hardin argues that most of the aid does not even reach the intended people because of corruption and inefficiency in distribution (Hardin 130). This does not override Singers moral impact. If you know only 50% of you, aid will get to the person who needs it, then its actual 50% more of assistance they would have totally missed. Systems and corrupt leaders can be reformed.
It makes insensitive to watch a poor child die because other people around him are merely doing nothing inaction by the group does not justify individual inaction (Singer 63).
Each one of us makes numerous ethical choices, large and small, on a daily basis. Questions like should we give money to the hungry child. Should we hide the truth to protect vulnerable persons from feeling hurt? Should we put our lives at risk in while chasing a purse-snatcher?
All these decisions give us the opportunities to reflect on what determines our humanity conscience. I support Singers argument that we should respond to duty of beneficence and offer moral help.
Hardin, Garrett. Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor. Psychology Today 8.4(1974): 126-130.
Singer, Peter. The Singer Solution to World Poverty. The New York Times Magazine, 5 Sept. 1999.