The Singer's Proposal to World Poverty in Bengal and Further
1971, in East Bengal, there were millions of refugees and people who were starving and suffering due to considerable poverty and a civil war in the country. Using this as a catalyst for a reason people should be taking some form of action, Singer writes his article, Famine, Affluence, and Morality. His article is an effort to encourage those of us from wealthy nations to take a good look at our priorities and our moral point of view to see what obligations we have to those who are suffering, even if those individuals do not live close to us. Although his remarks center around the backdrop of those suffering in Bengal he also points out that his arguments are valid and applicable in a myriad of situations and that it is not the exact situation that matters as much as the overall need for us to redefine what we consider to be our moral obligation to our fellow human beings.
To begin with Singer points out that the news of the conditions in East Bengal were widely published and available for individuals as well as governments to know and understand the situation, yet no one was contributing enough to make a significant difference in the lives of the refugees. If we all can agree “that suffering and death from the lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad” (p. 231) he wants to know how we as a human race can justify this attitude and position. How is it acceptable for people to know that others are suffering and do nothing to help? How can those of us who have enough extra income to buy luxuries that aren’t essential in our lives justify those purchases when we could donate the money and save lives instead? Singer argues that it is in fact our moral obligation to help others if it is within our power to do as long as we aren’t causing or creating worse problems in the process.
This obligation extends not just to our friends, family, or neighbors but to all of humanity by virtue of the fact that we are all a part of the same “global village”. He contends that there needs to be a complete shift in our societal point of view as to what our responsibilities are to those who need help to include this broader perspective and understanding, namely, if we are aware of suffering and have the means to help without causing anything worse to happen, it is our moral duty to do so. Singer claims this shift in thinking needs to take into account that it doesn’t matter where the suffering is taking place. It does not matter if others could also help but may or may not be, this does not excuse us in any way. It doesn’t even matter how we choose to help, for example if we think that population control is a better long term solution to famine that ordinary relief efforts we can put our energies and resources into that solution. Singer maintains that the important thing is that all of us, especially those who are in a financial or political position to help, feel an obligation and duty to alleviate suffering anywhere it is found in the world.
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