The Solutions to Suffering and Poverty Found in Songs in Poems Through the Decades
Human suffering happens every day all around us. Even though we don’t notice, it still exists. In “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” Peter Singer constructs many arguments in his proposal to end world poverty. Singer uses severe means to achieve his goal of convincing readers to change their lifestyle and values. His emotional and forceful tone is not effective to convince his audience. As I examine this issue deeper I notice that two other writers have different beliefs on this subject. W.H. Auden, and Gwendolyn Brooks describe suffering in unique ways. Auden’s illustration is a misleading truth that misrepresents reality just like Singer’s. Brooks, however, understands the meaning of suffering from her past experiences.
In the article “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer adopts a remedy to the disparity of wealth among the world population. Singer believes that to save lives lost as a result of poverty due to circumstances such as, malnutrition, dehydration, and illnesses, wealthy Americans should donate money to overseas relief organizations (Singer 860). Singer explains his theory by stating whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away (Singer 862). Certainly, obliged by the sincerity of Singer’s belief, I am still cautious to give away all my earnings after reading this article. The clear omissions in his argument make his petition for aid feel demanding. Singer’s proposition fails in his neglect of personal responsibility and free will, by obligating his readers to adopt his proposal.
Peter Singer voices his opinion as if the situations causing the suffering of those in poverty, or the pain itself is the liability of his readers. For instance, he attempts to prove that those in a position of danger is the responsibility of anybody aware of the situation. Yet, there are people around the world in harm and danger at all times. His idea is essentially that we all become saviors devoting every resource to ease the pain of mankind. Even if we were, which troubles are we most compelled to solve? According to the United Nations, 2011 report, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate in the world (CNN.com). Because, I’m currently aware of this situation is it my responsibility to help lessen those murders? Is dedicating myself to reducing Honduras murders more or less important than saving third world children? What Singer’s argument lacks are the basics of free will, which are significant for civilization to exist. Instead of holding individuals accountable for their situations and allowing citizens to choose how they will contribute to humanity, Singer places the problems of those individuals into the hands of those citizens and concerns them more.
In the poem “Musee des Beaux Arts,” Auden illustrates the indifference of humanity to individual suffering with the use of two paintings. Like Singer, Auden fails to see the value in suffering. He doesn’t stop to imagine the people’s opportunities inherent in their challenges. His only thought is to remove what he sees as the problem. Furthermore, Auden never even acknowledges that there might be issues underlying human suffering which go beyond saving a drowning child that need to be addressed before putting other lives at risk. Instead of doing the more difficult task of concentrating on the initial cause of the problem, Auden wants to figure out why humans are apathetic towards other people suffering. Both authors solutions are black or white. Either you’re putting your life in danger, or you allow people to die because you hold the value of your life greater than those in need. Nobody wants to see people suffering, but you cannot tell someone that it is their moral responsibility to stop it. Another fact both writers fail to take into consideration is the truth. Both Singer and Auden fail to stop and ask, “Am I the right person to solve their problems?” or even, “How can I help them find a solution?” To me, this shows incredible arrogance to think that you hold the resolutions to the pain of people thousands of miles away. If you don’t understand the full scope of their troubles in the same way they experience them, how can you even begin to think that you have a solution? Perhaps, both writers “outside looking in” resolutions will only produce more of the problem. “The Boy Died in My Alley,” written by Gwendolyn Brooks symbolizes the problem of personal responsibility. In the poem, the cause of the death of a black boy remains unmentioned. Indeed, no possible cause is thought about. Brooks encourages readers to consider the various ways in which young black men suffering end up dead. The narrator accepts a sorrowing responsibility for the death of the boy, and in doing so demonstrates the dreadful consequences of failing to act against cruelty. Moreover, the narrator insists upon accountability, not self guilt. Without individual responsibility no moral theory can even exist. For example, Peter Singer feels personal guilt over the predicaments of impoverished victims around the world. Instead of putting the blame where it belongs, Singer attempts to circulate his mistaken guilt by getting readers to share it with him. Though, Brooks understands that the situation is out of her hands. For instance, there is no way she could confront all the killers to stop them. If the perpetrators are not held responsible for their actions, how can anyone else be to blame? The main problem with Singer’s solution is his suggestion that we “might,” be able to help people in poverty. However, he is obligating his readers to solving the problem. You cannot morally require someone to a solution for a problem that they did not cause.
In Peter Singer’s book “How Are We to Live?” he believes there are too many people motivated by narrow self interests and greed. Peter Singer wants each of us to live an “ethical life.” This is a life where you must imagine yourself in the situation of all those affected by your actions. This, he thinks, will result in recognizing the importance of doing something about the suffering of others, before we even consider promoting other possible values. In the book review by Robert Frazier, he analyzes how Singer’s writing is unclear in what an ethical life is. Frazier believes the kind of life Singer wants us to live is one where we adopt a kind of negative utilitarianism. At first glance, Robert Frazier thought the title of the book to be revealing. For example, he states that instead of Singer asking how we should live, it asks how we are to live. This is because Singer believes there is not an objectively good way to live. Additionally, there are two problems associated with Singer’s viewpoint on living an ethical life. The first problem is the presentation of Singer’s choices. The only contrast offered by Singer is between an ethical life, and a life where narrow self interests is the dominant value. However, Frazier argues that Singer merely mentions and does not discuss in detail other competitors to an ethical life. The second problem Frazier discusses is how Peter Singer’s argument relies too heavily on examples. Singer presents a number of cases where persons not living ethical lives don’t have fulfilling lives and persons living ethical lives (where there is some commitment to helping others) find their lives fulfilling. This is not enough to show that living an ethical life is each person’s approach for having a fulfilling life. Frazier goes on to state that it is unclear how one should evaluate Singer’s book. Peter Singer’s book lacks detail on discussing the reasons why an “ethical life,” is the firm foundation for a fulfilling life. In essence, Frazier believes Singers intended audience was not philosophers, but is aimed much more widely. However, it appears that Singer is much more interested in changing his reader’s attitudes than giving detailed philosophical defenses on where he stands.
Peter Singer’s “Practical Ethics” book is a text where he studies many ethical issues. Singer analyzes unequal wealth distribution in light of his utilitarian approach. However, a review done by John Fischer offers opposing views on Singer’s proposition. Singer concludes that we’re morally responsible for not doing more to lessen poverty. Though, his claim that each of us should donate ten percent of our salary is not explained thoroughly. Fischer notes that not donating a check for ten percent of one’s salary is acting wrongly. “It clearly is a consequence of utilitarianism that we often do less than we should,” (qtd. in Fischer 267). John Fischer establishes a connection with Singer’s book that brings out this concern clearly. For example, he says, “one might, however, resist the claim that, in not dispatching to Bangladesh a check for ten percent of one’s salary, one is acting wrongly,” (qtd in Fishcer 267). But if this is correct-that one is not acting wrongly in keeping one’s salary-then the challenge, presented admirably by Singer’s book, is to explain why (qtd. in Fischer 267). Also, Singer’s book is unbelievably short-sighted. If he believes a utilitarian is one who judges whether their actions are right or wrong by their consequences, this text doesn’t state how far into the future one should look to determine whether or not a particular act is acceptable. For instance, what if because of donating all of my additional salary to save children in Bangladesh, I lose my life to cancer, because I am thus unable to afford proper medical treatment? Merely looking at consequences doesn’t help us decide problems of morality. Who is to decide that saving an innocent child from dying is more or less important than sending your child to college? Suppose I forego donating money to charitable organizations so that I instead can send my child to school. Though, Singer would still consider my actions to be immoral. Peter Singer mentions some very good ideas and information, however, he could have had a much stronger argument if he would have simply suggested that people donate extra money to help end poverty and left it at that. Instead, he turned a simple idea into a moral dispute and in doing so lost whatever reliability his solution might have had.
As a respected moral philosopher, Singer has made his name an advocate for a certain doctrine on how we should live. “Unsanctifying Human Life,” is a collection of Singer’s best articles from 1971 to the present. The book includes various critiques of approaches to philosophy. Examiner Christopher Coope disputed his stance on Singer’s policy. In place of Singer’s teaching, Coope coined a new word: romality. Romality demands that we must show what is called an equal consideration for the interests of all sentient beings (qtd. in Coope 596). Christopher Coope argues that Singer’s text scarcely answers his proposition. All we’re told by Singer is how we are unlikely to be satisfied if we are concerned with nothing beyond our own happiness. Christopher states, “supposing this to be true, it does not begin to answer the question about the broad demands of romality,” (qtd. in Coope 596). In the process, Coope explains an example of living a fulfilling life by keeping a dog and being kind to it. For one person this might be sufficient for a gratifying life and all the sentient beings in the world wouldn’t be necessary. “To some, an effort to be romal might bring a measure of fulfillment not because it is a good cause (if it is), but simply because it is a cause,” (qtd. in Coope 596). We might not be obliged to help those who have done us no good, but why must we have so much concern for them? Singer is asking his readers to diminish their life to build up others. However, I believe the greatest service one can do for humanity is to do what one does best. It is not necessary to try and save the whole world in order to make a difference. Even Singer would have to agree that the finest representation of utilitarian logic is doing what you do best. There are several unfortunate situations throughout the world. You only need to go to your nearest metropolitan city to find adults and children suffering. While no one can disprove that these situations are emotionally difficult for our society as a whole, it is important to acknowledge the personal growth and transformation it brings.
This is not to say that charity is not important and people should be left to suffer. However, charity without empowerment can do more harm than good. This is an essential truth that Peter Singer’s solution fails to take into consideration. If you don’t see the world from their point of view, how can you even begin to think that you can solve their problems? By taking the pain away from people, you also take away their opportunity to change their lives. Each person is called to serve humanity in their own unique way, therefore, you cannot morally obligate someone to live a certain way or change their lives for others. It is not the responsibility of society to save someone from their own suffering. However, if you’re put into a difficult situation by the madness of another person, then that is undeniably unfortunate. Though, demanding that people should be made to change their values because of the pain of somebody else does no good and only serves to compound the suffering. The benefit of ending world suffering isn’t guaranteed and is at best, a very long shot. Yet, Singer’s proposal has too many disadvantages to be outweighed by the good.
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