Too good not to fisk. Hattip: Ace:
Someone is drowning in a lake and you are watching. She is sinking lower and lower, her head tossed back so that she can just barely manage a gulp of air. You can save her. Most people would argue that ethically you must save her. In his 1971 essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," ethicist Peter Singer compares the general moral obligation to help the drowning to every privileged individual's moral obligation to alleviate global poverty.
Ethicist Peter Singer clearly lives in the prettiest of ivory towers, the kind where someone else takes out the nightsoil.
People all over the world are dying.
Immortality was not built into the human genome, sad to say. Perhaps you should complain to the designer, my dear.
They are suffering and we are watching. It is immoral, says Peter Singer, not to do everything in our power to help them. iPods, spankin' new cars, vacations to Disney World... we spend money on these things instead of paying for life-saving surgeries, feeding hungry children or investing in third world economies.
Each of those things requires a cascade of paying jobs. And each of those jobs results in someone becoming not-poor, and therefore no longer needing the aid of Mr. Singer's anguished acolytes.
According to Singer, the fact that we don´t need to watch the poor suffer doesn´t change the fact that they are drowning and we know it. And we let them. I don't own an iPod, haven't purchased a new car since 1987 and I have never been to Disney. Does that make me a humanitarian?
I can't claim that reading Singer's essay was the reason I joined the Peace Corps, but it definitely instilled in me a sense of... duty? No, something more uncomfortable than that. The scratchy sand pressing all over you under your bathing suit on the way home from the beach. I hate that...
It's a reminder all the way home of a life-affirming experience, the closing parenthesis of the day.
I'd been to Disney World. I'd gone on very expensive trips all over the world. And -- the horror! -- I had an iPod.
Each item providing the highest rung of charity on the Maimonedes scale, the one where you teach a man a trade so he doesn't need charity anymore.
But what to do about all that? Well, I started by not buying a new iPod after my old-school Nano broke. But would that help the hungry children of Africa? I couldn't just donate the money saved. I was an Urban Studies major. I knew about the complications of development work, the band-aid solutions, the causes that just sound good, the charity that unmotivates the beneficiaries, the money that doesn't always reach the ground. The only way, I told myself, the only way is to understand completely what the people need to fish themselves out of their lake. Then I could support them with my iPod money. Go to hell. Quite a solution. Ask me and I would have suggested the same thing...
I tell people I joined the Peace Corps to understand what it means to be poor, but that´s just part of the story. I joined the Peace Corps to figure out how to escape the guilt of having so much while other people have so little.
Well, now I'm in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and surprised to find that it was not the way to go for moral masturbation. Ewww. But, tell me, was it good for you?
No, please don't answer that. We really, really do not want to know.
Here in my rural-ish urban community in Paraguay,
Whatever that means...
I am living in a vat of perpetual boiling hot guilt. And I've found that I am not the only one. All of the following causes us volunteers to feel that little pang in the chest that means we are doing something pretty horrible:
1) Taking time for ourselves
We feel guilty for staying in the house all day, or for being out of site and missing our neighbors' birthday sopa. We feel guilty for watching a movie alone instead of with some Paraguayan neighbors. We're servants of the community, right?
It's supposed to be a full-time job.
Full time jobs are 40 (if hourly) or 50-60 (if salaried) hours per week. American union members fought -- and some were maimed or killed -- to achieve this.
Every hour spent watching a movie is an hour we could have helped a child with his homework. Every trip to visit a friend is a leadership retreat for teenagers that never had the chance to happen. Peace Corps volunteer day out?
2) Not sharing personal possessions
Just this week I was called a bruja for not lending my computer to someone. And maybe I am a bruja. Families share with me whatever little food they have and I share nothing.
You don't bring something as a gift to your hostess? Where are your manners?!
I feel like the meanest witch alive.
3) Being too chuchi (fancy)
How can we live in a house with a modern bathroom if no one else has one? How can we buy the chuchi chocolate from America when our neighbors can't afford a bag of rice? How can we be paying someone to wash our clothes, how can we go on vacation, how can we have hot water, how can we have running water, arrrrghhhhhhh! Watch me, darlin'
There's not a whole lot of thought going on in that pretty head of yours, dear, but a good deal of "arrrrghhhhh!"
4) Being unsustainable
Apparently the whole point of this helping others thing is sustainability. Don't give stuff to the community, get them to work for it themselves! So, that sounds awesome... until you have the opportunity to get 40 free pairs of reading glasses from America. You can nix the freebees or you can help 40 impoverished ancianos to read again. But then you have to accept the hot-headed guilt that comes with it, the possibility that you jeopardize your community's motivation because they realize the truth that their lives would be so much easier if the first world shared some of its money. For the uninitiated, "unsustainable" means top down economic controls, AKA socialism. It was invented as a term to browbeat brown folks into not using fires to keep warm at night while liberals feel good about doing something about global warming
5) Failing to save the world
A couple weeks ago, a 9-year-old girl showed up at my house for the first time. I was surprised by the visit and amazed -- María had come a long way since she first joined our girls group six weeks before. She was the girl who smiled but rarely spoke, and even then rarely in Spanish -- only in the indigenous language Guarani. And now she popped by just to hang out. But something struck me as odd, as I glanced at my pizza in the oven and then at my watch. The time was 11:50. Almost lunch time... the holy hour of the only meal that really gets eaten in Paraguay.
¨María, what time do you have to be home?¨ I asked her.
¨No, my mother isn't cooking today,¨ she replied.
¨What?¨ I was shocked. Even the poorest families I know eat something for lunch, even if not very much. ¨Aren't you hungry?¨
She told me no, she'd had tortillas at 5AM.
It wasn't a question of feeling generous and tossing a dollar at a beggar child on the street. This was María. My María. Her immune system, her literacy rate, her confidence level and her general growth rate all depended on me in that moment. I shared my pizza with her.
She ate every bite. Even the green pepper and onions sprinkled on top... and you would be hard-pressed to find a child where I live who would eat a vegetable you can see. Then she asked me what I was making for dinner.
I immediately felt thrown into a moral crisis. All my guilt -- for leaving site, for being too chuchi, for not sharing and for being unsustainable -- charged forth dressed for battle.
I can't feed her every single meal. I can't be responsible for this little girl.
Stop being selfish. Yes, you can. You make more than enough on your Peace Corps stipend to feed another person.
But what about her eight siblings? What about her neighbors? What about everyone else who is falling through the cracks? How can I do this just for her?
You took a vacation to Peru. You did that instead of feeding a little girl.
It's not even sustainable to buy her food, I should try to develop the soup kitchen at our local community center instead.
You know that is unrealistic. The soup kitchen is open for three lunches a week and is already a strain for the women who cook. You are going to stand back and watch this little girl fall.
How about teaching her what she needs to know to help in the soup kitchen, so it can offer more lunches? How about teaching her siblings, too? Better yet, apprentice each in turn to the soup kitchen ladies, so that they can teach her, because they know better than you the skills needed.
All this seems to me a pretty depressing lose-lose situation. Either I ignore the hunger of a child, or I create jealousy amongst her peers. And either way she will be hungry again next year after I go back to America. How do I cope with all of this burden? How do any of us cope? Two words: American Airlines...
I feel like the go-to answer is to try drop it behind somewhere on our two year journey. Just throw that heavy sack in the arroyo. Remind yourself of the hours of work you put into that project, the tears you shed as you squatted homesick in your host family's overflowing latrine. The opportunity cost of doing the Peace Corps, all those tens of thousands of dollars you like to think you could have made if you were employed these two years in the U.S.
But unfortunately, that reasoning doesn't do it for me.
To be accurate, reasoning doesn't do it for you.
Nor does the argument that extreme wealth needs to exist because people need a goal to strive for. I mean, what would María say if I told her I'm going to the Lady Gaga concert in Asuncion so that she can strive to have enough money to do that too some day? I'd tell her save your money.
She doesn't get enough to eat, can't read and lives in a wooden shack with no water. It´s not about how hard she tries. And I don't really believe the people who say that helping others is not morally obligatory, just a praiseworthy act. Because in that case, allowing that person to drown in the lake would be the norm. And I don't think that is the world we live in.
The only comfort I can give myself -- for now, while I continue to search for the answers -- is the last place I would ever expect to find consolation. Peace Corps goal 3. Something that a year ago didn't really seem part of my PC experience, just something that naturally happens when you go home and don´t have anything exciting to talk about anymore.
Peace Corps goal 3: To bring our life drinking terere back to the United States of America.
I went back to the States in July and was not very astonished to hear a lot of people say narrow-minded things about global poverty. I'm not sure what bothered me most: the couple who thought they understood my community in Paraguay because they took a vacation to China once or the students who didn't care because we have to help our fellow Jews first. The old man who asked me why Paraguay's own government couldn't provide for them? Or the girl who asked me if I cook or order takeout in my site?
OMG!! People are ignorant about the central activity of your life! And what do you know about the central activities of theirs, pray tell?
It wasn't until a random Facebook chat that I found a sort of hope in these tiring, often repetitive conversations. I went to elementary school with Adam, wasn't friends with him, and hadn't talked to him in at least five years. Now he chatted me to say that what I am doing is "an inspiration" to him. Let me guess: he decided not to buy that NFL Red Zone package...
It wasn't his compliments that encouraged me nor was it his reminder of opportunity cost of doing the Peace Corps. It was just the simple fact that someone I barely know said that my actions give him inspiration to give up money to do something he loves. That he wanted to have coffee to hear about what I've learned in my experience. I couldn't read the word "inspiration" with a straight face, but his openness to hear from my experience made me see the value in Goal 3. I have -- we have -- a real opportunity to help others back home understand the amazing culture of Paraguay, the complicated nature of development work, and the lives of those who fight for their communities.
For me, this is the solution to the heap-ton of Peace Corps guilt clamping down on my shoulders. Or antidepressants...
Goal 3: to help people back home understand human need and realize their responsibility to throw that lifesaver. In a sustainable way, of course. Because the guilt that we are allowing people to drown is not mine. It is ours.
Because only your cause is valid, unlike all those other things people do to help others.
In Agee's book after he defected
He states Democrats are rich exploiters of the masses who feel a little bit guilty about exploiting their neighbors so they throw some pablum about paid for by the middle and working classes (heaven forbid they assuage their guilt with their hoard).
Posted by: Water Modem ||
11/20/2012 2:15 Comments ||
Of course a good proletarian convert like Agee would never come and an really state the proletarian dictatorship's attitude toward hoards. That being: "What's yours is mine! What's mine is mine ... comrade".
Posted by: Water Modem ||
11/20/2012 2:21 Comments ||
I love this - the answer to her guilt is to come back to the US and talk. She doesn't have to give up anything and gets to feel good about herself (for once).
There will always be poor among us as long as there is human free will to choose. Some will choose behaviors known to afflict man for thousands of years and codified to some extent in the West under the titles like the seven deadly sins. No government program or funding will alleviate that to which people are willing co-conspirators to. We've provided education. We've provided opportunity. They must act themselves to save themselves. All else is wasted. Best summed up in the American colloquialism - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Remember that for every victim condition there are others who exist in the same state who 'choose' to act otherwise to end the deprivations they found themselves in.
The whole liberal 'sustainable development' thing is about reducing (eliminating?) the human footprint on the planet, by reducing the number of human beings on the planet by a couple of orders of magnitude. Of course, being so superior, they get to choose who is eliminated (not them.)
In real life it cannot work; life forms are programmed to resist being eliminated. Besides, if they eliminated all the poor people who would pick their organic arugula?
Posted by: Deacon Blues ||
11/20/2012 12:10 Comments ||
I think you need to be a guilty liberal to understand the whole liberal guilt thing. They feel guilty for all the unearned stuff they have, and atone for it by taking YOUR stuff and giving it to some underprivelaged proxy for whoever they wronged.
That's what this letter is about, brothers and sisters, about you learning of your deep inner guilt.
And its incredibly poorly written. That is, if you are an educated person who knows how the world works. Target is suburban pre-18s who, like the author, are more likely to understand how to make frozen pizza in the 3rd world than know how to prepare rice or dry beans.
In fact, I think if there is much truth in here, the bulk is a bag of crap.
Best way to help poor countries is free contraceptives.
No -- the best way is to kill the leftists.
Posted by: Rob Crawford ||
11/20/2012 17:06 Comments ||
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it THINK.
No, it's "you can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think".
Posted by: Rob Crawford ||
11/20/2012 17:07 Comments ||
Dang. Snowy beat me.
Posted by: Rob Crawford ||
11/20/2012 17:08 Comments ||
BTW -- a lot of the people who work at Disney World, particularly in the resorts doing the less "glamorous" work, are immigrants. Going to Disney World, you help employ these people and give them a good start in the US.
This "urban studies" major would prefer they not be employed, not be in the US. She'd prefer they were left in poverty back home.
Posted by: Rob Crawford ||
11/20/2012 17:11 Comments ||
And, finally, the developed world HAS shared the most important aspect of our wealth -- the secret behind it. Rule of law, equality before the law, property rights, hard work... those four things will build a wealthy, healthy society faster than you can blink.
Is it our fault that the third world prefers comfortable lies? Is it our fault that deluded idiots with "urban studies" degrees think they know better than 10,000 years of human history?
Posted by: Rob Crawford ||
11/20/2012 17:14 Comments ||
One way she should be able to get over her guilt is to give away everything she has, renounce her US citizenship, and live the rest of her life as a peasant in Paraguay, with no hope of return to her life of privilege.
Posted by: Rambler in Virginia ||
11/20/2012 18:04 Comments ||
"And, finally, the developed world HAS shared the most important aspect of our wealth -- the secret behind it"
An enormous pile of money borrowed from the Chinese?
Or Ben Bernanke running a printing press? Germany tried that in the 20s - doesn't work. Led to war. Avoid.
#19 And, finally, the developed world HAS shared the most important aspect of our wealth -- the secret behind it. Rule of law, equality before the law, property rights, hard work... those four things will build a wealthy, healthy society faster than you can blink.
Actually, there are six according to Niall Ferguson: The 6 killer apps of prosperity. (it's a TED talk, and yes, the TEDsters tend towards hipster douchebaggery, but this guy is an economist. And no, not a Paul Krugman economist) He adds a couple to your list.
But you are right, Rob. It's no big secret, just that nobody wants to hear this. Much easier to blame FILL-IN-THE-BLANK. As for the article, that was the stupidest thing I've read all day.
As P.J O'Rourke pointed out all mass starvation in the world is government caused. We could do more to eliminate poverty and starvation by sending the Marines in then we do by giving to NGOs who generally hand the food/cash over to the person who has created the problem in the first place.
Unless the US clarifies its position regarding King Abdullah and reiterates its full backing for his regime, the Muslim fundamentalists are likely to step up there efforts to create anarchy and lawlessness in the kingdom. Washington needs to reassure King Abdullah and his followers that it will not allow the creation of an Islamic terror republic in Jordan.
Has the US Administration decided to get rid of Jordan's King Abdullah?
This is the question that many Jordanians have been asking in the past few days following a remark made by a spokesman for the US State Department.
Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner managed to create panic [and anger] in the Royal Palace in Amman when he stated that there was "thirst for change" in Jordan and that the Jordanian people had "economic, political concerns," as well as "aspirations."
The spokesman's remark has prompted some Jordanian government officials to talk about a US-led "conspiracy" to topple King Abdullah's regime.
The talk about a "thirst for change" in Jordan is seen by the regime in Amman as a green light from the US to King Abdullah's enemies to increase their efforts to overthrow the monarchy.
Maybe the kind should become friends with Israel and not trust the US (who has shown a preference for Democracy, even the kind that will obviously install a theocratic dictatorship after the first vote.)
The Hashmites should have been bold after Sept 11 and promised the US all sorts of cooperation if they were given Saudi Arabia. MIght be a different world today.
Looks like Iran + Radical Islam will soon chalk up another future Islamist-led nuclear state to counter Israel.
Iff Hezbollah goes nuclear vee state-level Iran cooperat wid Lebanon, why not HAMAS + FATAH, ETC. vee post-Abdullah/Hashemite Jordan, given Jordan's large Paleo community.
Iran's Nuke-WMDS techs will devol into being just one source among many in the Muslim Middle East + North Africa, + thats good for OWG Caliphate-happy both Rising Iran + Islamist MilTerr/Jihadi Groups.
"Maybe the kind should become friends with Israel and not trust the US (who has shown a preference for Democracy, even the kind that will obviously install a theocratic dictatorship after the first vote.)"
I remember the good old days when the West was supposed to support democracy? Its always a bit galling when those claiming to support freedom start lamenting others having democracy.
We should support democracy, everywhere. If people vote for a regime that removes democracy, we should oppose.
Supporting shabby dictatorships because they are on our side this week hasn't proven very successful so far. We propped up Saddam in the 80s and backed Islamists in Afghanistan. Not to mention the Shah in Iran, creating the conditions for the Islamists to take over.
The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan who is emerging as a consensus pick for one of the all-time great U.S. presidents.
For it was Ronald Reagan who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies. His 1983 speech on the subject was widely derided as Star Wars because he envisioned that some missile would be intercepted in space. For years critics claimed that it was impossible to intercept missiles in flight, or that at the very least it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. But now the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. We dont know how the system would work in combat but it has been vindicated in testing.
The U.S. has also cooperated with numerous allies to develop more tactical missiles defenses designed to stop rockets, not in their boost phase, but just before they hit. One of those projects is the Iron Dome system that Israel launched after the 2006 war in Lebanon, during which Hezbollah bombarded northern Israel with thousands of rockets. Today Iron Dome, which is still officially listed as experimental, is operationaland it is blunting Hamass missile-offensive against Israel.
According to the Israeli Embassy in Washington: In the last 4 days: 544 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel + 302 Iron Dome interceptions = 846 rockets fired at us. The fact that only 302 of 846 rockets were intercepted (36 percent) might indicate that Iron Dome is ineffective. But in fact it is expressly designed to ignore rockets headed for uninhabited areas. Israeli officials say that 90 percent of the attempted interceptions have worked, thus providing critical protection for civilian areas including Tel Aviv, where an Iron Dome battery has just been moved.
Somewhere, wherever he is now, the Gipper must be smiling.
Used to work with faith-based lib groups. Held my nose while doing it.
You'd have thought seminaries taught orbital mechanics to hear them talk.
They were against SDI. They're also against Israel.
Seems as if they were prescient--Israel can defend itself--if not successful in stopping SDI whose descendants allow Israel to defend itself.
Posted by: Richard Aubrey ||
11/20/2012 9:01 Comments ||
Targeting of high-ranking Hamas leader successful. Iron Dome testing successful. Iranian rocket supply to Hamas successfully revealed. Mobilization of 75k reservists successful. Hamas rocket inventory successfully decremented. All systems are GO!
The rockets from Gaza are not guided missiles and they don't go high enough to be targeted by the strategic Defense systems. Iron Dome intercepts low trajectory rockets (and is doing a good job).
The targeting systems, subsystems, etc. used in Iron Dome may be valuable for use by strategic defense systems but that is a technical issue.
Missile defense may well work (I hope it never comes to that but if it does I hope it works), but the success of Iron dome doesn't prove it.
Posted by: lord garth ||
11/20/2012 10:57 Comments ||
I have no special technical knowledge about the field whatsoever. Please explain why the Iron Dome task isn't more difficult than intercepting ballistic missiles. I understand that it's different in key ways, but those differences tend to make me think Iron Dome is doing a tougher job.
I'm hardly an expert but I'll take a shot at it.
A suborbital missile like these is actually pretty slow.
ICBMs go into space and pick up a lot of speed on the journey. Hitting them is generally limited to launching (best time because they are slow, but limited opportunity because you almost have to have a finger on the trigger); in space (in which you need a platform up there able to do so and the missile has to pass the platform during the quick transit); on reentry (most prep time but the missile is coming in really fast and by this time is prepared to deploy multiple warheads and other junk to confuse your targeting.
I think the military is trying a combination of the first two. HIt it when it goes up with a laser and if that fails hope to hit it on reentry with missiles.
The ballistic missile defense work is being carried out under the ARROW program - joint US-Israel project. It has gone through a lot of modification since work began. I think RJS explained the general issues. The ARROW is meant to be a terminal defense system.
If there would be a defense in the booster or ascent or early descent phase, it would have to be a US system since Israel does not have robust satellite resources.
Posted by: lord garth ||
11/20/2012 14:19 Comments ||
IMO Israel's worst-case scenario would be fighting a repeat of 1973's Yom Kippur, where it was attacked in surprise and was forced to fight a multi-front war agz the major Arab League states. Through luck, guts + hard fighting Israel was ultimately able to defeat the mass formations of its opponents but at the cost of using up the bulk of its war reserve materiel. THEN-POTUS RICHARD NIXON HAD TO AIRLIFT MASSIVE QUANTITIES OF US MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO ISRAEL TO STAVE OFF = PREEMPT LOGISTICS-LED BATTLEFIELD, HENCE NATIONAL, COLLAPSE.
The post-Arab/Islamic Spring situation in the ME is becoming very similar to 1973, save wid the potential threat of post-Spring Arab-Muslim Govts becoming nuclear ["Nuclear" Yom Kippur], + ONGOING ISRAELI, PERT UNCERTAINTY OVER POTUS OBAMA'S REAL COMMITMENT TO SUPPORT ISRAEL IFF SHTF AGAIN ALA 1973.
Israel's alleged "SAMSON OPTION" may end up being its first resort, NOT the last???
A multi-volume chronology and reference guide set detailing three years of the Mexican Drug War between 2010 and 2012.
Rantburg.com and borderlandbeat.com correspondent and author Chris Covert presents his first non-fiction work detailing
the drug and gang related violence in Mexico.
Chris gives us Mexican press dispatches of drug and gang war violence
over three years, presented in a multi volume set intended to chronicle the death, violence and mayhem which has
dominated Mexico for six years.