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Peter Singer

In: English and Literature

Submitted By bottledragon
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In Peter Singer’s essay “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” he explores the possibilities of each and every American giving up about 2/3 of his/her income. However, rather than simply talking of his own solution as another theory, he tells the reader in so many words (literally) that he/she is wrong. A large chunk of the essay is basically a big middle finger to everyone reading it. It is almost as though Singer wanted to invoke anger out of the reader so that he/she would then go and donate money to charity, so as to say something along the lines of “You lookie here, Singer, I’m not who you say I am.” Some people might think that Singer is just out of his mind, but I think he was angering the reader by making harsh accusations on purpose. Singer opens his essay with a ridiculous story from a film about a fictional woman named Dora. In the story, Dora is a “retired schoolteacher who makes ends meet by sitting at the station writing letters for illiterate people.” First off, how could anyone make enough money to live comfortably like that? She ends up selling a homeless boy to what she is told to be a “wealthy family.” Her neighbor somehow knows that this is not the case, that the boy will be put to death and his organs sold. Second of all, how does the neighbor know this? This accusation is not explained. Dora then goes home with her brand new television, feels guilty, and takes the boy back. Why would Dora do this without further research? She has no proof other than passing words of her neighbor that he will be killed. Perhaps in the film, this is explained, but Singer does not elaborate further on this subject. He just assumes that this is the case, that the boy will be killed, and that Dora is a fool for not knowing this sooner. He then compares the unspeakable: “what is the ethical distinction,” he begins, “between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one—knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?” Like I mentioned earlier, Dora did not know that the child would be killed. In fact, I am not even positive that the neighbor knew that, and unless Dora walked in on the peddlers, knife in hand, I do not think she would ever know for sure. Then he gives the reader a really lame story about a man named Bob who sacrificed a child’s life for his Bugatti. Bob saved up his whole entire life for this car! He then proceeds to park it on the railroad tracks. “Stop right there,” the reader should say. “What kind of moron would park an expensive car on the railroad tracks?” It is not because Bob is simply a moron. It is not because the railroad tracks are abandoned. Singer gives no reason for Bob parking his car on the railroad tracks. Then, he gets out, and starts walking up the tracks. By some coincidence, there is not only a lone child alone, stuck on the tracks, but a runaway train with no one on it barreling along. Conveniently, there is a switch near him that would make the train switch tracks. “Then nobody will be killed—but the train will destroy his Bugatti.” Without even thinking about it, this monster in the shell of a human body stands by while the kid dies, and Bob lives happily ever after with no regrets. The first problem with this story is that Singer failed to mention any mental problems with Bob; Bob is just a regular man. Any regular person (meaning he/she is neither a sociopath nor a psychopath) would at the very bare minimum feel guilt for letting an innocent child die. Bob did not even question his actions, not even while he was in the moment. What happens to the child’s family? What about the police? There must have been an investigation. If the story ended exactly how Singer ended it—dead child and no remorse—then Bob was surely a monster. Singer has the audacity to compare an average hard-working American to this soulless man. He does not even make note that the story makes little sense; he just expects the reader to follow it as it went through his head as he typed the essay. Surely, someone as prestige enough to get put in the New York Times Magazine would double check all of his research? Singer knew that some Americans reading his essay would take it as is, but he also knew that there were people with a higher intellect who would question these stories. Therefore, he dumbed down the stories, purposely leaving out some of the details so that the ‘smarter’ readers would be filled with rage when they were insulted on a level that even they could not understand. He gives the reader the phone numbers and websites for UNICEF and Oxfam, not so we will contact them, but so we will seethe in the fact that he tells us this with a smug little attitude. No, he does not expect the reader to call and donate $200 right out of his/her own pocket, even though that is what he said in the essay. Singer inevitably wants the reader to donate to a cause that he/she believes in. The reader will then feel like he/she has accomplished something great, meanwhile not giving into condescending Singer. His motivations are apparent right after he gives us the number, because his overall tone changes. “How should you judge yourself if you don’t [donate]?” he asks the reader. Singer yells through the text at the reader, giving no real, research-based reasons that a person should donate. Later he explains that “for most middle-class Americans” it would be easy to donate $200,000. Everyone knows that the idea that a middle-class American makes $200,000 is a hyperbole by any form of the word. The reader knows it. The New York Times publishers know it. Singer knows it, too. He just pushes and pushes until the reader will be angry. His essay is constructed so poorly, it is constructed well. Singer concludes his essay by once again reminding the reader that we are all Bob in a way, that every American has his/her hand on the railroad switch with the option to save a child’s life. He muses that Bob was not unlucky (and implies that Dora was also not unlucky) because everyone deals with that sort of situation every single day. This is his final move on the guilt-trip chess board, and he will call “check mate” only when the reader pays a good deed forward. Singer never wanted the reader to actually donate all of their extra money, the whole purpose of his essay is to convince the reader to do good, by making him/her feel bad about not constantly helping others. He knows that no one (or a very, very small percentage) is going to actually follow his advice. His whole scheme was to provoke an emotional response in a reader by telling them in so many words something that most absolutely hate to hear: “You’re wrong.”

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