Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sing-ing Lear

I'm going to start by saying that I love reading Peter Singer, and I stand with him on moral issues that are a part of my heart. His solution to world poverty, however ideal, is a marvelously optimistic approach to a matter that is more complex than what he says it could be.

In a perfect world, people would give up every luxury and live only on the bare necessities in order to assist famished populations across the world without a problem. But we do not live in a perfect world.

One of the themes of Shakespeare's King Lear is the concept of sight and blindness. Most citizens of first world countries live in "blindness," even if they firmly believe they do not. According to Singer, anyone who doesn't sacrifice all of their luxuries for the good of the Starving Children in Africa are blind. Only those who live on the $30,00 and donate everything else have true sight.

I believe that it's possible for everyone to share in this sight, but what Singer asks is too unrealistic. Sight first requires mutual recognition of the people who need aid and assistance. We live in blindness because that is all we see them as, but they are humans with heads and hearts like us. Once that is achieved, everyone could give a percentage, say 10%, of their income to charity. This would not mean drastically changing one's lifestyle, or drastically effecting the country's economy.

Thanks to Singer, it is evident that themes that are present in Lear are relevant when it comes to the world today.

College and Lear

The "Why Us" Essay has become the most dreaded part of applications for many students. After going through the application process and researching how to write a successful "Why Us" essay, I have found three common types of essays.

1. The Goneril: If you are applying early decision, you already look good because the admissions office will see your application first. You can use your "Why Us" essay to talk about how committed you are to [insert school name here]. It is the only school for you. You've bled [insert school colors here] since you were young. You were born to be a [insert school mascot here].

2. The Regan: If you are applying early action, you still look pretty good. However, you have to prove to the admissions office that you love [insert school name here] more than all of the Gonerils. Make it seem like [insert school name here] is your top choice. Say that the Gonerils are unworthy. Profess yourself an enemy to all other schools.

3. The Cordelia: If you are applying regular decision, you have the hardest job. After seeing the Gonerils and Regans apply before you, it is normal to feel worried about how you can compare to them. It might appear to the admissions office that you are the least dedicated, but you can still really love [insert school name here] and apply regular decision. Be honest. Promise to be fully committed to [insert school name here] if you are admitted.

To conclude, here are some thoughts on what to do when decisions come back. If you are admitted, do not do anything to make the admissions office question their decision and rescind your application. The admissions offices will not allow any "betrayals". If you are deferred, the admissions office might see how deserving you are and accept you later. It happens more often than you would expect. If you are rejected, you can still be important to the school later on. Consider continuing your education there at a later time. They may never realize that they previously rejected you.

Relative happiness

In his book,Viktor Frankl suggests that love and happiness must be balanced out by suffering. He sites the fact that some prisoners find extreme happiness in the sunset because they have no other source of happiness in their life. He suggests that the contrast between suffering and love, gives meaning to both.

I believe that Frankl's argument is correct. The only way to measure something is in terms of something else. without a baseline, nothing can have meaning. Everything is relative. Therefore, happiness and suffering must rely on one another for meaning. in order to suffer, you have to know what happiness is, and in order to be happiness you must know what suffering is. After a long practice, coming home and resting or eating is much more satisfying than had I not had practice.

Save the Children!!

Singer's article felt like a big guilt trip to me. He kept bringing up dying and starving children, as if the knowledge of their existence would shame me into going to the website of one of the charities he mentioned and giving away half of my money just to save the life of some poor, dying baby. I felt like he was telling me and all the other readers that we were essentially child-murderers if we chose to keep all of our money. Like, he actually talked about a guy hypothetically killing a child to save his expensive car. And then he tells readers to reach for the phone and donate $200 before reading on. According to Singer, I'm a murderer unless I give money? Which, okay, maybe I should be donating some money to charity if it really will save a kid's life. But why? Because some idealistic Australian man told me that I'm selfish if I don't? I feel like donating to charity should be done because you genuinely want to, not because you feel like you're going to be human garbage and a child-killer if you don't.

His article almost discourages people to give money because of how unrealistic and accusatory it is, in my opinion. Maybe his goal was to create such an unrealistic set of standards for how people should give money that it would just get people thinking? By going to the extreme and saying that people should donate everything not spent on necessities, maybe people will feel okay donating just those $1000 to "save five children." Of course, you don't know where your $1000 will go. Maybe it will pay someone's 500K+ salary, or maybe it really will go help some suffering children somewhere. Anyway, I'm not trying to diss donating to charity. I think it's incredibly admirable to give away money to help those in need (and there are a whole lot of people in need!), because humans are selfish and giving up your hard-earned dough can be challenging. What isn't admirable is making people into hypothetical child-murderers in order to get them to give up half of their cash.

Also- I don't think Singer ever mentions the idea of donating your time instead of your money to help impoverished people.

Singer's solution to poverty

While Singer's idea would provide a solution to poverty, the terms of his arrangement need work. His argument is based on the idea that people should spend their income only on what is necessary, and donate the rest of it to charity. 

This plan sounds like it would work but the expense of those making the money seems too high to me. I think a more reasonable solution would be a cap on the donation amount. People would donate their excess, but only to a certain extent. That way people in poverty would receive aid, and people with more plentiful income would be able to spend their money in order to reward themselves for their work and keep the economy going.

The Philosopher, the Prisoner, and the Art Teacher

"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering."
-Friedrich Nietzsche on suffering

"As the prisoner's inner life tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before"
-Viktor Frankl in his observations of Holocaust prisoners

"The darks make the lights appear lighter, so we put the lightest lights in direct contact with the darkest darks in order to achieve a dramatic 3-Dimensional illusion." 
-Art Instructors on technical value

The profound relationship between suffering and love, evil and beauty, and dark and light stems from the power of contrast. In any pair of opposites, one end is just as valuable as the other for the structure that it provides. If every day were free of suffering, there would be no standard for love. Frankl's article offers an extreme perspective on a relevant concept; that suffering brings meaning to love. He remembers instances where prisoners were overwhelmed with feelings of joy about the natural beauty of the sunset. They were able to feel extreme joy from something as common as the sun since their standard for love was brought down to an extreme low due to their miserable conditions. The extremity of life as a prisoner during the Holocaust is not the kind of suffering that people need to bring meaning to their lives, but Frankl's points shed light on a greater image of the human condition. People have a funny way of balancing the extremity of our emotions. Our lows bring our highs higher, as goes for the other way around.

Halfway to Compassion

Obviously I have never experienced anything even remotely close to the terrible things that happened at Auschwitz, so it struck me as odd that I could relate to the feelings that Frankl invoked. It got me thinking that the way humans deal with suffering remains sort of consistent through different kinds of pain.

Some people may say that because suffering carves a twisting hole in your stomach it is not worth the perspective that it gives you on the world, but I disagree. I think that sometimes, after I have been through an intense emotional pain, I see the world more vibrantly. I feel more. Without feeling pain, I wouldn't be able to gauge how truly happy I can be.

Besides that, I think that suffering increases our empathy. I heard once that truly feeling your own pain is how you get halfway to compassion and that the only way to become truly compassionate is to learn to understand the pain of others.

What is our obligation to give?

Singer presented a very interesting idea in his article, the thought of giving all of the money you spend on luxuries to international organizations that help and feed starving children. I agree with his belief that it is important to donate to these organizations, but I do not agree that people should give up buying things they enjoy completely. 
I do believe that a privileged person has some responsibility to give back, but not in the ridiculous amount Singer is suggesting. 
I think Singer does not touch on a very important point that I definitely believe in, the idea of not just giving your money, donating your time. Donating your time can be just as beneficial if not more so than just giving money, and if you are not willing to give so much money to an organization but want to still feel good about yourself morally, donating time is perfect. A person should not feel bad about themselves if they don´t want to give up all of their luxuries, it´s an interesting, but way to extreme of a proposal. 

Response to the Criticisms of Singer

In Peter Singer's piece, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty", the reader is forced to confront a rather uncomfortable reality. Are they in effect condemning a child, man, or woman to death by not offering up the surplus of their income to charity? Singer would argue yes, that there is no strong moral distinction between diverting an oncoming train to a child instead of their car, or refusing to send their excess funds to those who are struggling. It seems like people are finding fault with this article one, because it isn't a pragmatic solution to world poverty, and two, people have a basic right to the money that they've earned.

I don't think that Singer's statement is weakened by its absence of realistic application. That's not what I believe he intended to do. His main agenda was to set an abstract moral standard. One that isn't dependent on its practicality. As long as group "A" have a surplus they are not willing to share with the suffering group "B" then they are acting immorally. Singer argues that if you are not actively trying to solve the problem of world poverty, no matter how complicated and vast it is, you are contributing to the problem. The only reason that there isn't a pragmatic solution to this poverty is because people are either too greedy, or are caught up in what Singer calls follow-the-crowd-ethics. Too many people are assessing their morality relative to people who are similar to them socioeconomically and ethically, preventing any significant change.

Another major issue standing in the way of any progress is the entitlement people feel to their wealth. It's nice to think that your effort and intellect justify your wealth, but in reality wealth and opportunity are arbitrarily assigned. Your future wealth is heavily dependent on the conditions you are born into. To feel entitled to the benefits of the fortunate circumstances of your birth doesn't make much sense.

Suffering To Understand Humanity

Victor Frankl speaks of the world and of humanity with a humble, deeper understanding of the way humans process pain and attempt to spare themselves from the worst of their suffering. The further I got into the article, the more I began to think that, while suffering takes endless forms and is unique to each person, the human reaction to suffering has similarities that span all kinds and levels of suffering, and lead people to similar understandings of the world around them.

If I am able to relate to the coping mechanisms and thoughts that went through a person's head while in a concentration camp, having never experienced anything remotely close to the horrors of Auschwitz, I believe that speaks to the creation of a greater understanding of humanity in the midst of suffering.

At some point, after all strategies of coping with suffering still leave you with the feeling of a hole through your stomach or a rock on your chest, you realize that the solution is not external, it's internal. Being angry at the world or at the people around you will not ease your pain. Instead, it is crucial to find the things that bring you sanity and hold on to them. For Frankl, imagining his wife brought him peace and comfort, and he knew that the man next to him was doing the same thing.

Suffering offers perspective. While some may argue the perspective is not worth the pain, I disagree. I believe that a greater, deeper, realer understanding of the world and the people in it is worth the pain. Often feeling the pain of suffering (in a more modern setting), whether it is a questioning of one's identity and morals, losing people you love, or making a life altering decision, I truly believe that if you can persevere through the suffering, the perspective you gain of the world is invaluable.

While it is hard to see at first, when you are trying to push through all of the things that are causing you pain and holding you out of reach of peace and comfort, attitude and hope are crucial to enduring suffering and appreciating the knowledge you gain looking back. After suffering, everyday emotions seem to have only scratched the surface of the capabilities and complexities of the human mind, and suffering allows you to peer into the deepest places of your mind and understand humanity in lights you never thought existed.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." True or False?

I have always believed that suffering makes a person stronger--not always in body--but definitely in mind. Feeling emotional pain can toughen a person to future experiences that they may not have been able to get through without knowing that it can always be worse. But Frankl's article displayed this argument in a new way. He wrote about how being intellectual originally helped people survive in the camps because they were able to escape the situation and retreat into their own minds. An example that he gave was how he would think of his wife as he was marching to the work sites. Does a person have to have some sort of mental toughness to be able to go through suffering and come out stronger on the other side? I don't think this is true, but I think that it does help.

Frankl also wrote about how in their time in the camps, the prisoners were able to appreciate the smaller things that they would not have appreciated before. I believe that this is because when a person is knocked to the lowest form of life possible, they are able to take a step back and realize what a blessing all of life's luxuries are. This happens in all forms of suffering, but more strongly the more severe a form of suffering is.

I still believe that through suffering people become stronger--even better in some instances. But I don't think that that always mean that people are benefitting from their suffering.

Who's Singing this Man's Praise?

The principle argument behind Singer's article is that people should work their hardest to help those in need. However, he takes a utilitarian perspective when he essentially suggests that people should keep their necessities to a minimum and donate any sort of excess to the poor. If everyone were donate their money to the poor than there would be no sort of differentiation among people Although, ideologically speaking this is a sound solution for the increasing poverty issue in the United States, realistically speaking this is not a practical solution. The most realistic solution is to likely create a coalition that progressively works on this problem in each individual state as a federal approach will likely be less organized. The best possible solution is keep each state working on a gradual solution to the problem of poverty.

Valuable Suffering

There are a lot of sayings about having to experience pain to know happiness. My favorite being DJ Khaled's saying, "You have to go through the jungle to make it to paradise." Victor Frankl in "Man's Search for Meaning" challenges the power of the pain often described by quotes in his expression of the suffering felt in a concentration camp.

Persevering is often thought of as the key to overcome. Frankl cited apathy as the what was used to survive. I think that through apathy they were able to persevere. Through utilizing apathy they were able to make it through. There seems to be a stratification of the type of suffering and the ways to make it through.

My favorite part of the piece was the discovery of happiness. The fleeting and attainable moments of happiness Frankl was able to discovery were beautiful.

In all I don't think the question is whether or not we should suffer. I think the question is what degree of suffering needs to be felt?

Let Them Eat Cake

As many people seem to have said, Singer's "solution" to poverty is completely unrealistic and going to work approximately, hm, never.

I don't really think that's the point, though. Singer is well aware that no one is actually going to donate everything they have to charity. The article isn't really trying to convince you to give away everything you don't absolutely need--that's not going to happen, no matter how persuasive the writing. It's to remind you that you always could be giving more than you already are. The point, as far as I can tell, is that people are complacent in their charity and that there aren't (according to Singer, anyway) any valid excuses for not doing more.

I think I mostly agree, to be honest. I really don't have any excuses for not donating more. I could definitely do just fine without half of my stuff. So, you might say, am I going to give it all away now?

Uh, no. But that doesn't really change that I should. I just won't. It's being selfish, and I'm fine with it, and so are 99% of the people who have excess to give. I just think we should also acknowledge that it is, to some extent, a little wrong and a little selfish. We're not all saints.

p.s. Marie Antoinette never said "let them eat cake," although she was completely clueless about the lives of the poor! Still didn't deserve to get beheaded for it, though.

The Singer Solution - Not Realistic

Poverty is still one of the biggest issues in the world today. Thousands of people die from starvation each day and millions of people are hungry. Peter Singer addresses this issue in his New York Times article, The Singer Solution to World Poverty. He states that the successful individuals should donate money to overseas aid organizations to help the poor. However, his proposition lays on a controversial topic that questions people's morals and their own rights. Personally, I think Singer's proposal seems unrealistic, but I also believe people should be more educated of these issues that our happening in our world. 

Singer states that simple solution to helping the poor is that whatever money you spend on unnecessary merchandise should be given away. Instead of upgrading our TV, we could use that money to save the lives of kids in need. Singer raises the concern that there are children dying around the world because they lack money while we spend money on things that we desire. Consequently the moral question is raised: shouldn’t the affluent ones make an effort to make a difference?

Americans believe that since they have worked for their money and paid high taxes to live in this country that they should have the right to do whatever they want to do with their own money. 
In addition, they argue that the economy is dependent on their expenses. If Americans don’t spend money on expenses, businesses and factories will be closed. Then, the unemployment rate will rise. Therefore, Singer’s idea seems unrealistic. 

Even though Singer’s solution does not seem ideal, he did raise the concern of the poor. We should  all donate money. However, not too much that it would cause a drastic change in our economy, but just enough that can make a difference to those in need. Additionally, the people should not be the only ones helping. The government possesses much more global control and should make an effort to save the millions of hungry lives.

Suffer for your (He)art

I can't say I've been through anything nearly as bad as a concentration camp, but I have definitely been through situations in which I've found suffering to be beneficial.

When we feel emotional pain, it's often a far larger feeling than any other emotion we've felt. Last year I went through a tremendously painful period of my life, and I found myself reeling at the pure depth of the emotion inside me. I had never felt so much before.

What I found after the painful period was over was that I was suddenly able to experience all of my emotions to a greater extent. When I'm happy, I am now capable of being unbelievably exuberant. When I'm nervous, I can feel my blood pumping through my veins. And when I'm content, I feel peace like I've never felt it before.

The phenomenon seemed to be as follows: when I suffered, the pain dug deep down within me, far deeper than anything else had ever delved. As it did so, it burrowed through cavities of extreme emotions that had been suppressed inside me for years.

This is my theory: all of our human emotions function as one, to a certain extent. By dampening one of them, you by effect dampen all of them. Sorrow and anger are perhaps the only emotions that are harsh enough to break through our artificial seals and retrieve them.

Quantifying our Charitable Burden

Singer addresses the obligation of the well-off to the world's poor. Rather than a time-consuming global redistribution of wealth and income, Singer suggests perhaps a faster and more practical alternative-- each individual should donate 1/5 of their annual income to charity. Not only should each individual donate their surpluses, but each individual should feel morally obligated to do such. Although such a harsh instillation of the way a person should manage their life kind of bothers me, I think it's mostly because it makes me feel defensive and guilty about my consumption.

A major flaw I see in Singer's philosophy though, is that he doesn't make a clear distinction between necessity, convenience and luxury. Does convenience play a role in necessity? Singer would probably answer that it doesn't, but people have a hard time drawing that line. If he had made that more clear, I think we would have an easier and less defensive time rethinking our consumption.

He also doesn't point out any moral motivation to accompany the moral obligation. Without putting a value to the obligation, it seems distant and hard to relate to. All Singer gives us is his own detached perspective. He points out no moral motivating factor that would push all well-off humans to donate everything beyond necessity.

These flaws are beginning to feel like excuses for not giving. I think I'll have to come back to Singer, when I actually have an annual income or a family to support or anything that might intensify my feelings towards these charitable "burdens." In the meantime, socialism seems to be gaining the interest and support of Americans, especially with Bernie Sanders running for President. It will be interesting to see if the government takes action before individual citizens do.

Singer Hits a Foul Note

The argument that Peter Singer makes is not terribly complex, and is easy for many to understand: society must become less materialistic in order to solve poverty. He also demonstrates the hypocritical nature of the public through his example with Bob the Bugatti owner and the film "Central Station", showing how if the person were to ignore the dying child the public would look at them as a monster. He shows that although when ignoring charity one does not see the child die, they still should be looked at the same way because they are not helping someone in need.

But his argument stops being effective at this point. He then mentions how Americans need to reconsider their spending, and anything that is a luxury donate what would be spent on that to charity. But how is that realistic? We live in a society that would likely have some members rampage over a ten dollar tax raise that goes to helping the homeless. To put it bluntly, Singer's argument is invalid and ultimately naive. To think that people will stop being materialistic is unrealistic. I like charity as much as the next person, but I know I would find it very difficult to avoid any luxuries and instead donate to a cause. And I know that I am not alone in saying this. So while Singer makes a point that would be sensible if human greed was not in play, his argument is ultimately useless when it comes to applying it to society.

Singer's Not So Superb Solution

In the article "The Singer Solution to World Poverty", author Peter Singer attempts to analyze the differences in morality of certain individuals who, in his terms, chose to spend their incomes on novelties such as televisions and fast cars instead of on the poor and underprivileged who need it.  In order to build his argument, Singer uses the examples of several people, including a Brazilian woman named Dora from the film "Central Station" and a man named Bob.  Both stories involve children who are impoverished or endangered.  Dora chooses to save her child that she unintentionally put in harms way, while Bob turns a blind eye and intentionally let's his child die in order to save his own property.

While I was expecting Singer to make the cliché and expected statement that the examples given were more similar than different, and that both situations show that everyone should be donating their time and resources to help those affected by poverty, the author takes a slightly different route.  Singer himself actually distinguishes his examples from those who can afford to donate to charitable organizations, leaving the reader to decide for themselves whether or not a comparison can be made between themselves and the individuals in his examples.  Although Singer does suggest that people take a second thought before going out and spending $200 dollars on a dinner at a lavish restaurant, for the most part he leaves the end opinion up to the reader.  I myself have no problem with society spending their own hard-earned incomes on items of novelty.  This is one of the standing principles of meritocracy.  And while I don't exactly agree with the idea that the amount of money one possesses should have a direct impact on the status one holds in society, I do realize that this is how the majority of the general public views the concept.  Saying that the upper echelon of society should be the sole group responsible for providing a trickle-down of wealth to those in need is a stretch, but I believe the burden falls on those who are both willing and able to contribute to the well-being of the less fortunate, rather than all of the population's income that is not used on necessity like Singer suggests.

Singer Feels the Bern

Peter Singer probably feels the Bern. Or atleast more so than Donald Trump, Hilary Cinton, Ted Cruz, or umm, err, uhh Ben Carson. Now Bernie Sanders is not as radical as Singer and more focused on domestic issues than global issues, but their ideologies are not that different.

Singer's ideals are wonderful and logical. His ideas are ideal, but, unfortunately, highly improbable. This unconscious lack of morality present as the backbone of capitalism is what drives American consumerism, and therefore the economy. What prompts people to buy and sell out $200 Yeezy boosts is the same thing that keeps our economy afloat. So instead of saving people world wide who they have no way to see the clear benefits, they will spend on themselves to feel the benefit.

Bernie Sanders has similar ideas to limit the excess of America and give so that all people have their necessities. Sanders points out the many flaws of wealth distribution within America such as that the Unted States has the highest childhood poverty of any developed nation, the top one tenth of a percent almost owns as much wealth as the bottom ninety percent, and that the United States has more wealth and income inequality than any other major developed country (Bernie Sanders).

I believe that Sanders should be elected president. I do not think he will be able to pass any major legislation as the self proclaimed Democratic Socialist will have a lot of opposition in the Congress. Yet if Sanders was eected president, he will bring many important topics to the forefront of politics that should be discussed like the wealth inequality present in America and how to fix these (like more taxation or tightening of tax laws). In our current world, it will be near impossible to achieve the social and economic morality Singer observed, but maybe with enough awareness, one day we could so that all have life's neccessities.

Singer's Solution: Change Society

In Peter Singer's article on how to solve world poverty, he suggests that everyone donate their excess money to charity. He says that anyone who doesn't is essentially killing a small child. While I think this is a nice idea, in reality it seems completely unrealistic. Firstly, it is completely unrealistic to expect everyone to willingly donate any money they don't need. We live in a materialistic society and that isn't going to change overnight. Secondly, if everyone donates all their excess won't everyone be near poverty? Presumably Singer only intends for people to spend money on food and shelter. What happens if one person in the family loses their job or gets sick or the house burns down? The family would have no funds to rebuild or pay for medical care. For his idea to be feasible we would need a complete societal overhaul. For these reasons I believe that Singer's solution is completely unrealistic.

A Single Solution to World Poverty?

In Peter Singer’s “Singer’s Solution to World Poverty,” he suggests that people need to consolidate their belongings into necessities and start giving more to charities and non-profit organizations. The examples he presents are people deciding to save their new and expensive car or saving a child they do not know. I think Singer has a valid argument when he mentions that some people are ignorant and selfish, but at the same time some of his ideas are unrealistic and cannot apply to every person. Not every person has the same surroundings, so the fact that Singer makes the argument that every person should be donating their excess is a little false. Families might need bigger homes to accommodate more people. People might need to eat a little more to work a little longer and harder. I think there are some people that spend too much on unnecessary objects and luxury items. I know that some people are put in awful situations where they have an extremely difficult time getting out of their situation, but what about those who actually put in work so they can live in a more luxurious life. Do those people not get a reward for their success and work? I guess some could argue that those people then know the hardships and should be donating even more to get those people on their feet. I think this argument could go on for a while with many pros and cons. I think the overall thing is that people need to be more conscious of their spending and realize that there are people who are in a worse situation. I think there are too many unanswered questions after Singer’s argument that there isn’t a clear solution to world poverty and I don’t think there will ever be a single solution to the issue. I do like that Singer says everyone is in this dilemma. People having to choose new possessions or helping people. People make that decision consciously and unconsciously and make it everyday. I think people have moments when they realize how fortunate they are, which then they are willing to give up on a possession or idea (but for the most part they do not follow through). While Singer’s idea that people should constantly give money or time to an organization, it is unrealistic and people are unconsciously selfish and too ignorant to donate to those organizations.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Singer Solution

In Peter Singer's, The Singer Solution to World Poverty, he lays out a very basic and easy to comprehend idea on how to address the problem of world poverty. Simply put, what money you do have that is being used for necessities is okay to use. However, all other money, as close as a family can go to reducing all luxuries to almost nothing, should be given to world needs and donated. Singer uses a couple of thought experiments to propose his idea and also takes some from other writers.

Singer's idea is a really good one. The whole idea makes complete sense, and to Americans especially, this is a must read. However, the whole idea is super unrealistic. I am pretty sure that most of us spend thousands of dollars on luxuries each year, and we usually have no problem with doing so. Some people spend most of their lives working for the luxuries that they get to have because of the amount of excess money they are able to attain. I don't see how people are just going to give that up. Also, with this idea, people would basically have no retirement money and therefore, they couldn't retire. People reach an age that they almost can't work and sometimes they just can't seem to find the urge to. The life that Singer proposes would have lost a great sense of enjoyment, and I am pretty sure that is something that most people just won't agree to.

All in all, the idea is a really good one. I just think that it is too unrealistic. I think that the idea would be much better on a smaller scale and even though not everything would be fixed, the world would more than likely be a better place.

Defining Necessity

Singer's argument can be broken down to something fairly simple: limit yourself to necessities, and give the rest away. The $200 you would have spent on a fancy dinner could have saved a child's life, and it is morally, and philosophically wrong to not do so. I was surprised at the depth of the article, as Singer addressed almost every counterpoint I could think of in a detailed and meaningful way.

That said, I did find one problem with the article, and that's Singer's insistence that "necessity" is a unified, defined term. What if because of the size of your family, you need a bigger house? What if your appetite is larger that most, and as such need much more food?  What if the nature of your business requires having two cell phones? I think the relatively fluid nature of the definition of necessity means that a lot of people could adhere to Singer's mantra and still live comfortably. I wish Singer would have addressed this in the article, instead of assuming that the term is a constant.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Money...Morality...Mutual Recognition?

Peter Singer, in his article, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" proposes a radical solution to poverty. He argues that instead of indulging on the the many spoils in life such as fancy clothes, cars, and vacations, we should give our non-essential income to those less fortunate. Singer gives an example of two people, Bob and Dora, who choose to enjoy a luxury rather than help a poor stranger. I thought they were being selfish, but according to Singer I am just like Bob and Dora. He explains that those of us with excess money are faced with the same type of decision everyday and we choose ourselves by not giving to charity. Singer's grand solution is to make giving all unnecessary income to charitable organizations and those living in poverty a moral obligation. 

Defining redistribution of wealth as a moral obligation raises many problems. First, Singer's argument is more homogeneous in a socialist society rather than a capitalist one. Second, "moral obligations" are tricky. I think unless enforced by law, it won't happen. For example, I would like to think people wouldn't kill one other because it's morally the right thing to do, but without a law forbidding it, would there still be less murder? It's a negative view of human nature but it's just a thought. 

In addition, the article made me think of mutual recognition. Many people have commented on the fact that it's human nature to not be close to strangers and be unwilling (at first) to give money. I agree. Giving money to unseen people fourteen hours away does not seem as fulfilling. Although giving a large portion of your earnings is a start to a more even "playing field", the action is not mutual recognition. Our society has an attitude of it's a "burden" for "us" to give to this "other". Until you change people's minds about what kind of world they want to live in, Singer's solution won't work. I wish for a day the world will achieve mutual recognition, but I can't envision the road map to get there. 

Overall, Singer has an over-arching idea right: Some have more than they need and others don't have basic needs fulfilled. Excess should be redistributed. But what is excess? When does one stop giving? If I were to make a six figure salary I would try to give as much as I can, but easier said than done. Similar to discussions about gender and racial equality, violence, and more, the discussion on morality and poverty does not end in one class period or one article. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Silver Lining of Suffering

Viktor Frankl's "Experiences in a Concentration Camp" was a fantastic piece about the goodness of suffering. The piece described Frankl's experience in a WW2 concentration camp. Although I have not gone through anything nearly as horrific as him, through his narrative I was able to get a detailed perspective of what prisoners had to go through. As Frankl put it, "Those who have not gone through a similar experience can hardly conceive of the soul-destroying mental conflict and clashes of will power which a famished man experiences." (43)

One of the main ways they dealt with the obvious trauma of being in a concentration camp was through apathy. A general numbness to what was going on around them kept the prisoners from having to constantly take in the absolute hell they were living in everyday. An interesting thing Frankl said that could become of such extreme mental and physical anguish was an increased spiritual life. Those "able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom" ended up being the ones to come out the best at the end. (47) Overall, the damage to their inner selves was less extreme. But Frankl's most significant and mesmerizing discovery came to him with the rising sun on an early morning march to that days work sight- love is the ultimate goal for man to achieve. That's wonderful. Its not wonderful that he had to wait for such a horrible experience to inspire him to think that thought, but its wonderful how simple the thought was! No matter how horrible something may be for someone, they can find happiness, if only for a second, in thinking of a loved one. Through "loving contemplation" one can achieve fulfillment.

Another idea brought up was that of nature and art. When one has nothing else in their life, like Frankl and his fellow prisoners, they come to experience the beauty of art and nature much more intensely. He described how, despite their complete loss of hope for life and freedom, he and his fellow prisoners were still in complete awe of nature's beauty whenever they got the chance to see it in full. Suffering results in an increased appreciation for all that was taken for granted before the suffering began. I think that that is such an important concept for all people to carry with them.

Loving Contemplative Apathy

In Frankl's article, he discusses life inside of a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two. In it he argues that there is value in suffering. There is value in suffering because while suffering there is no way to express yourself in a positive way except for loving contemplation. Frankl argues that loving contemplation is the only way to achieve personal fulfillment while suffering.

Along with that idea, Frankl also presents the idea that the only way that one can survive a situation like a Nazi concentration camp is by removing all emotion from your life. He states that complete emotional detachment is the only reasonable way someone could live in Auschwitz. Frankl discusses how apathy plays a major role in the dampening of emotions. In his mind, apathy was a consequence of living in the camps and at the same time survival without the dampening of emotions cause by apathy was impossible.

An over arching idea that Frankl established at the very beginning of this experience was that he would endure his suffering and not take his own life. He believed that honorably taking your pain was another prerequisite for personal fulfillment in the camps.

The Tragedy of Wealth and Poverty

Singer's article, The Singer Solution to World Poverty, in the New York Times Magazine discusses the importance of donating to charities and other humanitarian organizations. Singer says that everyone who can afford to, should donate to help people who are in poverty and life threatening situations. Although Singer's message is one of good intentions, he goes to an untenable extreme. Singer declares that we should not only give, but give up all non-essential enjoyments so that we can give more money to organizations that help people who are in poverty.

The character Gloucester in The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare shares a similar opinion to Singer after he is blinded. In act four scene one, Gloucester gives his purse full of money to Edgar, not realizing it is his own son, because he believes that it is a man who is in poverty. As Gloucester gives Edgar his purse he says "Here, take this purse, thou whom the heavens' plagues have humbled to all strokes. That I am wretched make thee the happier" (73-76). Although Gloucester is not in a great position himself, he still gives his money to Edgar.

Singer's motive and argument is noble and well meant. However, he goes too far when he brings up a fictional story of a man named Bob. In the story Bob must make the decision of saving a young boy from getting hit by a train or his Bugatti. Bob chooses the Bugatti. Singer uses Bob as a metaphor for the need to be unselfish when giving to humanitarian organizations. He then claims that we are hypocritical and no better than Bob if we do not give away all money that is not a necessity to organizations that help save people. Singer claims that even if we give away ten percent of our income every year to charity, that is not enough and we are no better than Bob.

While Singer's proposition to give away everything that is not a necessity sounds great, it is an unrealistic idea. Why? Because it completely counteracts our economic system that motivates people not only to work, but strive to achieve more than their peers so that they can be "better off" and more "financially stable". While it's nice to think humans are perfect, kind, and caring the reality is far from that.

However, Singer is not wrong when he says that we should give. While some of our taxes do go to these organizations, it is far from enough. If we want to live in a society where wealth is directly related to effort then we need to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve.  That means that we do need to donate to charity to help people escape poverty so that they can have similar opportunities those with more wealth have.  But, that does not mean we all give until we are on the edge of poverty. 

Singer's Lack of Solution to World Poverty

In Peter Singer’s article “The Singer Solution to World Poverty” he gives to examples of dramatic situations where a person can choose whether to be selfish or selfless. Dora has to choose between a brand new television and a random young boy’s life. Bob has to choose between the car he spent his life savings on and a random child’s life. Singer says that everyone reading these two scenarios obviously agrees with the more ethical decisions. He also says that we have the opportunity to save the lives of children every day by donating all our disposable income to charity, however; most people choose more selfish things like cars, clothes, and other luxuries. Singer says that if we are buying unnecessary luxuries, we are entirely hippocritical.

Although I agree with his principles of selflessness and utilitarianism, his theories are impractical for multiple reasons. First of all, his analogies between the two scenarios and helping kids overseas does not work due to the emotional proximities he described in the scenarios. Humans clearly do not have any sort of emotional connection to people they do not know. We are much more likely to be generous in places where we see the positive outcomes, like giving gifts to our loved ones, to our communities or to local charities.

Singer’s argument also does not work due to the way our government and economy works. We live in a country based on capitalism and working hard to get a high paying job so we can be greedy and buy fancy things. I think the more realistic standpoint to have is a push towards socialism in our country. If we have a more equal distribution of wealth and government aid, we can have a culture with less focus on greed and the individual, but greater focus on equality and selflessness within the country. Socialism allows for utilitarianism without individual greed intervening.

I agree with Singer that instead of running to the stores to constantly consume, we should stop and ask ourselves whether we really need the items. However, Singer’s article is ineffective and extremely impractical due to the greed in our culture and the lack of emotional connection with less-privileged people we do not know. It is obvious that those with great wealth should donate money to improve the lives of others, but I don’t think this is a new concept at all.

Morality v. Money

After reading Peter Singer's The Singer Solution To Poverty, I think that trying to find what a privileged person is supposed to do for a person living in poverty is somewhat confusing. Singer argues that a person should make donations and try their best to help people in unfortunate situations. His arguments are very convincing, and he really breaks everything down for the reader -  so they really understand what he is trying to say. 
One of Singer's main arguments is that most privileged people have more money than they need, and the extra money that is not necessary for survival should be donated to help those young children living in unfortunate conditions. Instead of going out to dinner, or buying new clothes, a person should use the extra money for someone who actually really needs it, not just for a random want of their own. 

Morality is a tricky word to define, especially in today's world. Morality can have so many different meanings, but in Singer's eyes, morality is helping those who are under-privileged. Morality is helping someone with the money or material objects that you don't need, and changing someone's life in some way.

Singer makes a very interesting argument, and I think that it is something that is always overlooked by people, including myself. We're always looking to have the best things, but we never give much thought to the other people who are less fortunate than us.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Unfortunate Disparities Between Privileged And Poor And What We Should Do

The article by Peter Singer about privilege and priorities in society is one of the most interesting articles I have read in a long time. It is fascinating because it talks about such an important topic of the disparities between the rich and poor in the world. As a society, we tend to recognize and address these gap issues. But what are we actually doing about it? Singer offers debatable insight about it.

Singer dives into the idea that people with stability are obligated to assist children and families who are less fortunate. In his article, he uses an example of a guy named Bob who has saved up for a Bugatti. When Bob sees a young child about to be hit by a train, he realizes if he hits the switch button to stop the train, the train will fall on top of and destroy his Bugatti. Bob doesn't hit the button and the kid dies. This is terrible in my opinion and an example of how people in society have their priorities out of order. A life is far more important than a car. However, I begin to disagree with Singer when he says what Bob did is the same thing as not donating $200 to an organization or charity. Not everyone has the money or ability to give to these organizations, but everyone can save a kid who was in Bob's situation.

Ultimately, I see both sides to Singer's argument. Even a few dollars can help, but not everybody has the extra money to give to organizations and save other lives. I am a strong believer in selflessness and providing for the less privileged. However, the wealthy population of people should be the ones donating if anything. They are the people in the world with money to spare and if they choose to buy themselves things, that's one thing. But I don't think someone is in the wrong if they are caring for their own family first, whether that's going to eat, buying clothes, paying for their school, taking them out, etc. We definitely can be more mindful as a society about how we are spending because Singer is definitely right when he says a good amount of money people spend unnecessarily could go to these impoverished children. He's also definitely right about how it's wrong that people put objects before humans. I can't believe someone would ever choose to save their car over a life. You can replace a car but you can't replace a person. In a perfect world, everyone should donate to the poor. It is however unrealistic considering not every stable middle-class family has that type of money to give to organizations.

I wish poverty wasn't a thing. It's truly unfortunate that society is separated in that sense. In the end, I believe privileged individuals are obligated to spend less on themselves, form more donation groups within their communities, and donate some type of number whether its 200$ or 1$. The problem is that many people indeed do these acts of kindness such as save a kid from being hit by a vehicle or donate to a charity. Yet, we still have disparities and an overwhelming amount of families in destitute. Either more privileged people need to wake up and be selfless or something in the structure of society needs to change.

Idealism and Poverty

In his article, Peter Singer explains that one way to get rid of world poverty is to donate 1/5 of your annual income to charities that help those suffering from poverty. His solution is very simple: give any excess money you might have to charity. If you don't, it is equivalent of Bob's decision to let a train run over a child rather than his Bugatti.

I remember reading a little bit of this in Philosophy last year, and I felt super guilty after I read it. Singer's argument is very logical and might work. But it is very unrealistic. It is unrealistic to expect every person on earth to donate their extra money to charity and I don't even know how such a law could be enforced peacefully.

Also, even if people did follow this rule by donating all their extra money to charity, the issue of world poverty would not be solved in the long run. Even with generous donations, I feel like the money will never be enough. And while standards of living will be higher for many, people will always demand more.

I like Singer's thesis. But, I think it is too idealistic to be applied to the complexities and messiness of the real world.

Obligations and Morality

People who are privileged do have some obligation to help those in need, but not as big of an obligation as Singer believes. Singer's ideas about donating the majority of one's income to charities that help save lives are very sweet, but very unrealistic. He forms his beliefs around utilitarianism, which seems like a very reasonable philosophy on the surface, but in actuality holds humanity to insanely high standards. For example, why should parents pay for their children's college education when the money could be spent saving lives? Why should we even go to college? And consider this scenario: two people you do not know are tied to some train tracks, with a train speeding toward them. You stand next to a switch that can shift the train to a different set of tracks; only one person is tied to these tracks, but she is your mother. According to utilitarianism, you would be morally obligated to kill your mother and save the two strangers.

The only people who are morally obligated to give almost all of their money to charities are those who believe in utilitarianism. However, people who are fairly wealthy should certainly consider donating money whenever they can. When people earn more than around 70,000-75,000 dollars per year, their happiness typically no longer rises based on earning more money. After this point, people should have a stronger obligation to donate money to charities, and would probably be far more likely to donate more money anyway. The higher a person's income, the higher their obligation to donate should be. For someone earning one million dollars a year, donating upwards of 250,000 dollars would not hurt them at all, and serve to help a great many people. Someone earning 50,000 dollars a year with two kids, however, might not be obligated to donate anything at all. 

Rationality vs Happiness

After reading Singer's article, I was struck by the simple rationality of his argument. Each point he made was based on what it takes for one person to survive-- the bare minimum. He critiques members of the UN for donating money below the recommended amount of .7% of a given country's GDP. I understood Singer's arguments and logic. It seems good. It seems nice. But how realistic is it?

There must be a way to reconcile a charitable and, by Singer's logic, just lifestyle with a person's everyday happiness. Although living using an absolute minimum amount of resources may be the correct and fair thing to do, it is entirely unlikely that anyone of greater means would consider doing so unless it yielded general happiness or contentedness. Brooks stresses the importance of intrinsic value of one's work. There must be a way to balance the intrinsic and extrinsic value of one's life and work.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Citizen Part 3 of 3

In one of Claudia Rankine's most prominent part of Citizen, she includes the script for the Stop-and-Frisk portion of the Situation video, describes a situation where racial profiling led to the arrest of an innocent African-American man, simply browsing a shop.

"And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description."

After doing some browsing on youtube, I discovered a video that gave meaning to this statement. The video is a compilation of young Black men around my age, filming themselves as they are shopping in grocery stores, convenience stores, Walmart etc. However, in each video, they are being followed by a store clerk. The clerk is following them, because they are the "one guy who is always the guy fitting the description."

The video title dubs this phenomenon "Shopping While Black". The video gives true insight to those who have do not fit the description, to the experiences of those who do.

Citizen Part 2 of 3

In one part of Citizen, Claudia Rankine introduces the World Cup portion of the script for her Situation video. Phrases of reaction to racial injustice at the World Cup intersected with images of an altercation between players.

"Big Algerian shit, dirty terrorist, nigger."

"The Algerian men, for their part, are a target of criticism for their European countries."

This theme has been heard before, in Albert Camus' The Stranger, which happens to take place in Algeria. While Camus' novel included racial undertones, and pushed other agendas besides race, Claudia Rankine focuses solely on the aspect of race. Both novels mention the degradation that Algerian men (specifically Arab Algerians), face harsh racial prejudices like the one mentioned above.

However, there is a time lapse between The Stranger and Citizen that makes the issue even more significant. While certainly The Stranger covers a power dynamic between people of different races, Citizen exposes a whole new issue- increased fear of terrorism. Many fear those of a certain race, categorizing them with a breed of terrorists where the only thing they have in common is the color of their skin.

While some may claim this is a religious issue, I am certain that it has something to do with race. Their are many instances of Sikh men being attacked by those who fear they are terrorist. Many of these attackers associate Sikh men with those of Islamic terrorists, and while it is attacking of anyone because of their religion is unjustified, it is truly something else to mistake someone for practicing another religion, and use that as a justification for attack. This shows that many categorize people, down to their religious practices, just based on the color of their skin.

Citizen Part 1 of 3

Claudia Rankine's Citizen covers issues of race on the spectrum of small micro-agressions to larger conflicts of race. In one part of the book, she discusses a situation where a woman places herself between a young child and herself. This falls somewhere near the "micro-aggression" end of the spectrum.

But what this also shows is that children have nullified concept of race, which is formed through experiences such as these. Race is something that children quickly become conscious of as they grow and realize the events happening around them.

My Spanish teacher told a story to our class once about family friends of his who he and his wife had  dinner with. They were from a rural area of Illinois, where I suspect diversity was not as commonplace as it is in ours. As their dinner discussion continued, they talked about how they haven't had the 'race' conversation yet with their preschool daughter. It had not occurred to him that that is a conversation that one must even have with their children.

I assume that Rankine's audience in Citizen was intended for teenagers and older. However, children are still present in the interactions that we have in race. Race is something that children learn more and more about every day. And while conversations about race are important, we must be careful in what ways we define race towards children.