The Life You Can Save: Chapter 2

Today I started reading Peter Singer’s “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty“. I’m a fan of Peter Singer; it was his seemingly irrefutable logic that made me a vegetarian.

For various personal reasons, this topic of helping the poor is one that interests me greatly. So I’ll probably post a few times on my reactions to his arguments in this book.

This evening I read chapter 2.

Chapter 2: The Basic Argument

“First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.”

Yep, seems reasonable to me, although nihilists might disagree.

“Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.”

Yep, also sounds pretty good.

“Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.”

Not so fast, Mr Singer. I’ve seen aid agencies from the inside. I’ve also seen them at work in various African countries. In my opinion, they are not an unqualified good, successfully converting donated funds to saved lives. They have their fair share of empire building, wasteful spending, clashing ideologies, and dire projects. To those who doubt this, I challenge you to spend six months working for an aid agency. You are likely to become outraged, cynical, or defeatist.

“Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.”

Because I don’t agree with the third premise, I don’t agree with the conclusion.

Nevertheless, I do financially support an aid agency, and have done so regularly for 16 years.