fatal complex
Data Source: danielgaudard

Neither Ignore nor Deny the Suffering in the World

Can we justify drinking beer, even quality fantastic beer, in a world of suffering or does this mark us out as negligent and indulgent people?1 I’ve had thematically similar questions come to mind from time to time but only recently has the idea of suffering coupled with drinking good beer come to a head. The reason being threefold, my enjoyment of good beer, a recent reading of Singers essay “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (FAM), and the very real starvation of approximately 20 million people today (see World Food Program).

As many a decent and innocent child, as I once was, has done since time immemorial, I have wondered how there could be so much suffering in the world and about its disparity. As I grew older I wondered if the things I enjoyed and quite often took for granted, except in said moments of introspection, were appropriately used vis-à-vis how someone with less available resources might have behaved in a similar position and even what they would prefer others to enjoy assuming their exclusion (I was weird on top of caring). The trifling luxuries that I’ve had at my disposal have been modest by first world standards. However, to only focus on the material benefits is to overlook the greatest privilege, the experience of living in a society that has afforded me these material advantages while providing a reasonable assurance that they would not be arbitrarily taken from me. Not only have I had access to resources but more importantly I have lived in enviable circumstances allowing me to enjoy them without undue fear of being deprived of access to them [Sen, Development as Freedom].

Singer’s seminal essay deals with the affluence and responsibilities first world societies have to the rest of the world, specifically the underprivileged and suffering. Through the linking and building up of simple assumptions Singer arrives at the conclusion that people with the resources commonly seen among the developed world have an obligation to use those resources to the benefit of those who suffer. I find myself agreeing superficially and generally with his conclusion, the kind and innocent child within not yet dead, but I am uncomfortable by the final prescription.

FAM Synopsis

It is no longer possible in our modern and connected world to claim we are unaware of the suffering happening around world. With this suffering made present to our attention we would be acting unjustly in not doing everything we could to prevent these very bad things from happening, especially if not asked to sacrifice something of moral significance. Singer articulates two versions of this principle: “we should prevent bad things from happening unless in doing so we would be sacrificing something…” morally significant [moderate version] or… of comparable moral significance [strong version].

Singer prefers the strong version but provides the moderate alternative to show how far short we are falling even under its lowered threshold. Singer introduces the thought experiment of a drowning child in a pond to further this argument: “if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.”

In acknowledging the suffering of others in the world and taking “no account of proximity or distance” we are doing the equivalent of allowing the child to drown when we spend our time and money on frivolities instead of in an effort to reduce suffering. Singer takes note of the percentages of wealthy country GNP’s (written in the 70’s) that could be redirected to attain such goals and that the citizens themselves could and should be aware of their partaking in a “consumer society, dependent as it is on people spending on trivia rather than giving to famine relief.”


When you’re told something inconvenient, something that might/should require you to change how you go about your days, it is understandable if you do not simply accept it like the rational being we all tell ourselves we are. No, you are a human and inconvenient information can be handled in an assortment of different ways, the least likely of which, it would seem with growing life experience, would be to consider it unemotionally.

First off, the information can be ignored or dismissed. After all, you are the arbiter of what you decide to believe (also too confident an assumption regarding our rational abilities). Barring, failing, or following this denial you may resort to anger. Nothing so well signals indignation to the tribe as a hot emotional response. In the face of unremitting facts this will not last long. Either the anger will dissipate or a blood vessel will burst, but either way you are likely to be bested by the new reality. This is when regressing still further brings us to begging and pleading to get us out of the situation. Moral indignation having proved ineffectual it is now time for a different manipulative ploy.

Depending on how well or not you manage to delude yourself you may believe that you are all in the clear but an ounce of honest reflection should set you straight and having gone through a gamut of emotions and responses it is forgivable it you feel a bit low and allow yourself to be discouraged. If you manage to claw your way out from under this depression you should arrive at a more mature state of mind, one of acceptance with the situation at hand. Embodying this frame of mind you are more likely to face facts and deal with the problem in a more constructive way than you have so far [Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (loosely)].

The punch line, not at all funny, is that I gravitate to the spirit of Springer’s prescription: if you are able to help others without detrimentally impacting your own life in a comparably moral significant way you should do it [strong principle]. However, the closer I get to full agreement the more uncomfortable I feel acquiescing to his logic and the unnecessarily draconian consequences it could lead to.

For one thing it strikes me as overly reductive to boil everything down to, even something as noble as, helping your fellow man. The idea of committing your overall life’s effort to primarily reducing suffering in the world, while beyond reproach from a kindhearted perspective, seems to rob the color from other pursuits, each of which might be considered reprehensible to consider in light of another’s suffering, but in aggregate help contribute to a possibly fulfilling, interesting, and generally just life.

Additionally I am not convinced that due to changes in technology and near instantaneous communications now available we are required to favor the suffering of people on the other side of the world equal to those suffering in our own area.2 If it is simply a case of cost benefit analysis than it may be obvious that one dollar given to a cause somewhere else goes further than at home. By this simple arithmetic one could maximize the good they were doing, as a measure of people’s lives they were directly impacting, by concentrating their funds exclusively in developing countries. But that’s the arithmetic of just one equation. There are other considerations to be had/heard.

To say that Singer has proved his point would require that we follow his assumptions, agree with their connections and outcomes, that they add up to a conclusion that is secure up-and-down its foundation. The argumentative foundation itself rests on something still more basic, our human tendencies which are contingent on hundreds of influences having to do with biology, physics, culture, historical institutions, and personal psychology. From the very first assumption, that it is bad to have people die of famine or poverty, we are relying on this humanity. Much like Singer I will not bother trying to entertain the thought and arguments of those with an opposite view of the matter but I bring it up to show what I mean.

We take as a given that it is bad to suffer and die under such circumstances, that most people would agree to this point of view, and that the metaphor of saving a drowning child in the shallow pond posing no serious risk to oneself would require the response he outlines. Yet each of these assumptions lay on top of our biological, historical, and psychological underpinnings. The very mention of a child in the pond instead of an adult already pulls on the heartstrings. We can come up with the rationalization for this or reduce it to a biochemical reaction in our brain but we can just as easily take it as a natural given we have to work with.

Not all of our desires are as clear, noble, or without ulterior motives. I suppose we might not need ethics if they were, or it would be a different exercise altogether. Some of this is understood and addressed in Singer’s very essay. He articulates the way in which we “ought” to do certain things in an effort to not only show how we are falling short but in what ways it can be shown that we are falling short by our own measure if we take the time to think through the repercussions more clearly (certainly more clearly according to him, but he has a sympathetic reader here). I suggest we agree with what he states but also that it is not the full story. There are other desires which conflict with Singer simply stating his conclusion and his readers converting to modern day secular saints/heroes [Urmson, Saints and Heroes]. Singer suggests quite coyly that his simple statement would mean a societal change. No shit, he is asking for a moral revolution on par with, the envy of, previous world sages, including the Buddha, Jesus, Marx, etc.

Our ethics (mind) are running ahead of our bodies by thousands of years due to the difference in cultural versus biological evolution. If we hope to save our souls, metaphorically of course, we need to acknowledge that we are running 21st century software (some of us) on fifty thousand year old hardware.3

Where am I Headed?

That there are stupid things we spend our time and money on is of little argument, that we should do fewer of these things is without a doubt, and that we would all benefit from doing more for our fellow man is to a large extent uncontroversial. However, we have known these things from time immemorial (our written traditions, which are based on our oral traditions, which are in turn tied to our pre-verbal communal life indicate these virtues), so knowing these propositions has not been, and is likely to continue not being, enough.

I wish to look at the ways in which the strong formulation is lacking, despite its honorable intent. Perhaps in identifying the “trouble” with Singer’s prescription we can make suggestions at alternatives that address the underlying problem of suffering in a more holistic and pragmatic approach.4


A greedy algorithm looks to maximize its return based on immediately available information and expected returns. Given the choice between two options it will take the one with the highest immediate payout. This sounds good on the surface. Why wouldn’t you want the larger of two stacks? Because you may be passing up larger rewards later on. This may confuse the explication but let’s think of marshmallows. Doubtless most have heard of the “marshmallow test” by now. It seems to be making the rounds in popular social psychology books, articles, and talks.

Data Source: aidanmorgan

Without getting into the long term ramifications of the study’s findings on deferred gratification let us just go through the structure of the experiment. Children were brought into an observation room individually, presented with a marshmallow on a plate and told they could have the treat now or if they held out for 10 minutes, for which the researcher would leave the room, they could have two marshmallows later. Let’s assume you’re not a monster, like one of these devious adults running this tortuous experiment on poor kids, and you like marshmallows. The choice at the moment is between zero and one marshmallow in the moment. Being greedy you eat the marshmallow. At the next step you are left with no more marshmallows. However, if you had been able to look out ahead, and you were given that information in this case, you could have chosen instead to maximize overall marshmallows and thus waited. You would have purposely chosen zero marshmallows followed by two at the next step, thus coming out ahead as far as these two approaches are concerned. What the hell do marshmallows and algorithms have to do with Singer’s strong principle? Two things, really. The first is related to consequences and the second is covered in the next section.

By prioritizing immediate rewards you run the risk of cutting yourself off from larger future rewards (myopic). The outcomes we receive are path dependent and our actions cannot simply be rerun (irreversibility). We always operate with limited information but we can look to the past for guidance on how to proceed. As will be touched on later, direct aid may not be the most effective means of combating the ills of poverty and poor health worldwide.

Moreover, there’s not much of an exaggeration needed in pointing out that few actions stand up to the moral significance of helping someone who is starving, then and there. Nearly all desires will wilt under this pressure. Going for a walk, grabbing ice cream, volunteering at the library, having a yard sale, going to a child’s dance recital, you name it. In practically all head-to-head decisions you should forfeit the alternate action to doing something then and there to save the starving, unless you are temporarily delaying in order to create a greater rescue effort later on (less myopic but still restrictive across a different time window).

Where are we left when we sacrifice all our desires and wishes for the sole benefit of others? May we not be collectively impoverished as a result? In addressing the immediate need we go for the quick reward but leave out so much more. Take this website as an example. My efforts in creating these posts should be forfeited and I will not even pretend to argue against that position (shit, there are plenty of good reasons beyond Singer’s to shut this down). However, there is a bizzaro-Reg out there. She is also putting up a shitty little site, as measured by traffic and general attention. One day this writer puts out the most important novel of her generation. Should she have stopped her writing to save others? Would we not have lost something? How about the case of a lifetime loser turned posthumous winner, e.g., Van Gogh?

Twee vrouwen in het veen
Data Source: jantito


“Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.” -Whitehead

There is a limit to human willpower [Baumeister, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength]. If we are to run the math every time we compare our actions against a (too high) ideal we will be worn down and may end up “quitting”, in the long run doing less good than we could have under a different approach. To jump ahead a bit I will suggest the desirability of carving out a bit of superfluous money/time/energy and diverting some of this toward benevolent causes. Individuals would start small, growing their discretionary give-aways in percentage over time, and preferably find a way to automate the effort. Communities would be formed of like-minded people, pool resources, and coordinate action.

Both of Singer’s points are “greedy” in subsuming nearly all activities to its purview. It is potentially short sighted and all consuming (though Singer never specifies that this is a calculation done at every turn it is hard to draw the conclusion that on some level the comparison would not be made for all actions performed). No “ought” from an “is” but also no “ought” without grounding in “is”; reality today is the starting point. As such the prescription is unpalatable, raising a tension between breadth of ethical applicability and real world hedonistic tractability.5 Speaking of which.

Hedonistically Intractable

Also reductionist is the separation of actions to be weighed against the context of saving/helping someone from starvation. What, if any, mundane interest or desire could stand up to such scrutiny? Are we to bring our life low for another’s benefit, even if we were to agree there would be no better reason to consider such a scenario? What about the desires of the one asked to be making the sacrifice? But what sacrifice can compare to the pain of another? Exactly, it all melts in front of such demands. The taking away of a good is troubling on at least two levels: there is the immediate loss of the good and, perhaps worse, almost certainly worse, the removal of the right to such things in the moment and possibly moving forward. Whether a good should be desired is certainly up for debate. Undoubtedly many examples Singer has in mind (fancy clothes, expensive vacations) can be dismissed as luxurious non-necessities when assessed on their own merit in counterpoint to what he is arguing is at stake but the same item/service has different meanings to different people (family heirlooms, cultural artifacts, personality disorders).

I agree with the feeling (for the umpteenth time) but prefer a different approach. Let us all take stock of our standing, both in real and relative terms. Relative to neighbors, countrymen, ancestors, descendants to come, and of course the wretched of the earth. Let us be as honest, clear, and well informed about this standing as we can be and the general trend of the fortunes of our friends, the well-being of family, professional outlook, local and regional economy, world peace, etc. Being honest about essential needs, superfluous spending, whether it be in time, money or attention, and identifying the space in between, if any (some are not so lucky, regardless of place of birth), begin the process of cutting into this gap for the benefit of the less fortunate.6

Rational & Individualistic Fetishism

Separation from time, place, history and biology

There’s likely no end of history, neither is there a final equilibrium nor an ultimate goal to shoot for. Life and circumstances are ever changing. The challenges keep evolving. There is no guarantee that the prosperity of the last two hundred and fifty years is here to stay, let alone continue. The advancements made in the sciences and human rights are a small mistake away from being wiped out and sending us back to something more likely resembling a feudal social system. Having arrived at this level it would be irresponsible and a disgrace to squander our inheritance.

I am not suggesting giving to and helping the poor is likely to bring about societal collapse, but if you are lucky enough to have been born in this time in human history and into a wealthy country on top of it perhaps you also have a responsibility to ensure you hand over to the next generations their fare share of the endowment passed on to to date. This concern relates to dealing with climate change, nuclear proliferation, threats to advanced societies stemming from instabilities resulting from resource depletion (water “rights”; ocean fauna/flora collapse; endangered coastal areas from rising sea levels), wealth inequality, and political oppression/surveillance. These are just some of the most salient and least creative examples. There are also “eccentric” issues revolving around AI, nanotechnology, and global pandemics to give a taste of slightly more esoteric concerns. Further, we can cite financial collapse, cyber warfare resulting in a knockout of the power grid, water access, etc. (we are more fragile than ever). The wealthy countries of today and their citizens are in a fabulous position to help the less fortunate. The obligation of this push should not come at the cost or neglect of, or at the very least we cannot expect societies and cultures to act against, their interest or well being.

In a country/society that wants to and does help the poor? Support that society moving forward in order to continue assisting the less fortunate moving forward. Put your own air mask on first, otherwise you are not helping anyone.

“our quality of life in the developed world is a fragile, fortunate exception to the global historical norm of toil, oppression, poverty, disease, and death.” - G. Miller, Spent7

Using the individual as the unit of measure for suffering and consideration of rights is a powerful scale but is inherently reductionist and has its limitations. There are two key shortcomings that are relevant for our discussion. First, you may be able to treat each individual equally but not make the group as a whole better off. Triage is an effective method for a reason. In order to do the most good you have to occasionally prioritize and by the very nature of the process, if not out right, pick losers, determining likely candidates for the unfortunate roles. The second and more relevant way in which the measure of individuals is short sighted is in implementing effective responses. It may not be necessary, desired, or prudent to have everyone behaving as a disassociated group of atomized individuals versus a community of people, in a proper sense. The former acts with little to no coordination and/or knowledge of the others. The latter may pool its resources together in order to effect the greatest change/good. [McKinsey, Obligations to the Starving]

I am willing to believe that such a collection of right acting people is preferable to Singer as well and in line with his prescription. Either way, the formulation of his rule, as stated, regardless of the spirit, is dangerously individualistic and ahistoric. It is a formulation for a simulation or video game and on its own would seem to steer away from communal/social behavior. There is an asymmetry in the analysis: there is a world of hurt, you as an individual must perform the following individual calculations and actions. No, there is a world of hurt, it requires a world of attention.

Implicit dismissal of complex environment with complex beings

The reducing of such complex arrangements to a simple formulaic model should have red flags waving in everyone’s mind. Formulaic ethics as an example of a spherical cow.

Must be forgiven for being literal/reductionist, this is the dance we were invited to, where something as complex as human desires, actions and repercussions are reduced to a couple of indexed statements meant to give the appearance of precision. Of course these dozen words or so have cleared all intricacies away like a jungle machete; Gordian Knot is more like it.

Political neuter/silent-ist

The balancing act of using the individual as the basis of measurement for rights, violations, duties, etc. while not isolating the individual to be the sole actor of political and economic behavior. Atomized citizens may result in societies that are without the interlocking structures, communities, and institutions required (or soon will be without them) of effective action. The thought experiment has the additional failure of couching the decision as an exclusively individual one. This ignores the drowning person everyday and the need to not make this an individual responsibility but a collective response. The argument is corrosive in its idealization of individual action and responsibility in the face of a societal failure requiring group mobilization and institutional ability.

If you want to do the most good for the suffering head to Washington DC not Africa. You have more standing and influence on a number of different policies (see two sections below for options).

To the extent that we act in a politically limited way we are failing; either as a society for not providing the opportunities or as citizens in not exercising our responsibilities and protecting our privileges.

Incomplete Thoughts

The thought experiment of the drowning child is ill conceived. It is certainly evocative and difficult to argue against it arising the reactions intended. However, its failing arises from not going far enough in scope and as a result failing to map sufficiently well onto the greater world tragedies [Gendler, Thought Experiments and Intuition]. The scenario can be multiplied in several ways to better get us to what we are up against. First, once you have saved the child and dried yourself, wrung out your socks and begun walking again you would not have travelled far before coming across another pond with yet another drowning child. You save this one as well, dry off and resume walking, only to come across a third pond, a fourth, etc., each with a drowning child in them. This happens all day until you collapse from exhaustion and get some fitful rest, no doubt tortured by the nightmares of the lives you are unable to rescue as a result of your sleeping. The next day the situation repeats itself. And the next, etc.

Another version of the same idea is having multiple children in each pond. You can multiply the varieties every which way you choose but I believe the overall story is clear.8 You can go all day, every day, saving drowning children and you would never be done. Being in such a situation it would be fair to ask, “What the hell are you thinking?! Go tell some more people about what is going on.” Having recruited more people to the effort you stand a better shot but even so, for the foreseeable future you and your like minded, right-acting, co-conspirators would be addressing symptoms and not causes. Instead of only pulling these children out how about looking into preventing their falling in in the first place?

Ethical Syntactic Sugar

The internal complexity or simplicity of an argument should never be the ultimate criteria of determining whether it is better than another. The final verdict must be pronounced by facts and reality. What about Occam’s razor? Well, quantum physics is by no means the likeliest of explanations, it just happens to be the most correct as far as we can tell [Deutsche, The Fabric of Reality]. Knowing what is right is not always sufficient. Sometimes the knowledge of ‘What’ to do is more daunting than inspirational. A ‘How’ would prove empowering. A ‘Why’ would retain conviction.

A forceful argument is not necessarily a valid one. Only someone who has not suffered through or witnessed first hand the effects of starvation and drought could even raise such doubts. However, granting that this is the most egregious affront to our humanity due to the immediacy, preventability, and human cost are we to throw all of our resources at the problem until it is resolved, to the detriment of other concerns, and not distribute any of our resources to other priorities in the meantime?

Do no harm. Our ancient doctors were only too aware of their own ignorance and ability to cause damage. Aid does not work like investment. Economic development does not happen in the absence of an agreement, implicit or otherwise, between the government and the governed. The government needs taxes in order to carry out its activities and the governed provide these taxes. The tension in this arrangement creates the constraints around which both parties must work, manage a give and take, and provide some level of responsiveness to one another. In the absence of this tie the government can afford to ignore their citizens.

To paraphrase Peter Baur, development requires many conditions. To the extent that only capital is missing it will soon be made available, locally or via government/private commercial loans. However, if conditions are not right, capital will be unproductive and ineffective. While this may seem a simple view it goes further to looking at reality than the hydraulic theory of foreign aid which expects money going in to turn into benefits coming out; a philosophy that views development and poverty issues as engineering problems. This couples well with the aid illusion, “the erroneous belief that global poverty could be eliminated if only rich people or rich countries were to give more money to poor people or to poor countries.” [Deaton, The Great Escape] This is not pure arithmetic, it is multivariate calculus on a simple day.

Other forms of support which may help without undercutting the development of societal institutions and capabilities: researching diseases that disproportionately affect the poor; provide expert advice on infrastructure/services; supplement country capacity (e.g., provide supplemental legal representation in international negotiations); curb arms dealing; trade and lending practices (away from repressive regimes); rich country trade restrictions and subsidies hurt poor farmers; migration and remittances; temporary education migration (favoring citizens of poor nations) [Deaton, The Great Escape].

fluffy chaos
Data Source: xdxd_vs_xdxd

Biology NOT Physics (nor Engineering)

Moral license, behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology, moral hazard, the limitations of willpower (Baumeister), the tragedy of the commons; these and other observable/verifiable behaviors/conditions should not be ignored. The idea that simple arithmetic, appropriate to measuring the redistribution of money or other accounting practices, could be applied to human behavior, one of the most complex phenomena we are aware of, and be expected to function seamlessly as just one more variable is dangerously simplistic.

The formulaic approach to matters of human conduct are imperfect at best, oftentimes nonsensical, and harmful at worst. All models are wrong, but some are useful; simplifying for the sake of clarity, tractability, summarizing or to test predictive powers is one thing, to disregard salient elements of reality or entertain wishful thinking is quite another. “The need for a formula is a precarious psychological quirk, not a justification for requiring universality of any possible moral theory.” [Anomaly, Nietzsche’s Critique of Utilitarianism]


A person should be spared avoidable suffering but imposing the strict arithmetic of Singer may very well render the enjoyment of those who are able to help and pursue self actualization devoid of meaning above and beyond bare sustenance and leave the destitute in aggregate no better off.

There is little in a person’s life that would not be found lacking in the moral sense with respect to the suffering of another.

“But you live in a first world country, you will not be left destitute.” Exactly, but that set of circumstances did not materialize at random (leaving aside for the moment the very real charges of HOW certain [all?] countries have accumulated wealth). What is your obligation to sustaining said society, culture, and institutions? Given that you are in a society that even has these kinds of discussions should warrant one wanting to ensure its propagation, at least in part.

How to formulate a society that would behave more closely to this ideal is the real question. Singer asks of us not so much a sacrifice as an opportunity to claim our human decency, an invitation to further develop our human compassion and increase overall flourishing.9 This is a task requiring efforts on multiple fronts, but primarily on the societal side. Saints, heroes, and other virtuous people are likely to be with and among us for as long as we survive but that is really not enough, neither in the moment and less so with the passage of time.

We need to develop institutions beyond our personal lives, whether it originally be with just one other friend, in order to create and sustain a change. The task of giving to and serving others who are less fortunate is based on our acknowledging the value of human life and the responsibility each of us has to that value. There is a human connection there that is being catered too. It is this connection again that we need to develop and bind moving forward. Despite our magnificent ability to view the universe from the center of our individual perspectives we each fall far short of what we can accomplish if isolated and left to ourselves, neglecting the opportunity to forge connections with others and overlooking their equally valid perspectives.10

Turbulent Star-Making
Data Source: NASA gsfc


1 Drinking crap would diminish the general well being in the world and as such does not seem worth exploring here.

2 How much of my sympathy can be chalked up to time and place? Talk about accident of birth. Would not the idea of considering all individuals as having an equal valid demand on your assistance been laughed at, most likely scorned in past eras? Let’s chalk some of this difference to progress in morality but let us not be overly generous in our estimation. Sure, we have all heard of the sermon on the mount but isn’t its power or impact the greatest in part, in large part, as a result of its idealized proclamations? Imagine yourself a tribesmen of ancient society, the herdsman on the savannah, a lawyer in a less than fully developed country today. Could we actually believe that we have no obligation to those around us, the forbearers before, and our children to come above and beyond strangers on the other side of the river, let alone the world. This fetishized individualism that sees nothing of the social fabric, the community. Sure, all of this is a biological influence of our being social primates. We should not allow ourselves to draw an ought from an is, yada yada. Except how secure are we in the grounding of that statement? It is indisputable, let’s grant, on the basis of logic and ethics. The very logic and ethics of primates who have been able to develop civilization and in some parts of the world create societies of abundance, while members of the same species are starving around the globe, we are now aware of it, all of us decent gorillas do feel bad about it, and we should (ha ha, should) do something more than play lip service. I am all for the conclusion: we should be doing more and if we choose to act in accordance with our beliefs and standards we would improve the world in at least two ways: we help the less fortunate and we enrich ourselves by being the kind of person it is we wish to be (should be).

3 Heard this phrasing in Jim O’Shaughnessy: “What Works on Wall Street” Talks at Google; also on Talks @Google: “Why facts and science don’t always change People’s Minds”

4 Perhaps there may even be space within this framework for craft. And if not would we be justified in denying parts or all of it? Now, who’s indulgent?

5 A turn of phrase inspired by Sutton, RL Ch. 3.

6 In World Hunger and Moral Obligation John Arthur references the flipside to Singer’s argument, namely the concepts of rights and desert. Moral rights are normally split into negative rights of non-interference and positive rights of recipients where a promise is made between/among the parties. Desert has to do with what we have coming to us both as rewards (e.g., from hard work) and punishment (negative sense, e.g., committing a crime). In introducing these entitlements Arthur provides two of the more precise criticisms about weighing multiple factors against the greater moral evil rule (GMER), even if the greater need of another outweighs our rights or desserts, “being outweighed is in any case not the same as weighing nothing!” Additionally, there is more to consider than just writes otherwise we would be “like the [GMER], trad[ing] simplicity for accuracy.”

7 We find ourselves in a fortunate and rare position, all by accident; it is no wonder we are not fully equipped to maximize our opportunities, either for ourselves or our fellow human; in truth, it is remarkable such flawed animals as ourselves have been able to accomplish so much and hold ourselves together, individually and as a society, even if just barely and occasionally at a deleterious cost.

8 In Obligations to the Starving McKinsey goes into more refined thought experiments to point out that the claims the poor have are on other groups and not any one individual. These thought exercises have to do with multiple drowning people and others on shore who could help most by using a boat, a boat that requires the people on shore work together. The drowning people cannot make a claim of any one person on the shore for that one person cannot help them alone but they can make a claim against a group of people who are together can’t save everyone.

9 I do like the idea of redrawing the distinction between charity and duty. This linguistic distinction could and should be one of the staging preparations in changing people’s minds, expectations, and actions.

10 Grab a friend, grab a pint, and grab ahold of your political responsibilities.