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I knew it was going to be a bad day when I came downstairs this morning, at not quite four, and it was so hot I had to put on the air conditioner. I can usually get away with not doing that until at least ten, even if July and August.  Then I checked the weather, and the news was “temperatures near 100.”  It’s getting to the point where I hate both winter and summer.  I’m past the age where I can handle the -12 temperatures of February, and I’ve never liked the heat.

In the meantime, just as I’m finishing up the Ayn Rand, I’ve come across a little book my older son was assigned for a philosophy course this past term.  It’s called Living High and Letting Die:  Our Illusion of Innocence, by Peter Unger, and it literally came spilling out at me when I picked up a duffle bag.

From what I can see from looking at it, the book isn’t particularly original. Peter Singer says a lot of the same stuff, and his books are longer and more widely reviewed.

But what strikes me about it is that it (and Singer) represent yet another case in which I thought Rand was exaggerating, when it turned out she was only considerably ahead of her time.

Unger’s point–as is Singer’s in a lot of his work–is that we have no right to anything we (think we) own, not even the food we eat, if we haven’t given away every single thing to save every starving person anywhere on the globe.  If we have a nice house and a nice car and central heating, we are responsible for the death of any child in Africa, because we don’t “need” those things to survive and we therefore should have given them away.

I’m putting this badly.  But I was thinking I’d actuall read this thing next up, so maybe I’ll be able to put it better later.

Written by janeh

July 6th, 2010 at 7:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'Miserable'

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  1. It’s OK, Jane. It’s probably just a touch of heatstroke. :-)


    6 Jul 10 at 7:44 am

  2. Our climate is looking better and better in spite of record-breaking rainfall. I mean, I know we have wet weather well into, ok, through, June, but FIVE days without precipitation in the entire month of May? And June wasn’t much better.

    It’s funny how common the middle-class guilt for things we can’t control and didn’t create is. I’ve argued it with other people. I mean, help the unfortunate by all means, whether politically, personally or with cash. But ‘ought’? That’s strong language. It brings guilt and sin back into public discourse – usually in the mouths of those who most strongly reject the sources of the concepts of guilt and sin. And, of course, without the caveat that it’s rather pointless to feel guilty about things you had no responsibility for. It’s like religion is sneaking back into public discourse – without context, without roots, without connection to reality and without the centuries of wisdom accumulated by earlier believers.

    But I’m still on ‘After Virtue’ – I think Jane must be a faster reader than I am, although I thought no one was – and it probably shows in my comments.


    6 Jul 10 at 7:56 am

  3. The only reason I can think of for anyone to actually read Singer (or a clone) is “know your enemy”. Or, like I said, a touch of heatstroke. :-)


    6 Jul 10 at 9:28 am

  4. The “If I give up everything I have, it will help the poor people” argument is the same fallacious reasoning as “we shouldn’t spend money on the space program, there are plenty of problems to solve here on earth” one. Total hooey.

    No single person, no matter how rich, can solve poverty simply by subsidizing as many poor people as their wealth will stretch to. Unless you give *nothing* to charity, you are helping, not least by not creating another poor person to be supported by the wealthy.

    Solving poverty (to the extent possible) comes from creating a wealthy society, and if you look at the poor in America, this is proven. Even our poor generally have shelter, clothing, possessions, TVs, phones, and plenty of food. Not good quality of anything, but they do have them. Truly poor people have one change of raggedy clothes, a mud hut, if they have any shelter, no shoes, and may have eaten a meal of rice yesterday. Not so sure about today. That’s *poverty*.

    We could look out into space to solve our earthly problems, such as raw materials, non-polluting industrial production, and energy, but the powers that be see that environment as too uncontrollable. Send too many people out there, and hey, we might find ourselves in the position of the British in 1774. Oops. It’s not that we *can’t* go to space…it’s that nobody who can currently pay for it (governments) wants to.

    And I guarantee that a society that went into space *would* create a wealthier world, uplifting everyone, even the poorest of the poor.

    As for those pathetic types paralyzed by their guilt at not being actually poor, I suspect that even if they were poor, they’d still find something to feel guilty over. It’s their nature to feel guilt. BTW, has Mr. Singer actually impoverished himself to assuage his guilt? If not, I disdain his sincerity.


    6 Jul 10 at 3:42 pm

  5. Well, read it if you feel you must, but I don’t think you’ll find such a philosophy better described than by that 20-year man from Twentieth Century Motors in ATLAS SHRUGGED. I am continually surprised by the number of people who evidently read Ayn Rand and adopted her villains for role models. The Stearns siblings are always popular that way.

    You didn’t really mean to imply that a book was better for being longer, did you? I even have a little trouble with a book being more widely reviewed as evidence of quality.


    6 Jul 10 at 3:47 pm

  6. Reminds me of the Christian parable about the rich and the needle’s eye. Perhaps Cheryl can quote it.

    But I very much doubt that the author is a believing Christian.


    6 Jul 10 at 6:31 pm

  7. Indeed. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” But a Christian would also know that the poor would always be with us, and that the laborer is worthy of his hire. And that Mary, annointing her Lord’s feet with valuable oil had taken the better part. (It was Judas who wanted the oil sold and the proceeds given to the poor.)

    A Christian is under a tremendous obligation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and care for the sick. It is the standard by which we will be judged. But he is not necessarily called to communal living, nor to an equality of incomes, nor to impose such a standard on the unwilling. You may remember the persons who wished to enforce the commandment on adultery instead of simply obeying by it.

    But enforcement is SO much more fun than obedience.


    6 Jul 10 at 9:05 pm

  8. I was actually thinking of the discussion earlier about “Atheist Delusions” and equality as a Christian idea. I wonder if people like Singer realize that their cultural belief in equality and aiding the poor has a religious background?


    6 Jul 10 at 11:22 pm

  9. Yes, to both John and Robert, I agree. It’s really easy to see why Christians should aid the poor, and tons of discussion and advice on enjoying the good things God gives you – and because of that enjoyment, giving lavishly to others. That’s a very different approach to helping the poor that the ‘we are all guilty for our wealth because it all comes from us exploiting others (or possibly from our ancestors doing so)’ with, as a proposed solution, the tacking on of some guilt-salving charity to one’s life. I don’t know if Singer himself proposes this, but I’ve read and heard it often enough elsewhere to know it’s a common view.

    What bothers me is that these ideas don’t fit into a coherent whole. The discomfort caused by viewing the plight of the poor may be a hangover from a religious past, but the main proposed solution I’ve come across – eg each human has a right to food etc – is based on exactly nothing; just a concept – human rights – that’s been invented out of thin air. It’s often a useful concept, sure, especially in the negative form, but it’s hardly a solid foundation on which to base policies on how to relate with other human beings.

    I have sometimes ended up very far from where I thought I would when I apply this kind of persistent ‘why’ questioning to commonly-accepted ideas. Why should we feed the poor? Because they have a right to be fed. Why do they have a right to be fed?….

    I like what I’ve read of Alasdair MacIntyre’s ideas – modern moral thinking is irrational, and as long as we insist on a kind of single-dimension human (as opposed to a ‘functional concept’ of a human, with humans-as-we-are defined in terms of the purpose or function we are expected to serve). With our present limited understanding of what it means to be human, the language of morality is meaningless. And the demand to provide for other humans is a moral demand.


    7 Jul 10 at 7:40 am

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