Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I Found Something in Which We Disagree

So, it has actually happened.   Peter Singer said something I disagree with.   The book I read contains an editorial he wrote for the New York Times Magazine.

Basically what he says is we should give almost all our money to charity.   We shouldn't buy anything beyond what we absolutely needed to survive.  The money saved should go to save lives.

I can't say that 100% of me disagrees with him.  There is the extremist in me that believes he is right.

I'm wrong for buying plane tickets to Australia.   I'm wrong for buying a bag of candy.  I'm wrong for recently buying Sims 2 Seasons.   All that money could have gone to charity instead.

I was selfish.  I am selfish.

But, I don't know.

I think we have to give gifts to ourselves sometimes.   I think we have to treat ourselves.  Otherwise, life just seems incredibly unpleasant.

I do think we all over consume.   We treat ourselves way too much.  We go on too many holidays.   We eat too many expensive dinners.   We buy too much expensive clothes and jewelry.

I think we all need to reduce the amount of money we spend on ourselves and increase the money we give to charity.

I just disagree with my hero about it needing to be that extreme.

When I was a teenager, my sister was hit by a car.    My family spent the summer of 1990 in the hospital.   There were some really awful times that summer.   For example, the night we actually got the phone call.   I HATE that night.   It was a dark night.   Horribly depressing.

What I used to think about though is how that night wasn't dark and depressing for everyone in the world.   On that same night, a couple elsewhere might have been getting married.   Another family might be eating pizza and watching a baseball game.   A woman might have been giving birth to her first child.  

Through my experience as a teenager, I came to realize that we can't expect the whole world to be in sorrow with us.

Now some people DID share a fraction of our sorrow, and they did do things to comfort us.  But it's different saying "My daughter/sister is in a coma" than it is saying "My cousin/niece/friend is in a coma."

My feeling is that we don't need to suffer just because other people are suffering.   There will be a time for each of us to suffer.    Most of us will be in horrible pain at some time in our life--either emotionally and/or physically.   

At every moment, some people in the world are incredibly happy and other people are suffering.  

Several moments later and the situations can switch around.

I don't think people should have stopped their lives that summer for us.    They didn't need to make huge sacrifices just because we were suffering.   But we did appreciate the small to large sacrifices.

One friend drove about two hours every night for the first two or so weeks that my sister was in the hospital.   He made that sacrifice for my sister and for us.   He brought us great comfort, and proved his love and loyalty towards our family.     I could sit there and say  Well, if he really cared, he would have used his vacation time from work and come early in the morning and left at night.   Maybe he should have even stayed in town with us so we'd never have to be alone.   

That's bullshit though.

I think we all have to draw a line somewhere.   It's just hard to know where to draw the line.

I think we've all been in a situation where we give and give, then are told it's not enough.   This has happened to me recently and it made me feel frustrated and helpless.   I really just wanted to stop and not give anything at all.  

So, this is why I disagree with Singer.  I don't think it's productive to say that we need to make huge sacrifices in order to be decent people.   I think that just makes people feel that what they already contribute is never enough.   And I think when people feel that way, they often just want to give up and be REALLY selfish and greedy.

Note: Peter Singer actually doesn't follow his own advice.   You'd probably think this makes me see him as a hypocrite, but I don't.   I see him as being like me.  He has an ideal and keeps trying to follow it, but admits that he doesn't go as far as he'd like to go.   There's always room for improvement.   I think Singer has just set the bar a little too high--for himself and for everyone else.   He needs to learn the great lesson from Buddha.   The Middle Way!!!! 


Bettina said...

Sometimes those things that seem like luxuries are much needed. I know that a few years ago when our family was in a really dark place we took a holiday. Just us and the kids. It allowed us all to get away from the pressure cooker we were in, to pretend everything was normal for a short while and to decompress. We needed that.

All these things are certainly a good to think about anyhow. :)

Tors said...

I think you hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph.

In a perfect world, everyone would give the bulk of their earnings to charity and only buy necessities and be completely happy about it. But this isn't a perfect world, and we aren't robots... we're human beings with human needs that cannot be quantified. Sure, we can strive to do the best we can, but in the end, we won't live up to however we define "the ideal". And that's OK. :)

Dina said...

Bettina: I agree with you. I think we need pleasant things in our life. I guess it's just about knowing where to draw the line. What's too much and what's not enough? I think it's all about balance.

Tors: I think you're right. Our needs can't be quantified. It's all a matter of perspective. I talked to my husband about this. He said something like if you say "Basic shelter" what do you mean by this? A small house? An apartment? A tent? I could sit there and live in a tiny apartment thinking I've given it all up for charity. Someone else can see the apartment and think it's huge.

How would we ever truly separate wants from needs?

MsJamie said...

I don't think anyone has all of the answers. And I like the middle way!

mscherrylane said...

So I'm glad you did this post cos yeah when I read up about Peter Singer I thought it was all a bit extreme. Definitely you need to treat yourself every now and again- more often than not you actually deserve it!

I do agree with the Middle Path idea...

p.s I had to give up SIMS since I changed to a vista laptop- you mentioning it just gave me a craving to play...eeek! LoL

Dina said...


I agree!!! I don't think you can depend on anyone 100% for answers.

MsCherryLane: I love playing the Sims : )

I think the middle way is probably the best way to go. I think the best thing to do is be aware of what's going on in the world and make sure at least some of our choices prevent suffering.

I think. Maybe?

me said...

You've gotta go where you've gotta go. People complicate this stuff.

Andrea Luttrell said...

I like this a lot. I am definitely on board with you.