The Singer Solution

by aaron on December 25, 2010

10 years ago, an infamous Australian ethical philosopher Peter Singer developed a radical solution for ending World Poverty.  In his words: “the formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away.”

It seems basic enough, almost silly in it’s black-white logic.  Why of course, you think to yourself, that makes sense.  I can do that.  Even Singer himself gives away 50% of his income every year to Aid organizations.  No problem, right?

But pause for a moment and really think about it, what it really means to sacrifice luxury for charity. Here’s how Singer puts it…

“The average family in the United States spends almost one-third of its income on things that are no more necessary to them than as a new TV. Going out to nice restaurants, buying new clothes because the old ones are no longer stylish, vacationing at beach resorts — so much of our income is spent on things not essential to the preservation of our lives and health. Donated to one of a number of charitable agencies, that money could mean the difference between life and death for children in need.”

What if we step back for a moment?  What if we explode our perspective to a global scale (think google maps, only in reverse).  Start with yourself, then pull back to include your immediate family.  Your circle of friends.  Everyone that lives in your city.  Your state.  Think about the brand new pair of sneakers you’ve been coveting.  Or that expensive necklace you asked your boyfriend to get you.  Or the big gift Santa’s placed all shiny and new under your $60 christmas tree.

These things are all nice.  They makes us feel special.  They fill us with warmth.  They bring us happiness.  But, ask yourself for one minute… do we really need them?  Are those sneakers essential to your survival?  Will that necklace keep you warm at night?  Does the extra energy drained from the flashing Christmas tree lights fill your spirit with more light than the meal you could have provided to someone with no home or  food, let alone a tree?

In this time of gift giving, charity, jolly ol’ cheer, and the ever important ‘peace on earth’ and ‘goodwill to man’, I believe it’s extremely important to elevate ourselves past the sometimes overwhelming tunnel vision of our decidedly  excessive consumer culture Christmas. Yes it tis the season to be jolly.  Yes, it tis the season to spread love and appreciation to friends and family through the giving of gifts, the sharing of food, the clinking of glasses.

But let’s not forget that we are citizens of this world.  That many of us are blessed beyond measure with the numerous gifts we have and the constant luxuries we are given.  That even though some of us may not have much, there are so many more out there who have less than little.  Take a moment to appreciate your life.  And then give back.

Instead of rocking those new sneakers, why not give them to someone with no shoes?  In place of presents, why not ask for donations?  You can still enjoy the little pleasures.  You need not radically zen your life to basic survival needs, like Singer suggests.  But I believe we can all find little corners to cut, small sacrifices to make for the greater good of humanity.

It’s just like that Magic Penny.  The less you need, the more you can give.  And the more you give, the infinitely more will come back to you.

If you’re intrigued and care to read Peter Singer’s entire New York Times article, follow this link here.  Merry xmas!

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