Peter Singer – The Life You Can Save

June 19, 2009

Peter Singer has been called “the world’s most influential living philosopher,” by The New Yorker and Time Magazine listed him in “The Time 100,” their annual listing of the world’s 100 most influential people. He is DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne. He writes a regular column for Free Inquiry magazine, and is the author of dozens of books, including Practical Ethics, Rethinking Life and Death, and Animal Liberation (which has sold more than a half million copies), Writings on an Ethical Life, One World: Ethics and Globalization, The President of Good and Evil (about George W. Bush), and The Way We Eat. His most recent book is The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Peter Singer details how twenty-six thousand children die each day of preventable diseases and poverty worldwide, and contrasts this toll with the public’s moral outrage over the blackest days in our history, such as 9/11/2001. He talks about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth regarding the poor, and questions why most Christians today have seemed not to make ending world poverty a priority, instead focusing on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which are not mentioned by Jesus. Singer argues that when people in affluent societies value even small luxuries more highly than saving the lives of the world’s poor, that it is morally equivalent to standing by when one could easily save someone from drowning. He says that “if you’re not doing something serious to end world poverty, that you’re not living an ethical life.” He suggests that much philanthropy, such as charitable giving to the arts, should be less of a priority than fighting world poverty. He recommends various aid organizations that merit financial support, such as Oxfam International, and highlights GiveWell, whose purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of other aid organizations. He suggests that it is often more efficient for private organizations to administer aid than it is for governments to provide poverty relief. He argues against various challenges to his position: that giving to the poor may foster their dependence, that charity should begin at home, that the poor deserve their lot, and that our lack of concern about the world’s poor may be a natural function of our evolved human nature to care primarily about our own kin. He argues that while his ethics is informed by the worldview based in the sciences and Darwinism, that it is not derived from Darwinism, and he argues against “Social Darwinism,” and “the survival of the fittest.” He explores the strategic implications that the demanding nature of his ethics has for its more widespread adoption in society. He talks about the meaning and sense of purpose that fighting to end world poverty may create in one’s life. And he expresses the hope that skeptical and nonreligious people will become more motivated to fight world poverty, even without religious incentives, and that they will become part of a new culture of giving.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, June 19th, 2009. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe growthy point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grass roots, I’m happy to have Peter Singer back on point of inquiry this week. He’s been called the world’s most influential living philosopher by The New Yorker, and Time magazine listed him in the Time 100, their annual listing of the world’s 100 most influential people. He’s also one of most controversial philosophers alive today. His decamp professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. University of Melbourne. He writes a regular column for Free Inquiry magazine and is the author of dozens of books, including Practical Ethics Rethinking Life and Death. Animal Liberation. And his new book is The Life You Can Save. Acting Now to End World Poverty. Welcome back to a point of inquiry. Peter Singer. 

Thank you. I’m happy to be back with you. 

Before we get into your book, which I want to say I found really powerful and compelling, really, honestly, one of the best books I’ve read in years, one of the most important books. I want to ask you a question, not about your book. You’ve been on the show a number of times. You’re always talking about how people should be better people, more ethical people, basically how to be good. And we’ve talked about how to be good, you know, in a godless universe after decades of doing all this work. You’re still considered deeply immoral, even evil by some thinkers. Does that ever stop you in your tracks, make you think, you know, what are you doing with all of this? Maybe you should just stop trying to get through to all these people. 

No, it certainly doesn’t stop me in my tracks. 

I mean, I think that evidence of the power of basically religious belief is I think most of the people who think that I’m actually evil rather than disagreeing with me, obviously there can be plenty of people who disagree with me, but people actually think I’m evil, tend to be coming from a fundamentalist religious perspective where they’re just not prepared to look really at what I’m saying or to consider the arguments for what I’m saying, because they just know that it’s wrong because it’s contrary to their scriptures or the authoritative teachings of their leaders. And, you know, I’ve just come to accept that regrettably, there are a certain number of people who are like that and they’re very hard to reach. 

I don’t know what you do about them. Obviously, you hope that are a minority are not going to have much influence and that perhaps eventually their children or grandchildren will start to see that this is not really the way to understand the world and will abandon those beliefs. But it’s obviously not going to happen fast. 

All right. So you’re optimistic ultimately, even if you’re not writing for them, they’re not your audience? 

No. I mean, some of them maybe, you know, I do occasionally get emails and letters from Christians who say, well, you know, look, I started out really hostile to our views because I’d heard this and that. 

But then I started reading what you say, and it does make sense to me. So it’s really encouraging when you get a few letters like that. But they are just a few. I’m not really the majority of those people. I guess I’m just not writing for Jim Underdown. 

Right. So about your new book, The Life You Can Save, acting now to End World Poverty. I want to get into the arguments, but first, I was kind of just taken aback by the numbers that you cite. It’s a staggering number. Talk about stopping you in your tracks. That number a lot of people are dying of preventable deaths. 

Well, that’s right. I mean, the figure that I tend to quote, which I think is is staggering enough, is if we just look at children, that’s children five and under. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, there are close to 10 million of them dying every year. When you break that down into a daily figure, that’s only like 26000 dying every day. And, you know, you actually think of that and you put that alongside some of the black days in our history. We all remember September 11th, 2001, of course, as a terrible day. Well, about 3000 people died in the terrorist attacks on that day. And if we think that eight or nine times as many people as many children just are dying each day and have died each day since that day, you know, that that’s sort of puts that into perspective, that there’s a much greater continuing, unnecessary toll, death toll occurring. We put all these huge efforts into stopping terrorism rightly enough that we don’t put any major effort into reducing that toll. 

I want to talk about some of the things that you say we should be doing. But you were talking about your audience. A minute ago. But you’re not really writing to the fundamentalists, say this book for life you can save. On the other hand, you seem to be really writing to the whole of the rich Western world. You’re indicting all of us in the rich Western world basically for being immoral, for not doing enough to end world poverty. 

Yeah, that’s that’s certainly true. And this book, interestingly enough, I think you could say I could say to the fundamentalists, look, I’m being a better Christian than you. Because if you really believe in Jesus and you really believe in the message of Jesus, as reported in the scriptures, the thing that comes over most strongly is that you ought to be helping the poor. In fact, that you ought to be like Jesus told the rich man, giving all that you have to the poor, because that’s that’s the way to get to heaven. Otherwise, it’s as hard to get to heaven as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. So, you know, you’d have to ask, well, why are these Christians doing this? Why are they why are they going on about abortion and things like that which are, you know, really not really mentioned by Jesus, but but they don’t actually do what he really says very directly. You should do you should feed the hungry and the poor. And yet, you know, there are many rich Christians who claim to be following the teachings of Jesus. It doesn’t really make sense. 

Right. He says whatever you do unto the least of these, you know, the poorest of the poor you’re actually doing to him. And that argument doesn’t seem persuasive in in the far religious right these days. Or maybe the tides changing, I don’t know. But that hasn’t been their main push. 

It certainly hasn’t been. I hope the tide is changing. And I really think that in a way, if they read this book, they should be ashamed that he is someone who is not a Christian but is actually doing more and being true to the words of the man they regard as their savior and their teacher than they are. 

Peter, the main argument of your book is that it’s natural for any of us to save someone who’s about to die if they’re right. You know, in front of us, you know, someone’s about to be hit by a train or a child’s drowning. We would all immediately save that life. But even though it’s easier in some ways to save the lives of people starving around the world, we don’t do it. You kind of equate, though, the lives. Right. So how are those two situations? The same. 

That’s right. Well, I mean, I often start my my talks on this with a little example of you walking through a park past a shallow ornamental pond, and you see that a toddler has fallen into that pond and seems to be in danger of drowning. 

So you look around for the parents or the babysitter, but there’s no one in sight. What should you do? Well, obviously, you should rush into the pond and pull out the child. But wait a minute. You’re you’re wearing your most expensive pair of shoes that you just put on this morning. You don’t have time to kick them off and they’ll be ruined if you run into the pond with them. Does that make a difference? Well, of course I’ve already said no. I can’t compare a pair of shoes with a child’s life. It doesn’t make any difference. So then I say, well, you know, how about giving the cost of an expensive pair of shoes to an organization like Oxfam America or KERO or one of those organizations that is saving lives in developing countries? Wait a minute. You know, that’s different. And I don’t think it is different at all. I think it’s psychologically different, but it’s not morally different because we don’t really think that distance makes a difference to the importance of saving a life. 

You’re saying it’s as immoral for us not to save the lives of of the poor in the Third World as it would be for me to stand by as a toddler’s drowning right next to me? 

That’s right. 

Stand by, because, oh, you didn’t really want to ruin your clothes. You didn’t have time to get your clothes or your shoes off. 

I think that that is the parallel now again. Look, let me just emphasize psychologically, it’s different. So you might think that you’d have to be some kind of psychological monster to be so cold blooded as to think of your pair of shoes as a reason for not saving a child’s life, but putting that aside and just looking at the morality of it. In each case, it’s a choice between a child’s life and some luxury for me. Now, you know, maybe it’s an expensive pair of shoes, whatever it might be, whatever I spend my money on, maybe I buy cheap shoes, but I buy expensive flat screen TV or I go to expensive concerts or whatever it might be. There’s some luxury that I’m putting ahead of saving a child’s life or reducing poverty and helping people to have a dignified existence. And I think that that’s immoral. I don’t think that you have to be doing something serious. We can talk about exactly whether the cutoff line is how much is enough. But if you’re not doing something pretty serious to contribute to reducing world poverty, I think you’re not living an ethical life. 

And that applies to everybody. You’re you’re indicting everyone. We’re all immoral compared to this ideal that you’re talking about. You. You’re explicit about shaming Rich Westerner’s for going out and spending 100 bucks on dinner or even four bucks on a coffee. A latte. You mentioned the big screen. You know, the flat screen TV while I enjoy ours here at home, I should say maybe I shouldn’t say this because it sounds so biased. And, you know, I’m pushing your book, but we read this book and it really caused us to reevaluate really everything. You know, how we’ve organized our lives. Do you think it’s going to do that to everybody? Do you think this book is going to just wallop everybody, you know, alongside that? 

Yeah, I would hope so. I mean, I think that will be a marvelous outcome if it gets everyone to reevaluate what they’re spending money on and to compare that with what you can obtain by helping to reduce world poverty. You know, if I could just get people to think about that, that would be a huge first step. I hope that when people do think about it, most people will come to the conclusion that they should be doing significantly more than they are doing. But yes, I would definitely like to change the culture of the affluent world and get affluent people to think, well, really, what do I spend my money on and do I really need to do it? And maybe giving should be a part of my life, something that hasn’t been part of people’s life in general as yet. 

I want to ask how much every individual in the West should be giving. And you have a lot of specifics in that regard. But you’re not only, let me say, attacking the rich individual in the West, but also institutions. You say that a lot of what we give to charity wise is just not worth giving to like multi-million dollar art collections, donating to art museums, stuff like that. You know, that is back on a turn off of philanthropy to your message. 

Well, I mean, I’m trying to change philanthropy, too, I guess. I mean, those people who think that they satisfy their five and three requirements because they’ve given to a museum or the opera or something like that. I also think that they need to think again, just as people need to think again about their lavish expenditure Jim Underdown. 

It could actually be wrong to give, you know, one hundred thousand dollars to the local opera or the theater company when there are starving people in the world. 

Yes, I think that’s true. I think I chose the wrong sense of priorities to do that. 

So about the specifics. How much should an individual in the West be giving, say, in the US? Should we give to it hurts? Should we give a set dollar amount? Are you calling for everyone to give the same amount? Also raises the question, where should we give you mentioned Oxfam. I know you’ve sung its praises in print before. This book is not just a philosophy, kind of a moral argument, but it’s a how to manual. You get into all those details. 

Yes, right. Well, firstly, on the question of how much we should give. 

I think that it’s it’s a sliding scale that I am suggesting. I’ve got a Web site, the same title of the book, The Life You Can Save, dot com. And your listeners can go to that Web site and they’ll find their scale, which is also in the book, which suggests that for most people, people who are not really seriously rich, you know, giving somewhere between one and five per cent is, I think, something that is acceptable. I’m not saying that that’s the ideal, but that’s what I try to encourage people to see as the standard that they would give Jim Underdown with increasing amounts as you as you get to be earning more. 

So that’s that’s what I’m suggesting in terms of the amounts. Now, where to give it? 

I do recommend Oxfam. For Americans, that’s Oxfam America. 

It’s a worldwide or organization or a coalition of different organizations. So there’s Oxfam Australia and Oxfam, Great Britain and Oxfam Canada and so on. But there are other organizations as well. And rather than mention them specifically, let me mention an organization that evaluates charities for their cost effectiveness. 

It’s called Give Well, and you can find it online and give well dot net. And the guys there are pretty recent start up, but they’re the only people I know that are really thoroughly trying to evaluate the effectiveness of organizations in fighting poverty and saving lives. 

And they’ve come up with some specific recommendations that I think also are organizations that offer great value Jim Underdown. 

And in fact, that’s an argument often against giving to these organizations that they’re wasteful, that they’re bureaucratic. You’re saying that this give well organization helps cut through all of that? 

That’s right. I think, incidentally, they need support, too, because I think what they’re doing is very useful. And then one of the things that they do is they set up a kind of a prize pay award to the organization that can show that it’s the most cost effective in its field. 

So if you give to give world dot net and say add this to the prize, then you’ll know that the money you give goes to the organization that they decide after studying a number of them is the most cost effective as well as your guest will create a greater incentive for more organizations to join in the competition and provide the documentation and the data to show that they’re cost effective, which I think we’ll have a good effect on the whole field, getting people to really evaluate what they’re doing. 

A minute ago, when you were talking about how much we should give you. You mention, you know, really wealthy people would give more. You mentioned the sliding scale if you’re not well off, maybe one to five percent. So even if you’re not well off one to five percent, what if you’re in that middle category? You know, you have a mortgage, your credit cards are maxed out, but you need two car garage, two cars. And, you know, you have a lot of nice stuff. Are you calling for people to, like, downsize in the name of rural poverty to to kind of radically alter their lifestyles? Or is it still just a couple more percentage points they give to fight world poverty? 

Well, I do think that, you know, there are a variety of reasons for thinking that we maybe ought to downsize a little. One, of course, is the environmental impact that we’re having are very conscious of the problems of global warming. 

And a lot of the kind of lifestyle that affluent people have is involving a lot of fossil fuel use as well to run those two cars to heat and cool the home. So I think that some kind of economizing in that way can be good, not only in freeing up a bit more cash to help the world’s poor, but also in reducing the impact we’re having on on the climate. Yeah, so, I mean, if somebody is really struggling and they really have cut back on all their luxuries and they’re now worrying in the financial crisis about how are they going to meet their mortgage payments, are they going to lose their home? Jim Underdown. 

We did just go through a world economic collapse, supposedly, right? 

Yeah. So that’s a different matter. I’m not really talking to someone who’s saying, look, my family might be homeless. If I if I give away more because then I won’t be able to meet my mortgage payments or the rent. I think those are different circumstances. And many of your listeners are in that situation. I hope that things improve for them and they soon get out of it. And when they do get out of it, then maybe they can reassess what they really need to spend on and what’s what’s really essential and what isn’t. But most people, as you know, as you were saying, most people do by at least small luxuries that they don’t need. They spend four dollars on that pay. They buy bottled water when they could safely drink the water that comes out of the tap. So anybody who does that well is a little bit of money, at least that really they’re just spending it for no important reason. And they could they could save that up and they could give that away. 

What’s striking in this argument is that you’re not while you’re talking to individuals, you’re not talking to governments. You’re not saying governments should tax people more and give more to global aid. You’re saying an individual should stop drinking bottled water maybe or buying the four dollar coffee. Is that because you think it’s just more efficient to to do charity? It’s through, you know, private means rather than governmental means. 

It’s often more efficient. I think governments are not the most efficient organizations in terms of administering charity or giving financial aid. So I think the NGOs often are more efficient. But also, of course, it’s it’s something that, you know, I’m talking to individuals and it’s within your power to do something that’s not necessarily within your power to change government policy. If you if you can change government policy, if you can contribute to that good, that’s certainly something that every citizen should try to do in a democracy, to get their government to give more and to be more efficient. But that effort may be fruitless, whereas you know that you can go online and donate 100 or 200 dollars. That can make a difference. So why not do that as well as trying to change government policy? 

So I have a you know, I’ve already admitted you’ve completely persuaded me, but I want to talk about some of the objections to your really demanding ethical call. First, there’s this other kind of libertarian objection I just mentioned, kind of government versus private giving argument. But also there is this argument that says, at least for the United States, when it comes to poverty, goes something like, well, if the poor just worked harder, if they just made better decisions, they could pull themselves up by the bootstraps, they could get out of poverty. In other words, if I give them my money, I’m always keeping them down. I’m like fostering a kind of dependance on, you know, on my charity. And that argument seems persuasive to a lot of folks. What do you say to that? 

Well, I think they need to educate themselves a little more about what aid organizations are actually doing. They’re not just handing out money to people and saying here. You don’t have to work. Here’s here’s the money for you. And they’re not even generally handing out food occasionally in emergencies where there’s a drought or a flood of refugees from a civil war. Yes, they will give out food to keep people alive. But but basically, they’re talking about helping people to help themselves. They’re talking about providing micro loans so that people can start businesses because they just don’t have the capital to start that business and work hard. They’re talking about providing people with better feed so their crops will yield better and they can have a little bit of something to sell as well as to feed themselves. They’re talking about improving agricultural techniques in other areas. They’re talking about empowering women so that women can claim property rights so that they don’t lose the farm when their husband dies, which happens in some countries where married women have have no property rights and a whole range of different things that they’re doing. And, of course, they’re doing health measures to try and immunize kids against measles or provide them with bed nets against malaria. So generally, they’re aware of the problem of making people dependent on aid and they’re not giving the kind of aid that does that. 

Nancy, you’ve said in previous conversations we’ve had that your morality is informed by Darwin, informed by the world view that you get from evolution. You’re arguing now we should give to world poverty. Might it be that being concerned with world poverty is just not natural for us, that we’ve evolved? In fact, not to care about that sort of stuff. You know, we’ve evolved to have a morality that makes us care about our kin, but not really to think about the whole species or even, you know, people on the other side of the mountain. Right. But you’re giving these ironclad arguments why we should be giving more to world poverty. So the question is, is it just human nature not to give or to care to give to the distant poor? 

Well, I think there is a problem with our nature in terms of we don’t respond to people who are decent, who we don’t see. I think that’s true. Just go back to what you said that, you know. Yes, I have said my ethic is informed by Darwinian evolutionary approach, but it’s not a Darwinian ethic. It’s not what some might call social Darwinism. I think it’s a fallacy to try and actually draw ethical conclusions from any set of natural facts about the world, including Darwin’s theory of evolution. And Darwin himself was aware of that fallacy and knew that you can’t draw ethical conclusions directly from his theory. So the point is that, yes, Darwin helps to explain what we’re like and what human nature is like. But that doesn’t mean that what we ought to do is somehow, you know, the survival of the fittest or anything of that sort. To find out what we ought to do, we need to think about that. We need to use our reason and our empathy. And that’s what you’re doing. When you said you’re moved by the argument. You’re using your reason. And, well, we have evolved to have that capacity. So let’s use it to work out what we ought to do. 

What are some of these other objections to your argument? You mentioned the nameless, faceless nature of the poor on the other side of the world. Well, maybe naturally we don’t. You know, care about that, right? And there might be evolutionary reasons or just social reasons, whatever. But there are other, I guess, arguments you hear a lot against giving to world poverty. The charity begins at home argument. You know, we should be taking care of our own poor, right? Why? Why worry about the the dying in Africa or India? 

Well, I think we should help the poor as much as we can, wherever they are, and make the best use of our resources. Now, yes, we should help the poor at home, but very often the poor at home are not the poorest. By world standards, because they already have some entitlements to some Social Security, they can get safe drinking water. They get in. I can get emergency health care. Even if they don’t have health insurance, they can turn up in an emergency room at a hospital and get treated. There’s a lot of people who can’t do that elsewhere in the world. And when you look at how much it takes to help people, sometimes it’s remarkably little. You can save someone’s sight for fifty dollars, maybe by donating to the Fred Hollows Fund, for example. You know, there’s nobody in the United States who is going to be blind because they can’t get 50 dollars if they’re that poor. They can get their eyes treated under Medicaid or Medicare. You know, your money just don’t go further and just does help more people when it’s donated abroad. And that’s why I think that’s where our focus should be. 

What are some other challenges to your argument? I mean, you’ve gone on book tours, you’ve been in the media. What are some things that people have said you kind of to justify their position? 

Well, I think you’ve covered the major ones. I mean, a lot of people, I think, are misinformed about how effective NGOs are. A lot of people have this idea that their money won’t get to the poor. And I think we’ve already discussed that. And that’s generally not true. Some people do think that, you know, ethics just consists in not harming others. And if they don’t harm others, that’s enough. 

It doesn’t have to be active. We don’t have to go out of our way to help others. 

Right. Well, I just think that’s kind of an ethic for a different world and that our world is much more interrelated, that we can help the poor. It’s relatively easy for us to do so. And I think that there is something wrong about not doing it. I think that, you know, you just cannot be an ethical person if you neglect the fact that there are people who are in great need that you could easily help. So I disagree with that attitude to ethics that just says as long as I follow the vow shalt not that I’ve done all I need to do. 

One of the problems I had as I was thinking this through is just how unbelievably big the problem is. It’s so daunting that you feel really powerless, even if you make some big life changing decision to give, you know, 30 or 50 or, you know, whatever big percentage of your money to world poverty, you’re still not really going to make a big difference relative to the size of the problem. And that’s kind of a demotivating factor, I think, for some people. 

We’re talking about a question of psychology and motivation here. I mean, what do you need to focus on is not the size of the overall problem, which, of course, none of us individually can solve. Not even Bill Gates can solve it by himself, but that you can make a difference, that your two hundred dollars or 500 dollars or a thousand dollars can make a difference to individual families, could save the life of their child. For the Fed for fifty dollars, you can restore someone’s sight and think what a difference that makes to someone, especially in a developing country where they don’t have much support. If if they are blind and probably can’t earn a living for 400 dollars, you can repair and obstetric fistula. And a young woman, which is a terrible injury, which essentially makes her a social outcast, ruins her life if she can’t get it repaired. But the surgery is relatively simple. And for four or five hundred dollars, you can. You can change that girl’s life. I mean, you know, you need to think of those concrete things that you can do rather than say, oh, well, there’s a billion people out there who are poor. I can’t help them all. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you could get a copy of The Life You Can Save. Acting now to end world poverty through our website point of inquiry. Or you can also find information about all of the charities. Peter Singer’s mentioning all the all of the ways you can act now to end world poverty through our website. Peter, your kind of most meaningful argument to me, maybe I’m, you know, looking for the meaning argument. The argument about meaning is that, hey, there’s really something in it for us if we act now to end world poverty. You know, we’re going to get something really important out of it. It’s not just going to help the poor, but we’re going to find more meaning and purpose in our lives. Is is that something that people are looking for enough that that. That that’s going to actually motivate them to make a difference. 

I think that will motivate a number of people and it should motivate more if people really thought about what they want to get out of their lives, because, yes, there’s plenty of research that shows that people who give actually are happier or more content with their lives. And there’s even some brain research that shows that the feeling people get when they give gives them pleasure and stimulates the reward centers of the brain. At the same centers that are turned on by both sexual pleasure are actually turned on by a charitable giving. So, yes, there is a lot of personal reward that people can get out of this if if they’re prepared to think about it and really think about what they want to get out of life. And what will give them a meaningful and fulfilling life. 

So working to end world poverty is actually something to live for. It’s like, you know, a beloved cause of environmentalism or or, you know, some other big issue. It wakes you up early in the morning, keeps you up late at night. Well, I think it does for you. You’re writing books and you’re going. You’re traveling about it. You think that can that sales pitch will work on more people? 

Absolutely. I think I think it should. It should be a motivating factor that helps people get more out of their own lives and feel that they’re doing something worthwhile with their lives. 

So much of what you are arguing is really uncompromising. It’s like it’s a lot harder than a lot of other moralities people are preaching. Right. A good rationalist with a good heart reads your argument. He’s gonna feel really, really guilty. I have a question about strategy in that regard. If what you’re saying shames people or makes people feel guilty or whatever, makes them feel bad about their latte or their flat screen TV, are you worried that your call to action is actually too demanding? It’s going to turn people off. Make them shut out your arguments even before they’ve gotten into him, because you’re, you know, making them feel so bad about themselves? 

Well, I have not. And that’s why I have this sort of relatively modest table at the end. But I think, you know, if people give according to their table, they they should feel they are contributing and they’ll still be able to afford their latte. Most of them. So in a sense, I’m letting people off easy in order to get more people to join the party. 

So you’re admitting that this argument you’re pushing. It’s not really what what you think everyone should do, but it’s what you think. It’s easy enough you think more people can do it and you’ll settle for that. 

That’s right. It’s an attempt to change the culture and get more people doing it. And I think the highly demanding ethic maybe is off putting them in that sense counterproductive to promote it. So I’m trying to promote something that I feel is reasonable that everybody can go along with Jim Underdown. 

I want to finish by talking about the culture of giving. You talk about needing to create a culture of giving. Is that just what making it really hip and popular and the cool thing to give to Oxfam? You know, people brag at their cocktail parties. Oh, yes, I give to Oxfam. How much do you give or. I mean, what more is it than that if you’re going to create a real culture of giving? 

Yeah, it’s it’s making that part of normal expectations of life. You know, I’ve talked to people who’ve grown up in in families in which they Thais. And I just accept that something you do. 

And I would just like to spread that and to see that we can make it commonplace that people give. Does it ever cause you to wonder about the seculars community? If you look at the religionist, they give more a percentage of their income to charity than non-religious folks. Here, you’re a non-religious person basically telling everyone that they should be tithing or something like that to end world poverty. 

Well, I hope that secular people will give more. A lot of them do. I mean, some of the greatest philanthropists, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet. 

Right. And you look at heirs to like the Wal-Mart fortune, they give such a small percentage of their money, Bill Gates and Buffett as nonreligious folks. What they together have given the largest philanthropic gifts in the history of philanthropy. Right. 

That’s correct. That’s absolutely right. Yeah. 

Yeah. So I think that, you know, whatever the statistics might show about averages. There’s no doubt that secular people can be and have been extraordinarily generous. And I think secular people need to show that they’re they listen to ethical thinking and respond to it just as much or more than religious people. 

So a secular person listening to our conversation, a skeptical person, let’s say she buys your argument hook, line and sinker. Right. What step one right after this episode, what’s the first thing she should do? 

Go online, have a look at the website, The Life You Can Save dot com. Look at how much I suggest you give. You can also take a pledged to give according to that amount. And we’ve got about three and a half thousand people who’ve already pledged that. So join them. And then look at the list of organizations that I recommend and choose one of those and go on line. With the credit card and make a gift tackle according to the amount of your income to the organization that you choose and then start talking about it and spreading the idea to other people, you know, because this is something we do need to talk about publicly, even if it goes a bit against the grain and and get more people thinking about the issue. 

Peter Singer, thanks so much for joining me again on Point of Inquiry. 

Thanks, T.J.. It’s been good talking to you once again. 

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Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly, recorded from St. Louis, Missouri. Our music is written and composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailed. Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.