Good Reading : March 2009
author profile 3 act now Acclaimed ethicist and philosopher PETER SINGER tells ALAN GOLD how to save someone’s life. E very so often, when humanity is heading down a path of self- destruction, when we’ve forgotten that we’re merely tenants of this planet, and not landlords, a book comes along and shakes us out of our self-satisfaction. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex opened the world’s eyes to feminism; Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring challenged the world to care for the environment; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipeligo exposed the truth about Stalin’s Russia; and Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders alerted us to media manipulation. If the first decade of this millennium is to be remembered for anything other than the rise of religious terrorism, it might very well be the turning point for how we in the affluent West accept our responsibilities towards those in the Third World, whose lives we could save for the price of a cup of coffee. And it’s taken one of the world’s most forthright and controversial philosophers to remind us, not just of our responsibilities, but of our common humanity. Peter Singer’s latest book, The Life You Can Save: Acting now to end world poverty, could very well be the most influential book written for many years. 24 goodreading i MARCH 2009 In a First World drowning in unnecessary luxury, where the current financial crisis was caused because money was too freely available to allow anybody to buy almost anything, it’s a shock to realise that 10 million children die every year from hunger, thirst and disease. There are a billion people in the world who have too much for them to consume and a billion who live in hunger, below the poverty line. Singer is Australia’s best known philosopher, now occupying the Chair of Bioethics at Princeton University, as well as being laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. An applied ethicist, he was recently recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year. Although internationally famous throughout the world of philosophy, Singer came to public prominence with the publication in 1975 of his book Animal Liberation, which is considered to have been the starting point for animal welfare movements that have since proliferated throughout the world. Talking to me by phone from his office in New Jersey, he explains why he decided to write a book about human poverty at this moment in world history. ‘I’ve been thinking and writing about this subject for many years, but it was an article I wrote in 2006 for the New York Times Sunday Magazine which really created a wave of interest. I wrote it at a time when most Americans were making financial gifts to charities because of the taxation advantages. The article had a huge reverberation. I’d been building up slowly over 30 years to writing a book on this issue, so the article and the reaction was the stimulus. AND SAVE!