Diane Sawyer’s presentation, dubbed Waiting on the World to Change revolves around the documentation of life in Camden City, a territory that earned the title of the United States’ poorest and most dangerous in 2004 and 2005. Concurrently, the interviewed subjects include Ivan and Billy Joe, both of whom are residents of Camden without proper and sustainable access to the necessities one needs for a quality and healthy life. First, the families of both boys lack adequate shelter as the houses in which they live are either someone else’s property or are of poor condition. For instance, Ivan and his family rely on their church for accommodation and in case that is unavailable, they sleep in either parks or an “illegal boarding house” (Waiting on the World, 4min). Meanwhile, Billy Joe’s family has a home but cannot afford to fix the electricity and heater; hence, most rooms in the house are dark and cold making winters unbearable for the lot (Waiting on the World, 14min). Next, there is the issue of quality education that goes hand in hand with accessible and healthy food. Billy Joe’s family relies mainly on food stamps, but the high school student also works with a fast food chain to help his father with the family’s upkeep (Waiting on the World, 16-17min). Expectedly, the handling of schoolwork and a job is a task in itself, and as evidenced by Billy’s anxiety towards his final months as a high school senior, a comfortable life is a necessary precursor to proper education. Similarly, Ivan does not fair better in his first day in school. While he voices his insecurities about being in a class with new people, Ivan fails to name the types and number of meals an individual takes in a day (Waiting on the World, 9-10min). Thus said, while one might consider Billy Joe’s family as better off that of Ivan, both lack proper and sustainable access to food, shelter, and education.
In his 1979 documentation of Rich and Poor, Peter Singer presents his argument for “an obligation to assist” in which, according to the theorist, rich persons are morally obligated to help poor families. To that end, his case holds three premises: (a) since anything bad that does not require a morally significant sacrifice should end and (b) poverty is something bad then (c) people should sacrifice anything that is of lesser moral significance to eradicate poverty. A more detailed presentation of Singer’s views came later in the 1999 writing of The Singer Solution to World Poverty as the man presented, what was in his opinion, the sacrifice of things that cannot be morally comparable to ending absolute poverty. Accordingly, Singer’s revised argument for wealthy people helping needy families goes as follows: (a) if it is possible to avert adverse situations by sacrificing excess money and (b) luxuries are not a necessity then it would mean (c) morality entails people forgoing their luxuries to aid the poor.
Concurrently, and on the first premise, Singer asserts that as long as the affluent people in societies can sacrifice what they do not need to alleviate the economic and social statuses of the poverty-ridden families. Apparently, the money individuals use on necessities, including food, shelter, clothing, and an education is morally permissible if not done in excess. However, whatever a person invests in trifle things, such as an upgraded television while he or she already has a set, is both immoral and could be useful to the people living below the poverty line (Singer, Solution par.21). Thus, because some sacrifice and compassion by the rich can help prevent the deaths and suffering of people from poor backgrounds, then one should sacrifice his or her luxuries. By extension, the second foundation on which Singer grounds his argument encompasses the idea of luxuries being unnecessary for human survival. According to Singer, when the rich refuse to aid their less fortunate counterparts while they lead luxurious lives, then they would be promoting absolute poverty. Now, in the theorist’s words, because it is impossible to find a “plausible ethical view” through which one can ignore such levels of poverty, then it makes sense to label luxuries as bad (Singer, Rich and Poor). As a result, the third premise argues that instead of using the money for luxuries, it would be moral to divert the funds to the impoverished.
In contrast to Peter Singer’s argument, ethical egoism states, “each person ought to pursue his or her own self-interest exclusively” (J. Rachels and S. Rachels, 65). Therefore, in the views of an ethical egoist, it is morally permissible for an individual to concentrate on his or her personal interests that would serve him or her best even if that would mean compromising those of others. Now, ethical egoism would disagree with Singers arguments on the third premise, which renders luxuries immoral because they divert funds from the poor and promote self-interest. In other words, an ethical egoist has no moral obligation to help the poor and for that reason, luxuries are acceptable, and Singer’s argument becomes baseless. Still, as the author’s of “The Elements of Moral Philosophy” write, ethical egoism does not mean one has to “avoid helping others” (J. Rachels and S. Rachels, 71). On the contrary, some solutions might entail a person helping him or herself as he or she helps the less fortunate. For instance, improving the drainage system in a neighborhood will prevent possible flooding and in turn, benefit the person who took the initiative and those who are unable to do the same. Thus, an ethical egoist can decide to help the poor.
On a personal level, it is impossible to agree with Singer’s assertions because of his assumption of luxuries being unnecessary. The notion of rich people leading easy and carefree lives is both presumptuous and impossible to determine whether it applies to all people considered wealthy. Foremost, unless an individual comes into sudden wealth, such as through inheritance or a lottery win, everybody has to work hard to earn a living and even in both case, money needs proper management. Naturally, such responsibilities can be stressful and as hard working people, even the wealthy need time to relax. Consequently, to assume that wealthy people need necessities alone for a healthy life is not morally permissible because it directly interferes with their well-being. Extensively, what is luxurious for one affluent person does not necessarily mean another person who has money will consider it the same. For example, if a man and his wife want to watch different programs that run at the same time every day, it is most likely that they would always be quarreling because of their diverse interests. Now, if a wealthy man can purchase another television then the second machine in the house would be the lifeboat on which his marriage survives and not a luxury. Thus said, rendering all extra expenses as luxuries make Peter Singer’s argument baseless.
Disparities in one’s stand regarding morality discredit his or her words or decisions regarding all matters; for that reason, children do not sway the arguments given as an answer to the fourth question. The reason is twofold: wealthy people have youngsters as well, and the decision to help a less fortunate family should be personal and not because of guilt because not all children can cause the emotion. A perfect illustration is evident in the case of Ivan and Billy Joe, where the former is a kid who has yet to start school and the latter is through with high school. Both are under eighteen years and qualify as minors under the laws of the United States, but it is plausible that people will sympathize more with Ivan simply because of his younger age. When acting because of guilt, the rich would help Ivan alone because his young age and miserable living conditions warrant the feeling. Although, Billy also needs help, he is not young enough to elicit the pity that Ivan’s case brings forth; hence, it is vital that the people who chose to help the less fortunate to do so without having to feel guilty.
Even without knowledge of personal circumstances, the answer to the fourth question still stands simply because it is impossible to monitor the rich people to determine how they use their money and unethical to force anyone to provide needed help.
Rachels, James Rachels and Stuart. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 7th. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. Print.
Singer, Peter. "Rich and PoorPractical Ethics." Practical Ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. 166-179. Print.
—. "The Singer Solution to World Poverty." The New York Times Magazine 5 September 1999. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/19990905mag-poverty-singer.html>.
Waiting on the World to Change. Perf. Diane Sawyer. 2013. Vimeo. UrbanPromise. Web. 10 February 2016. <<https://vimeo.com>.