Our responsibility to the suffering.

I’m always hearing about people dying and starving in third-world countries. What makes it the responsibility of us to try to save them? Are we just inhibiting the “survival of the fittest?” Would it truly benefit humanity more to put forth the resources allocated to helping out than to take those same resources and use them for funding new technologies? I think that it is horrible that people should have to suffer through conditions that they do, but still, there are many projects that severely lack funding that are vital, in my view, for the advancement of humanity. We still need practical fusion power, and all sorts of things for the Utopian society I hope humanity achieves.

On a tangent, though… Are we really just prolonging the suffering? By helping these people live, we could just be giving rise to further disease. As the populations grow, it will be harder to take care of these people. If this generation dies out, then nobody would be left to suffer. Yes, it sounds horrible to let millions die, but which is kinder. The suffering of millions now, or the suffering of untold billions through the future?

I don’t know if you consider it alleviating suffering, but lifting countries out of third-world status has many benefits if you’re taking the global advancement of humanity view. Reducing waste caused by corruption and war makes more resources available for advancement. Increasing worldwide education levels widens the gene pool competing to create the super genius that discovers practical fusion power.

Directly alleviating suffering may support this goal, particularly disaster relief. Some programs may solely build dependency (which seems to be one of your main points), but I don’t think this is a necessary quality of all helping out programs.

On a less idealistic levels, nations have large foreign-nation support programs because they believe that it benefits their national interest. In most cases they are probably correct.


Ebenezer Scrooge:

My solution would be to offer aid to people in third world countries, but only contingent upon their acceptance of birth control. There’s no point in feeding a hungry mouth if they’re just going to make make even more hungry mouths in the future. If people who live in countries with scarce natural resources choose to perpetuate the problem and refuse to accept our aid, then the problem is on them, and not on us. If their birth rate becomes unacceptably high, we’ll have to pull the financial plug and allocate our limited monetary resources to countries that will play ball.

There are a lot of people out there who are working against you in that regard. These people think they’ll burn in the fiery lake of hell if they take the pill or use condoms. Some people are actually being told that condoms will result in death from AIDS. There are evil forces at work…

A college classmate of mine works for an NGO in Pakistan that promotes “family planning” with the official support of the government. However their field workers are routinely harassed and even physically attacked by members of the Islamic parties, and their offices were firebombed. Basically they are accused of trying to drive down the population in Muslim societies, and therefore choke off the supply of mujahideen (holy warriors). They are most commonly called “yahoodis” (Jews) while they are being beaten. So this is not always an economic imperative to give birth to your own personal agrarian workforce or retirement plan.

The common prayer on the birth of a son is “He will be victorious in battle and bring back loot, or he will die a martyr’s glorious death!”

The preferred weapon for the beatings are sandals, as this is supposed to be humiliating.

When I was a wee lad, the population of Pakistan was 65m, and it was an incredibly crowded place with a severe shortage of arable land. Now the population is over 150m. And I am not THAT old.

Well do you think you might be able to make that decision? You certainly have a large amount of personal fortitude. Damn. What a strong human being you must be. You remind me of some of the greats in history. I won’t mention any names, but I’ll bet you know who I’m thinking about. If you could go ahead and condemn them to death, It would be much nicer for those of us who think human life has value, as we won’t have to waste our money and efforts on those jokers.

I don’t wan’t to speak for anyone else, but I’m I pussy like that. I see some joker suffering, I wan’t to help him out, you know.:rolleyes:

You could fix that for everybody.

So what if we are? When was it decided that my ethics are determined by other people’s fitness?

As for them dying to prevent future suffering, if we all die there would be no suffering whatsoever. Would that be a logical extension of your argument? If not, why not?

Sure… if we all die in one fell swoop and there’s nobody left to grieve over us. Too bad I don’t own a Deathstar to vaporize the planet. :stuck_out_tongue:

Uh, yeah, too bad. That’s a reeeeeal shame. :smiley:

Yes. That’s the point. Charitable donations to the starving are supposed to change a survival of the fittest situation into a survival of everyone situation.

I think feeding the hungry benefits humanity a lot more. Fusion power is likely a pipe dream. We’ve spent tremendous amounts on it and accomplished nothing. Speaking more broadly, efforts to achieve a utopian society have not only consumed tremendous resources, but have also lead to a great deal of harm. (See Soviet Union, Nazi Party, 18th amendment, etc…)

By contrast, helping the poor produces immediate, tangible benefits. The one thing I would add is that third world aid should focus on creating permanent infrastructure such as water pipelines, sanitation systems, medical clinics, schools, and roads, rather than merely distributing food.

During the past 100 years, the population of Earth has skyrocketed, but living conditions have improved dramatically all over the planet. The population of the United states more than double and the population of Japan more than tripled, yet those two nations are at the top of the wealth scale. Plainly we can bring about prosperity even while populations are shooting upward.

That is merely something Darwin observed at work in nature, it is not a moral imperative for human relations.

In any case, the fittest are, by definition, those who survive in their environments. It counts no less because the environment into which they happen to be born includes charitable relief and accessible medical care.

Suffering is the default, not the exception. Humanity has suffered throughout it’s history in every corner of the earth it has crawled into. Having a high standard of living is the unusual thing, not the normal thing. That holds true for today and overwhelmingly throughout history.

I believe it was up until 1750 that societies around the world basically had the same standard of living. A hundred years in America you wouldn’t be too many steps past today’s African peasant. Many people today remember when Europe had genocide and starvation. The world has been changing quickly, just more quickly in some places than others. It’s centuries too early to start giving up on people.

As for suffering, first world people suffer, too. We watch our loved ones die at exactly the same rate- all of them. We have our hearts broken. Now and then we kill ourselves out of despair. Developed nations even have their own special forms of suffering- clinical depression, serial killers, addiction, etc.

It’s not like people’s lives in the developing world have no meaning or no joy. Life is the same substance everywhere- family, work, friends, culture, religion. I think you’d be surprised at how closely the emotional life of an African sustenance farmer resembles your own. When we sit on our deathbeds and contemplate the things that truly matter to us, we all contemplate pretty much the same things.

So what can we do? Plenty. Actually tons. A lot of the factors that keep nations in poverty are directly in the hands of first world voters. Do some research. Figure out what the sources of these problems are. And do what you can. Hundreds of thousands of people have dedicated their life to this. You may not want to go that far, but there is still a ton you can do.

Now before people get the wrong idea about me… I’m not some cold-hearted individual out for the slaughter of innocents. Also, there has been a lot of commentary on my Darwinian quotation, but I just threw that out there for you guys to think about; I don’t seriously think that morality should be derived from anything like that. The biggest problems I see with the aid system is that in order to eliminate hunger, disease, and all the usual blights, we would need to revamp their entire society, which would destroy their culture. It would also require global cooperation, unless we want vying factions trying to alter third-world countries to fit what they want. I dunno, maybe I’m just looking out for an easy way out of a tough situation. I guess it is easier to say “leave them to themselves” when I’m comfy here in my robe and slippers.

Also, in response to jsgoddess: I don’t think that extermination of all is the extension of my argument. Sort of how allowing inter-species marriage is not the logical extension of allowing gay marriage. Anyway, killing all would not only eliminate all the problems, it would eliminate all the positives of humanity. That wouldn’t be fun, now would it.

ITR Champion: I agree that aid should include more than just food and shelter, but the things you mentioned might not work. As I see it, though, the culture of third-world countries doesn’t fit into what we see as normal and good. I can’t see native tribesmen getting cars and driving on roads. I don’t know enough about their culture to call anything for certain, but I doubt any one person has the perfect plan. It’d require a team of professionals to come up with anything close to a solution.

No need to revamp anything. African (and other developing world) culture is just as flexible and dynamic as our own and as change comes they will develop their ways of embracing it, just like they have for centuries.

It’s not like everyone in poor areas lives some sort of crazy life that doesn’t resemble ours at all. Very few people live the kind of “hunter-gatherer” lifestyle we so often associate with Africa. It’s just a few pygmies who are rapidly being forced out by logging and a handful of peoples in East Africa (from what I know.)

Almost everyone lives in small farming villages that would be rustic but not unusual to our own grandparents. Think “Little house on the Prairie” but more populated and with more history. Many of the rest are pastoral nomads who still spend time in larger cities, take public transport, and otherwise interact with the outside world on a regular basis.

Although many African societies are on the conservative side, there is no reluctance to embrace technology or other accouterments of the modern world. Cell phones have near perfect penetration and just about everyone has one- even people who have to walk an hour to the nearest spot with reception. The business of selling cell-phone credit is booming in most villages. Motorcycles, buses and the occasional private car are an everyday thing, although bad road networks do hamper commerce. Kids in African high schools take computer classes. Everyone follows Latin American soap operas.

Really their lives aren’t that much different than our own, except their houses are made of mud instead of wood and they get sick more often. It turns out the first one doesn’t really matter too much, and we can and are trying to do stuff about the second one.

I’d say we have no responsibility to the suffering, whether it be people thousands of miles away or right next to us. There’s no inbuilt moral obligation to aid those who need it. Responsibility is something we elect to enter into, not forced upon us.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, though. I’m afraid I don’t have anything to add as to a great method of doing so, unfortunetly.

At least you’re consistant. I’d say a great many people would feel obligated to aid a child drowning in a mud puddle a few feet in front of them, but wouldn’t feel obligated to donate money to save a child in Africa. But what’s the difference morally? It’s quite possible to save a child in africa by donating a few bucks to charity. Many children over there die for lack of a few dollars worth of antibiotics.

One influential modern philosopher argues the opposite of what you’re saying.

This planet has enough resources to eliminate the suffering of ‘the third world.’ They suffer because of our greed and choice of lifestyle, period.

Numerous studies and citations are available to support my above statement. Probably the best comprehensive book on the subject has the unlikely title of ***Diet For A New America ***by John Robbins. Most libraries have at least one copy.


Hello RT!

I disagree. My worldview is admittedly a Biblical one, but were it not, my conscience would not permit me to live in luxury while others have… nothing. $1 a day lifts a child out of poverty, educates him, provides healthcare, and teaches him ‘how to fish’ so that we only need support him until he’s learned to support himself. Working with villages we can help them to become independent by reviving their local skills and teaching them about basic sanitation and preventative medicine, and more.

Ultimately each of us must decide who our ‘neighbor’ is, and if it were you or I in their position, would we want someone to come and help us? Few mothers wouldn’t give their own life to save their children. If my kids were hungry I would welcome a hand up - not a hand out, a hand up.

Perhaps we cannot save the world (I myself believe it is well within our capability to stop world hunger), but we can make it an awful lot better. Why should we? I have a had time believing most don’t feel it’s the right thing to do. Words like love, compassion, mercy, and gratitude that we are in a position to help come to mind.

FWIW - Jesse.

This may be a naive or incorrect view, but it’s mine and I hope some of you understand it. I don’t understand why we don’t help every single person in our own country before trying to solve the problems of the rest of the world. Isn’t that like parents seeing their own children suffer and/or starve, but going over and feeding and clothing the neighbors? Super simplistic, I know. What (if anything) is wrong with my view?