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An Ethicist's Brutish Compassion

With his efforts to promote his new book The Life You Can Save, ethicist Peter Singer offers proof that altruism is not always a sign of goodness.

In his interview with Stephen Colbert, Singer compared charitable giving to getting an expensive business suit wet in order to save a drowning child. Basically, as he said in his New York Times interview, “If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.” Thus, in his view, when citizens of wealthy nations do not give large parts of our income to charities like his favorite UN-supported leftist NGOs, UNICEF and Oxfam, we are letting his theoretical child drown.

Singer is consistent in his efforts to guilt-trip Americans during a time of crisis. Immediately after 9/11 Singer made a similar effort to convince us to give huge sums of money to leftist NGOs and the United Nations when he said, “How can we justify giving such huge sums to the families of the firefighters and police when we do so little for people in other countries whose needs are much more desperate?”

Although many fans of wealth redistribution reviewed The Life You Can Save enthusiastically — Oxfam loved it and the New York Times critiqued it with the investigative insight of a two-month-old puppy — most noted in passing that Singer is “controversial.” Before covering Singer in wet puppy licks, the Times mentioned that Singer “has made a career out of making people feel uncomfortable.”

What on earth could this man who is so generous with other people’s money have to say that would make people uncomfortable? Well, quite a lot. From his book Practical Ethics, here are some examples of Professor Singer’s “controversial” views:

The fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings. … No infant — disabled or not — has as strong a claim to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities, existing over time. …

Parents may, with good reason, regret that a disabled child was ever born. In that event the effect that the death of the child will have on its parents can be a reason for, rather than against, killing it.

These statements aren’t just “controversial”; they’re morally reprehensible and the fact that this ethicist holds these views should be a part of every interview with Singer. When Colbert interviewed Singer, it’s a shame that he didn’t listen to his mentor Jon Stewart’s criticism of bad reporting when he said, during his discussion with financial journalist Jim Cramer, “I’m under the assumption that [reporters] don’t take [interviewees’] word at face value, that you actually go around and try to figure it out.”

Singer’s gentle demeanor and words should not be taken at face value when we know the malign philosophy that motivates him. When Singer offered his metaphor of “saving a drowning child,” the obvious question would be: if the drowning child were handicapped, would you save the child or would you let it die?

In his essay “Peter Singer: Architect of the Culture of Death,” Donald Demarco acknowledges that Singer is motivated by an attempt to alleviate suffering and that he identifies the suffering/enjoying status of all animals with their quality of life. Demarco says, “It follows from this precept, then, that those who suffer more than others have less quality of life, and those who do not possess [a sufficiently] developed consciousness fall below the plane of personhood.” This allegedly replaces morality that is based on the sanctity of life.

Demarco sums up Singer’s “compassionate” efforts to prevent suffering:

Needless to say, we all begin our lives on an uncertain voyage. Life is full of surprises. A Helen Keller can enjoy a fulfilling life, despite her limitations; Loeb and Leopold can become hardened killers, despite the fact that they were darlings of fortune. Who can prognosticate? Human beings should not be subject to factory control criteria. Even in starting again, one still does not generate the same individual that was lost. Singer’s concern for quality of life causes him to miss the reality and the value of the underlying life. … It plays into the culture of death because it distrusts the province of the heart, fails to discern the true dignity of the human person, and elevates the killing of innocent human beings — young and old — to the level of a social therapeutic.

Singer’s book Animal Liberation, which attempts to alleviate the suffering of animals, is widely regarded as the touchstone of animal liberation groups who often attempt to intimidate, injure, or even kill those who disagree with their charitable, sympathetic views.

The NGOs and the charitable giving he supports have done collectively much less to alleviate suffering than scientists like Norman Borlaug or Jonas Salk. But in the name of equality his animal rights activist followers believe that scientific researchers should be threatened and harassed for their real or imagined mistreatment of animals. In Britain, where scientists live under constant threat from animal rights groups, a top advisor openly stated that the assassination of scientists working in biomedical research would save millions of animals’ lives.

In Los Angeles, a vehicle owned by a UCLA neuroscientist targeted by an anti-animal research group was firebombed. In Santa Cruz, a car and a home belonging to UC biomedical researchers were firebombed. Fliers from animal rights groups threatened to kill researchers who were doing experiments with fruit flies.

Yes, animal rights activists were threatening to kill scientists over the alleged abuse of fruit flies. That’s where Singer’s ethics led them.

Innovators save lives while Singer justifies taking lives. Innovators plan the ascent of man while Singer proposes that we descend to (or below) the level of animals. You don’t need to be an ethicist or even a religious activist to see the faults in Singer’s reasoning — just observe the actions of his followers, which speak louder than words. By attempting to silence or intimidate the innovators who have already proven that they can improve the quality of all of our lives while promoting wealth distribution projects that historically prove to reduce the quality of life, Singer and his activist acolytes prove that altruism can be less of a virtue than selfishness.

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