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Singer, sowing

Posted by Jim Concannon  March 10, 2009 06:33 PM

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More than 30 years ago, Australian ethicist Peter Singer stirred up an explosive hornets’ nest when he published ‘‘Animal Liberation,’’ his book arguing that other creatures have rights too, including one to be free from unnecessary suffering caused by people.
His defense of animals remains the stance for which Singer, now a bioethics professor at Princeton University, is best known. But the truth is that in the intervening years he has written more than 30 more books, tackling such thorny issues as abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide, with his stance on each issue generally embracing a core concern: Can the subject under discussion feel suffering?
Now Singer is back with ‘‘The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty,’’ in which he argues that people with material resources have the responsibility to help those in dire need, wherever they are on the planet. (Singer himself gives a quarter of his earnings to charity.)
In his new book, Singer writes, ‘‘In wealthy societies, most poverty is relative. People feel poor because many of the good things they see advertised on television are beyond their budget -- but they do have a television. In the United States, 97 percent of those classified as poor own a color TV. Three quarters of them own a car. Three quarters of them have air-conditioning.’’ By contrast, he writes, ‘‘The 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty are poor by an absolute standard tied to the most basic human needs. They are likely to be hungry for at least part of the year ... The poor may not be able to afford to send their children to school. Even minimal health care services are usually beyond their means.’’ Because of that disparity in an age of globalization, it’s incumbent on those who can help to do so.
Singer has clout, and this week he’ll argue his case before the World Bank in Washington. On Friday, March 13, he’ll do so again at 6 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge. Advance tickets are available at the Harvard Book Store

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