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The quickest, funniest guide to one of the most profound issues in philosophy

"That’s what’s fucking crazy! We all have SO MUCH SHIT WE DON’T NEED."
"That’s what’s fucking crazy! We all have SO MUCH SHIT WE DON’T NEED."
(Sylvie Bouchard/Shutterstock)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

This is the most persuasive case for giving more money to lifesaving charities that I've read in years.

And it's written from perspective of a frat bro.

Tommy Maranges, better known as Philosophy Bro, is a national treasure. His Tumblr is full of astonishingly clear explanations of really complex ideas in philosophy, which also happen to be written as if the author spends every weekend guzzling Natty Ice in a tank top. Here he's translating "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" — Princeton philosopher Peter Singer's very famous case for why we're all donating way less money than we should be to charities that save people's lives.

The piece starts with an analogy: imagine you're walking by a lake, minding your own business, when you see a child drowning. Only, Philosophy Bro's version is way better:

Like, let’s say I’m on my way to a bitchin’ party and I’m looking fly as shit and I smell good because you already know, and I’ve got a 30-rack of Natty because I’ll be goddamned if I show up empty-handed to the house I’m about to burn down. Once I get over this bridge, and turn the corner I’ve arrived and so has the party. Except I hear a bunch of splashing and I look over the bridge into the river and – fuck me – there’s a kid flailing around and calling for help, like he’s drowning for some reason instead of handling his shit like an adult.

You'd have to be just the worst if you didn't jump in and save the kid, even if it ruins your perfectly popped collar. The conversation would be something like this:

"Oh you brought beer!"

"Yeah bro, I wouldn’t let anything stop me, not even the child who literally drowned on my way over here."

"Wait… what?"

"Yeah, I let a child drown to death, but I brought some beer."

"But a child died."

"Sure but beer! Plus I smell good. Who’s DJing tonight?"

"But a child died."

"Agree to disagree?"

It shouldn't matter whether the kid is far away — maybe you can throw in an empty keg or something that they can swim to:

If my friend is like "Eeennhhh, fuck him, he’s kinda far away" I would be like "Yeah, but we could still save him. This plan is going to work." and he’s like "Oh, I know it will work, I’m just saying, even if I know it’s going to work: any more than a football field away, and I don’t give a shit." Like fuck that guy, right? How did I become friends with such a trashhat? It doesn’t matter that he’s FARTHER AWAY, I can still prevent a CHILD from DYING A HORRIBLE DEATH and all it cost me is I have to be like "sorry we had to use the keg to save a life, but we can just buy a new one."

Nor should it matter how many kids there are to save, or whether there are other people standing around doing nothing. If you can save a kid from drowning, you should do it, right?

Obviously. But here's where the analogy kicks in: we're all making that same decision, all the time.

There's so much extreme poverty and disease around the world, and there are such low-cost ways to save lives in places like Uganda, that even a tiny amount of donation on your part could save a life. Every time we spend $5 at the bar (let alone do something really dumb like give $400 million to Harvard), we are doing the exact same thing as refusing to jump into the pond to save the kid. There's literally no difference:

What if I told you that for $5, you could buy a life-saving vaccine for a child? Sure, he’s far away, but we already agreed: who gives a shit, right? It’ll still save his life, and it only costs you not having a fifth drink at the bar on a Thursday. Remember that $300 bar receipt you posted with the caption "just another Thursday night wearing matching plaid with my bros, we’re special and impressive and are the ACTUAL six dudes with the biggest dicks, unlike all you OTHER overconfidences of bros who think that, well guess what, it’s us?" What you were really saying was "I routinely pass up the chance to save two dozen lives with science so that I can black out and pretend that I like myself for a night." That’s fucked up, bro.

And sure, literally everyone else in the bar was ALSO passing up the chance to save a child’s life, but that doesn’t let YOU off the hook, right? Step up and do the right thing. What’s the worst that can happen? People give too much money, and then no one starves to death but also not everyone has the car they want? THAT WOULD BE TERRIBLE, WOULDN’T IT? GOD FORBID WE SOLVE POVERTY TOO HARD. Or, sorry, no, fuck you, that’s a risk worth taking since it might mean NO ONE STARVES TO DEATH.

Right now, all over the world, literally hundreds of thousands of children are in situations that are totally fucked, and even though you’re far as shit from them, you can save their lives. For like $3 you could buy a shitty rum and Coke , or you could buy a mosquito net that helps PREVENT CHILDREN FROM GETTING MALARIA. And as we’ve ALREADY AGREED, who gives a shit that these kids live far away, or that lots of OTHER people could buy the net, too? Neither distance nor the number of people standing around has anything to do with whether you should SAVE THEIR LIVES OR NOT.

You don't have to be a saint to follow through on this. You just have to shell out a few more bucks.

Here’s the situation, an actual situation in the real world right now as you shop online or make plans to go out with your bros tonight: Somewhere a child is hungry, and even though he is very far away, he will still be alive in a week if you give $5. If you instead spend that $5 on a drink or a shirt, he will have starved to death, and you will have a drink or a shirt. So let me ask you: How badly do you want that drink or that shirt?

Persuaded? I definitely am. If you are, too, here's a list of charities that could save the most lives with the least money.

And, though it runs totally contrary to the spirit of this post, here's where you can buy Philosophy Bro's book, Descartes' Meditations, Bro.

Vox Video: There's a simple solution to solve poverty

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