February 2009

Arts & Letters

‘The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty’ by Peter Singer

By Chris Middendorp

Peter Singer is a public intellectual par excellence; he takes complex philosophical notions and relates them directly to the general reader without a hint of loftiness or superiority. The Life You Can Save is classic Singer: a straightforward but perspicacious exploration of one of the great ethical questions of our age. Do ordinary people in the West have the power to end world poverty and prevent millions of unnecessary deaths? Singer’s answer is a resolute yes, without, thankfully, any of the pseudo-poetic and maudlin self-promotion that permeates similar proselytising by Bono, Bob Geldof and, lately, Bill Clinton.

Working essentially in a didactic mode, Singer concedes that his overriding goal is “to convince you to choose to give more of your income to help the poor”. While fulminating against the fashionable cynicism about do-gooders and lost causes, he asserts that with our support, aid agencies like Oxfam have a prodigious scope to prevent deaths due to extreme poverty in most of the world’s vulnerable countries. We’ve heard variations on this view before, but rarely have the arguments been stated with such forensic intensity and with such persuasive accompanying data. Singer strikes just the right tone: he gently mocks Western status symbols and petty ambitions, and he charts with precision how you and I can, and should, snap out of our self-importance and directly help some of the world’s poorest people.

A great strength of Singer’s thesis is his elimination of hopelessness from the subject. He illustrates the extent of the progress already made, drawing our attention to the fact that in 1960, 20 million children died before their fifth birthday, compared with 10 million in 2007. While still a scandalous statistic, this dramatic reduction is doubly remarkable given population growth over the intervening years, and demonstrates that ending poverty isn’t just some slavering and inchoate hippie pipedream.

Some years ago this book might have been called thought-provoking. It would be a great pity if this description were applied to it today. The Life You Can Save is an ineluctable call to action – the prose equivalent of blazing trumpets. By the time you’re halfway through it, you may well find yourself making practical arrangements to give away a percentage of your annual income. Just as Singer hopes you will.

Cover: February 2009

February 2009

From the front page

Image from ‘All Auras Touch’

True colours: ‘All Auras Touch’ at Carriageworks

Work matters in artist Kate Mitchell’s exploration of the fundamental connections between people

Bad news on bad

The economic headwinds are getting stronger

Image of the Invasion Day rally in Melbourne, January 26, 2020

Change the date… but to when?

The time to celebrate Australia will be when it has recognised its First Nations people and become a republic

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller

The prevention state: Part four

In the face of widespread criticism of strip-searches, NSW Police offers a candid defence of preventative policing: You are meant to fear us.


In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Looking sheepish

‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Representing

Numismatics


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Cardi B

Bodak moment: Pop’s decade of superstars

Cardi B delivered the song of the decade as a new league of superstars overcame the significance of bands

Photo of Liam Gallagher

Don’t look back in anger: Liam and Noel Gallagher

As interest in Oasis resurges, talking to the combative brothers recalls their glory years as ‘dirty chancers, stealing riffs instead of Ford Fiestas’

Conversion on the way to Damascus by Caravaggio

Damascene subversion: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘Damascus’

The literary storyteller’s latest novel wrestles with the mythology of Christianity’s founder, Paul the Apostle

Cover of Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘This Is Not Propaganda’ [detail]

Agents of chaos: Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘This Is Not Propaganda’

The Russian expat journalist wonders if democracy can survive the internet, as social media is used to promote feelings over facts


More in Noted

Utagawa Yoshimori, The Tongue-cut Sparrow [detail]

‘Japan supernatural’

The Art Gallery of NSW’s examination of Japan’s centuries-long artistic traditions depicting the spirit world and the macabre

Cover of ‘The Topeka School’

‘The Topeka School’ by Ben Lerner

The American author’s latest novel canvasses the seething hate speech of the burgeoning alt-right and white-boy rap battles in the Midwest

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”


Read on

Image from ‘All Auras Touch’

True colours: ‘All Auras Touch’ at Carriageworks

Work matters in artist Kate Mitchell’s exploration of the fundamental connections between people

Image of the Invasion Day rally in Melbourne, January 26, 2020

Change the date… but to when?

The time to celebrate Australia will be when it has recognised its First Nations people and become a republic

Image of Scott Morrison

A Pentecostal PM and climate change

Does a belief in the End Times inform Scott Morrison’s response to the bushfire crisis?

Image of Scott Morrison

A national disaster

On the PM’s catastrophically inept response to Australia’s unprecedented bushfires


×
×