“Vitellius, the Roman emperor, dined on the brains of thousands of peacocks and the tongues of thousands of flamingos.” Naughty! But if you buy coffee, go skiing, paint your nails, own a car, wear Fluevogs (ahem!) or subscribe to magazines—even just one really good magazine—you’re acting like a latter-day Vitellius. Would you walk past a toddler drowning in a wading pool because saving her might ruin your shoes? Similarly, would you condemn an African child to death because you “need” the money that could have saved her (from malaria, rotavirus, HIV, etc.) for Netflix and takeout?
Peter Singer, philosopher and author of The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (Random House), probably wishes you had taken the $6.95 you spent on this magazine and sent it to Oxfam or the Millennium Villages Project instead. Yeah, he really is this simplistic. A big chunk of The Life You Can Save is a recitation of stats and studies in defence of the simplicity of his argument. In a nutshell, Singer believes that distance doesn’t remove moral obligation: if you can save a life, what does it matter whether that life is in Africa or on your own doorstep? You can quibble with the details—Madonna in Malawi good! arts funding bad!—but not with the broad thrust of Singer’s argument: that we’re a bunch of cosseted First World babies who need to fucking grow up and take a little moral responsibility.
If you want to begin with the $25 you would have spent on Singer’s book, go to thelifeyoucansave.com instead for suggestions about where to donate.