Saturday, May 7, 2011

Human Rights Final 1

The arguments of the authors (Singer and Neiman) and the spiritual traditions (Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Taoist, Hindu, Buddhist, and Radical Non-Violence) look at the question of helping other humans through different approaches. Their arguments have linking similarities but on the question of how required certain actions are there lie major differences.

Looking at the absolutism required to implement each philosophy is an important aspect to analyze in deciphering each perspective on how to fulfill a human life. It is important because, as will be seen later, this determines many factors about how the philosophy can operate in the real world. Standing as the most absolute perspective is that of the Jewish Old Testament tradition, which offers peace and prosperity through the higher calling of the Lord. Eternal damnation awaits those that do not follow the philosophy of the Jewish god. “For I [the Lord God] know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins…Seek good, and not evil, that you may live (Amos 5:11-15).” This is the most absolute view. The highest calling is charity and good as divined by the Lord. This is further reiterated by the New Testament Christian view point, as Yoder says, “because God does, and God commands His followers to do so; that is the only reason, and that is enough (Yoder, 1982).” This sort of ‘pure’ view can have major drawbacks, chief among which is the disintegration of the philosophy under stress.

The reliance on a higher power as the source of authority is subject to the belief in a higher power. It also leads to the justification of the philosophy as being divine. If divinity is disproven or its followers no longer see the power of the divine in their actions, they are liable to quit. The Catholic Workers can embody this principle, “the aim…is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ.” While that sounds good, the politicization of the organization and its marriage to absolute philosophy seeks to undermine existing political structures, something that has a high chance of failure. The Catholic Worker philosophy mixes communism with traditional Christian doctrines. This combination provides plenty of room for a top down form of governance and resource management under divine pretenses. They advocate, in part, “a radically new society where people will rely on the fruits of their own soil and labor…we believe this needed personal and social transformation should be pursued by the means Jesus revealed in His sacrificial love.” This philosophy easily stands up to the test of time with perfectly benevolent leaders. But the failure of a workable form of Democratic governance in their philosophy leaves open the question of checks on power. Who determines the value of labor? The Catholic Workers address this partially, “those in power live off the sweat of another’s brow, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work.” In effect, the Catholic Worker doctrine is communist with a medieval flair for divine rule as its mechanism for enforcement.

Stepping back from the most absolute and stark examples of Abrahamic religions and their charity off shoots is Singer’s philosophy. In his book he gives binary examples, oversimplifications of the world, of how to save people. Neiman believes in personal sacrifice, to within the smallest measure of personal comfort. His philosophy can be seen as deriving from the Judeo-Christian philosophy of poverty as a measure of charity, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and Singer’s argument, “we ought to give to the point at which, if we were to give more, we would run a ‘significant’ risk of worsening our lives (Singer, 146).” He reneges slightly on this argument, “moral life is more nuanced than that suggests…praise and blame…should follow the standard that we publicly advocate, not the higher standard that we might apply to our own conduct (Singer, 154).” Singer takes that approach and applies it to how much to give. He becomes far more pragmatic about what is required of the average citizen, suggesting that, “giving 5 percent is no hardship at all (Singer, 162).” He firmly maintains that donating to charities at the 5 percent level can alleviate poverty permanently, and he argues that “it would probably not reduce your happiness at all (Singer, 169).” He argues that charity is equivalent to happiness, “the link between giving and happiness is clear (Singer, 172).” Singer’s philosophy is that to derive meaning from life he, and the rest of the world, must answer the question that Henry Spira posed, “what greater motivation can there be than doing whatever one possibly can to reduce pain and suffering (Singer, 173)?” Singer’s answer is that there is none and his strategy is to encourage charity his way. And that is where Singer becomes an absolutist. Singer does not open up significantly to the possibility that there are other ways of giving or alleviating pain and suffering; by ascribing solely to his philosophy of a percentage of income donated, he narrows his scope unnecessarily.