How much does it cost to save a life?
Our personal choices can help to effectively combat poverty, says Peter Singer.
PETER SINGER: I was moved to write this book because I was aware that there are so many people in extreme poverty in developing countries who we can help. There are effective organizations. We can assist them and save their lives or restore their sight if they're blind or prevent them going blind, many other things that we can do. But a lot of people don't realize how cheap it is, basically, to save a life of somebody in a developing country, whereas here in the United States or other affluent nations, we would spend hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars to save the lives of people who are very ill through intensive care units, we save their lives. But for the amount that we're spending to save one life here in the United States we could maybe save many hundreds or a thousand lives in developing countries. It seems, to me, wrong that we are not doing something about that when we have this opportunity to help people at relatively little expense. We're not doing that and instead we're buying ourselves things that we don't really need. Things that might range from expensive cars to simply buying bottled water when we can drink the water out of the tap. All the time we're spending things that either by themselves or added together could save somebody's life or give somebody a much better quality of life.
There is something about human nature that makes it harder for us to give to strangers, especially distant strangers who we don't really see. And that's because we evolved from our primate ancestors already living in social groups as chimpanzees, for example, live today in small social groups where they know each other. Every chimpanzee in the group recognizes every other chimpanzee in the group and knows that they're part of their group. So they will help each other in need. And as we emerged we also lived in small groups. Gradually, they got bigger—a lot of anthropologists think that the typical human society was about 150 individuals. But still if you're living with 150 individuals all your life you will get to know them all. And so you develop an ethic of helping other people in your group and you develop a kind of emotional response to seeing their needs and you would go and try to help them and meet their needs. But now that we're living in societies of tens or hundreds of millions of people and a world of billions of people we don't have that personal connection. So we can't rely on that immediate emotional response to someone else's need and to someone who we know.
So we have to really use our head as well as our heart. I think our emotions are still there. We still have a sense that it's bad that people should suffer. It's bad that children should die. But we have to do that operation in our head of saying yes, and even though I can't see these people I know that they are dying. I can read the statistics, the report on this. I know that there are organizations that will take my donation and reduce the number of children dying. So that's what I want to do. But that's a step that isn't based on a kind of evolved intuitive response. It's a step that really has to come out of our rational reflection on who we are, where we are and where the other people in the world are.
Well there are still many challenges in relating to helping people in poverty, but one of them is simply the failure to put sufficient resources really targeted to help people who are very poor. Now I know a lot of Americans will say hey, wait a minute. Isn't our government the biggest donor of aid in the world and aren't I already doing that through my taxes? A lot of people don't realize that even though in dollar terms the United States is the biggest donor, it's also a very big economy and as a percentage of the economy size, of the gross national income, the United States is actually giving very little. It's giving about 21 cents in every hundred dollars that the nation earns. So less than a quarter, a couple of dimes for every hundred dollars that we earn. And that then doesn't look so generous. Plus, a lot of this aid is not targeted to helping the world's poorest people. It's used for strategic purposes. So at the moment the biggest recipient of U.S. aid is Afghanistan because we have troops there. We're fighting a war there and we want to get support and goodwill by donating aid. Prior to that it was Iraq when we were fighting the war in Iraq. And Iraq certainly was never one of the poorest countries, it always had a lot of oil revenue. There are many other poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, who get very little aid from us because they're not strategically that significant.
This is a barrier really to try to get more resources going where it's needed most. And that's why in the book I ask people to check online at websites like The Life You Can Save for the most effective organizations that really have thought about these issues, that know what to do, that are directly helping the poor. In some cases they're advocates for the poor like one of the organizations recommended by The Life You Can Save is Oxfam because Oxfam is an international advocate for the poor, trying to promote better trade deals for the poor, for instance, to help them trade their way out of poverty; trying to stop bribery and corruption by getting companies that are extracting oil or minerals from poorer countries to publish how much they're paying to the governments of those countries so that the people know what their governments are getting and can try to hold them accountable for the money they're receiving. So there are lots of ways, both directly and through political advocacy, to try to really continue to reduce extreme poverty.
- For the amount it costs to save one life in the United States, several hundred or a thousand lives could be saved in developing countries.
- You can make small sacrifices to fuel your personal philanthropy. Instead of giving, "we're buying ourselves things that we don't really need," says philosopher Peter Singer. "Things that might range from expensive cars to simply buying bottled water when we can drink the water out of the tap."
- Peter Singer is the founder of The Life You Can Save, an organization that aims to help change the culture of giving in affluent countries and increase donations to reputable and effective nonprofits.
- A free download of the 10th anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty is available here.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.