interiors | art | gardens | style | travel

On charity.

Here's a comment from THIS post:

Anonymous said...
You should read Peter Singer on morality. He makes the case that all surplus income after we take care of our most basic needs should be given to the poor. One can make a comment about the political economy implications of this, but he's a ethics philosopher, and the point he's making is about ethics. This story isn't about "putting things in perspective" - it's about how do we reconcile our conspicuous consumption with our sympathy for people who have nothing and are living in misery.

I'm actually curious to hear how people in this community react. I can recommend some Peter Singer articles if you'd like.




Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. We have lived by this principle for the past five years and I can attest to the beauty and freedom that this type of lifestyle provides.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this wholeheartedly in theory, but can't seem to make it work in practice.

I was a saver of much of my "surplus income," but have lost most of it in the markets now.

Maybe it would have been better spent on the poor.

I do give to many charities. Just not *all* of my surplus income.

What do you do in retirement in this lifestyle?

Also, my husband and I are of the ones whose jobs could be history tomorrow. Finding new jobs in this economy would be very difficult.

So, shouldn't we save for ourselves for that possibility?

Also, I suppose one person's "surplus" is another person's "essentials."

Given the hundreds of thousands I've lost in the markets (my life savings nest egg), the devaluation in the value of our home, my precarious employment situation, I'm not feeling as though I have much in the way of surplus anymore.

I'm sure that it is all relative.

Christina said...

Interesting idea. Somewhat simplistic however as poverty is not necessarily driven by lack of money/goods. I am thinking of homeless people who have middle class, even wealthy families, but are mentally ill or drug addicted. And we could all send millions to various developing countries but without better food distribution systems in place, educational opportunities, control over corruption, etc, it would do no good and would just serve to make the rich of those countries richer.
I am not arguing that we shouldn't give our surplus money, just that it's not enough.

Anonymous said...

Would Chase please suggest an article by Peter Singer for us to read?

Anonymous said...

This philosphy could not be more opposite to every fiber of my being. For those who do decide to live in this admirable fashion, fine. As long as they don't impose their moral codes on me. I like nice things. I enjoy them. I do not feel guilty about it. Do I help others out who are less fortuante? Yes. Do I hand over every bit of "surplus income"? Absolutely not. Does my blood boil every time I see the pickup around town with the decal that says "Welfare Pays" across the windshield? Yes. Did I cringe when I used to work in a bank and cash enormous checks for someone with three kids in tow who said, "Thank God, now I can get my nails done". You bet. There will always be those who take advantage of those who will provide. My family gives up time with children and other important things to go to work all week so that we can provide for ourselves. I am going to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Read Atlas Shrugged.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've inspired a front page post one one of my favorite blogs.

The Singer article is titled "Famine, Affluence, and Morality." Those familiar with Peter Singer know that he takes extreme positions, and perhaps some people are turned off by his famous declarations [eg no animals should be harmed in any way or for any reason, a baby's life should be sacrificed before an older person's life, all surplus income should be given away, etc]. However, I don't think he can be easily ignored, and certainly he hasn't been in his field of philosophy and ethics [he's one of the most famed in his field, and currently teaches at Princeton].

You can Google the original article and read it, but I'm also including two things I found on the first page of Google, which are shorter and probably more likely to be read by a casual audience:,_Affluence,_and_Morality

To Christina - I completely agree with your point. I'm a graduate student studying political economy, and there is a strong case to be made about the feasibility of even helping certain situations. For example, David Leonard, a political scientist who studies Africa, wrote a book showing how aid to Africa helps prop up corrupt governments, and one of the best things we can do for Africa, he argues, is to ween Africa off foreign aid. The conclusion is up for debate, but I think you get my point - throwing money around isn't how we solve most of the political economy problems in the world, despite what Jeffrey Sachs thinks.

However, Decorno's experience is fairly straightforward.* She comes across a homeless person sleeping on the street, and then is faced with a moral decision - give money [if so, how much] or not. Now one can set up the conditions of whether or not the person is a drug addict or whatever - but let's set a very simple thought experiment: let's say you knew for sure the person wasn't a drug addict, and they were just extremely unfortunate. Let's say your surplus income would help support them for a year, and that's it - it wouldn't permanent solve their problems, but it would give them relief for a year. The question, then, is whether that surplus income is better spent on X thing we fancy, or in alleviating that person's pain for a year? I think it's fairly simple to find people who aren't responsible for their misfortunes [the world is full of them], and it's actually not hard to find ways to give them money. The question is how do we reconcile these two desires - one ethical and one hedonist. The problem is best illustrated if you think about Southeast Asian women [or many women in the "Third World" for that matter] who have to work in the sex trade for a few dollars per interaction, often under legal institutions that don't help protect them in cases where Johns go violent. How can I reconcile my desire to buy a $100 antique trumpet [which I have on my shelf right now] with my ethical belief that people should help donate money to women who have to sell their bodies and deal with violent Johns just to get two hundred dollars or so a month?

My general point here is that this is a real ethical issue, and the matter of poverty isn't just fodder for dinner tables or liberal coffee shop chats. We deal with the matter of poverty all the time - both in our communities and in the news - and such things shouldn't just "humble us" or have us "put things in perspective and be thankful." It should startle us and make us think about our own roles and responsibilities.

Sorry for the long reply!

- Chase

*Just to note, I'm not at all claiming that Decorno's experience is unique, obviously, or that she's morally reprehensible. I wrestle with this matter myself all the time; I study political economy of developing countries and work on related issues, yet am spending all sorts of money on ridiculous old things for my hedonistic pleasure.

PS. To the person who wrote about retirement, I think that's a separate issue. The point is about consipicuous consumption. After you've set aside for your own modest housing, food, clothing, etc, and have put a little away for your modest retirement, Singer's point is that you are morally obligated to use the leftover money to help those who are in serious suffering.

Anonymous said...

To the person who recommended Atlas Shrugged, I'm going to get vicious here, so excuse me in advance.

First, Ayn Rand is a terrible writer. Her fiction is awful. I've read three of her books, including Atlas Shrugged, Fountainhead, and a collection of her essays.

Second, her philosophy is ridiculous. There are five reasons. 1) Her Objectivist standard doesn't actually allow us to get the things we want, which is her ultimate standard for happiness. 2) Her conclusions are absurd. If you read "The Value of Selfishness," she puts it in really clear terms. For example, she puts forward the following moral problem - if you have only $50 and that money is either going to buy you a hat you really, really want or food for your starving child, you should buy the thing that makes you most happy. Thus, if you like the hat more than your baby, you should buy the hat and let the baby starve. 3) She assumes preferences are static, which is absurd. 4) She ignores the fact that humans are products of society, in a very real sense of the word, and thus are obligated towards others around them and those before them [my education, safety, values, world view, and happiness is all a function of others in the world, and thus I owe things to them]. 5) Lastly, you can only accept her philosophy if you take a first principle view of total hedonism, at which point I of course can't argue with you because you've taken a tautological view of "the good" [what is good is what makes me happy].

Third, and last in my rant about Ayn Rand, if you want to get into the matters of libertarianism, there are soooooo many better people than the total intellectual hack that is Ayn Rand. Seriously, so many people. Pick any one of them up - from Baukunin to Robert Nozick to Richard Epstein. I have no idea how Ayn Rand got popular, but for God's sake please recognize her for what she is -- a total and utter intellectual hack with an inability to write good fiction.

-Chase, a massive massive Ayn Rand hater.

s. said...

I posted an article link here a while back, and I think it deserves a second posting: I highly recommend that you read it.

When I left university, I promised myself that I would give 10% of my income (includes dividends, inheritances, etc) every single year. If I'd allowed myself to ask each year, "how much can I afford to give?" then some years I would have given nothing and most years would have given much less. But, that was the point of committing to an amount based on what I thought I ought to give, vs. what felt comfortable.

For me, the question was, are the world's poor and hurting so important to me that it could mean that I might have to carry a student loan an extra year or live in a small studio instead of a small 1-bedroom ? My answer was a resounding yes. What's yours?

s. said...

Christina, I think I understand the point you're trying to make, but I wouldn't state it as money "isn't enough." I'd say that sometimes money is enough but that it must be given carefully and thoughtfully, with an understanding of what the results will really be.

A wealthy friend of mine recently gave a $100K donation to a food bank. She had asked a lot of questions and had done her research; she had been told by the Executive Director than half the folks who took help from the food bank did not actually need it but just liked to get free food. But, my friend was pleased to know that $50K of her money would manage to feed families who truly need the help.

I give no money to Africa, because I don't trust that enough of it -- for my taste -- will actually reach the folks who desperately need it. But, I almost single-handedly pay for a soup kitchen in the basement of a local church (not my church, incidentally) where homeless people come for a hot meal one night/ week during cold winter nights.

I think of my charitable donations in the same way I think of my investments; I do my homework and do my calculations to figure out what I'm comfortable with. I urge you to do the same.

jean said...

Sharing surplus (money, time, food, household goods, whatever) is a must--how much and in what way is for each person or family to decide.

Start with being content and creative with what you have. Enjoy it and try not to crave more, more and more. That makes it possible to have a sense of perspective about how you can help out.

severedgrrl said...

I do try to give 10% of my take home pay to charities I feel some affinity for; I find myself using the most frequently.

But there is still $$ left over, and to the second anonymous' poster's point, purchasing a new house along w/ my husband's layoff two weeks later has put me in a position where I have to find a way to re-create something resembling an "emergency fund" again.

Don't even get me started on 401Ks, stock losses, etc.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, Singer's point isn't that you should donate money - that's only half of the argument. He knows we generally accept that we should donate money. The radical part of his argument is "if we agree we should donate X percent or dollars, why not X+1?" Up until the point where the additional dollar you give will create an amount of happiness equal to the amount of happiness it would give you [marginal utility]. It's the "why not give an additional dollar" question at every decision point, until you've run out of surplus money, that makes this argument both radical and difficult to wrestle with.

Just to note, I obviously don't expect any of us to practice Singer's argument, and really I hope in the end we all just try to figure out a charity we like [since that's the more hopefully realistic outcome].* However, I thought it would be a good question to pose since we, very much including myself in this, engage in so much conspicuous consumption.**

* I myself recommend Check it out.
** Anyone else here think it's odd how we pay top dollar for old junk that's usually laying around the homes of poor people in other countries? My mother, who is a refugee from Vietnam, came to my home once and remarked on this. She thought it was ironic that she escaped a Third World country just to come to America, for me to have all these opportunities, only for me to use the opportunities to make money and buy stuff that used to be in her poor Vietnamese home.


PS. To Decorno, I'm one of your straight male readers. We exist. And thank you for not having a blog filled with a bunch of ridiculous tween/ kitsch/ IKEA-look-a-like crap, like most decor blogs I come across. I think you're one of the only decor bloggers out there that isn't obsessed with living like a new career girl straight out of college.

Emily said...

I like the phrase Noblesse Oblige: those born into privilege are obliged to help take care of the poor. So we help where we can, but in addition to retirement we are planning to have a family and want our two children to have a comfortable life - we basically just plan on folding them into the fun.

To give everything away beyond what is conspicuous denies you (in my opinion) the ability to enjoy that which you've worked hard for. Life should make you come alive. If giving away everything makes you feel alive, then more power to you. I, personally, would rather contribute to an organization that will teach the fishing, rather than handing out fish.

For what it's worth, my last car was donated when it was time for me to replace it, and when I think about it I get all warm and moldy knowing that there's a single mom (or whomever) that can now drive her kids to school and get herself to work because I didn't need the couple of thousand I could have gotten for it.

PS - Ayn Rand's We The Living and Anthem are better than either of the two you mentioned...and some of her essays/philosophy go right off the deep end at times. I agree with the you on the other writers, but give those two a shot. They were her first two books - We The Living actually was written first, and Anthem next, but she had problems with publishing. She wrote them before she became the zealot we all recognize. At worst, you'll want an afternoon or two back, but then you'll know.

storeflittig said...

the idea is plain stupid. why do you think the whole developmentfrontier has changed from charity to micro credit? let's build a better world, not making the same mistakes over and over again:)

Anonymous said...

I live by this quote (a mangled version of the original):
"Money is like manure. If you spread it around it around, good things grow. But if you pile it up in one place it stinks like hell."

Anonymous said...


Just to note, the whole development frontier definitely has not moved from charity to micro-financing. The matter of development aid is still very much alive and well. The prominence of people like Jeffrey Sachs attests to this.

Also, micro-financing does little for places that have little prospect for commerce and industry. For example, in various pockets of Africa, human capital is so low that you can't discuss micro-financing as a way out of poverty. The issue is getting mosquito nets to villagers and helping prevent AIDS infections, not financing small entrepreneurs. People can't be small capitalists when they're dying of malaria. Additionally, even in places with high industrial sectors [take America for example], inequality is still very high, and even if you can't solve some people's problems permanently, the case is made that helping alleviate a person's suffering for a day is more important than X trivial thing we can buy [it's a basic utilitarian argument].

Lastly, I think the matter of charity vs. micro-financing doesn't discredit Singer's argument. Singer would reply "fine, don't give to charity, give to micro-financing." His point would be that your income should given until it creates a marginal utility equal to that of you and the people you help. So since buying an old antique trumpet only gives me X amount of pleasure, but the same amount of money gives a poor Southeast Asian sex worker 1000X pleasure [since she doesn't have to engage in objectifying and potentially violent situations], I should give my money - either by charity or microfinancing - to the Southeast Asian sex worker.

Sorry for turning this forum into a philosophy and ethics debate. Without an ounce of factiousness, while I personally really enjoy discussing these things, I hope Decorno soon returns to matters of decor. I don't want us to all slump around after this with saddles of guilt. I enjoy both things [which I suppose is why I thought I'd raise the issue when Decorno made the original post about seeing a homeless person. I personally wrestle with this matter all the time, but that doesn't mean I want to add another political economy and philosophy blog to my reading list; I look forward to future decor posts by the best decor blogger there is on the interwebs].


tired and true said...

Greetings to you Ms. Decorno -
Sorry to say that a blog that I felt needed to be visited several times a day ( that would be yours) has become something infinitely less appealing recently.
What in the world is this discussion doing here?
(In any case, it is moot, as your beloved Obama will make damn sure that any of us with anything will be relinquished of it soon enough.)
But I am off point - What makes you so fantastic is your focus on design, and you have spectacular, refined sensibilities. And you have a brilliant sense of humour. When you stray, and you have been doing it often, you are insufferable.
This is a design blog, for goodness sakes-
I come to visit you for the photo of the $4000 marble -topped cart I am still fantasizing about. I have plenty of religion in my life, thank you, and my politics are thoughtful and informed, and much more conservative than yours. But can't we be friends and just talk about what we have in common?

I look to Decorno for lighting, not enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

The "every person for themselves" behind Anon 1:26 *really* scares me. Why not just return to the laws of the jungle? How can we call ourselves civilized if we're not willing to help one another? Pathetic. And sad.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:56 -

Take what you like, leave what you don't. It really is that simple.

Decorno said...

Anon 8:20 - thanks.

Anon 7:56 - I've been writing about lighting and $4000 marble tables for 2 years and you begrudge me for one open-comment session on charity? Good grief.

Anonymous said...

And I am SURE that Mr. Singer does this very thing after he pays for all of the "basics" of his life, yes? Hmmm...

Personally, I try to stick with the 10% rule (tithing/charities), and give more when and where I can; I've done this even while unemployed. I figure if GOD wants us to give a mere 10%, why should I have to listen to Peter Singer? :\

Anonymous said...

God wants you to take a basic introductory college class on logic. :\


Anonymous said...

Chase -

That was the best comment ever.

Anonymous said...

Poor is poor.

I try not to battle with the idea of deserving vs. undeserving poor - it's very protestant and very American. It's something ingrained in me, however.

My work-around is a selfish 'Give it away so you can make room for the new' idea.

It relieves me from discerning worthy vs. unworthy donees. It relieves me from pretending I know what's best for others. It helps me shed things for which I have too many emotional attachments.

I do this with my antiques. I've had friends drool over silly shit. When the piece no longer fits in with what I'm doing, I can give it to somebody who will take it and love it. It's none of my business what happens once I've given it away.

I do this with cash. helps people who face the same financial jams I've been in over the years. It helps people on the edge of poverty who have the balls to apply (you too can apply online).

I do this with my time. I learned more about taxes volunteering for VITA programs than any class I've taken - plus I was allowed to nose into other people's business while preparing returns (some hilarious fucked-up shit).

I do it with the bullshit in my head. The best way to solidify your knowledge base is to train somebody. It makes room in your head for new ideas and gives you a different perspective.

Penelope Bianchi said...

Hi! I am an older decorator (40 years in the business) qualifies me as maybe a dinosaur!
new to the blogosphere!
I am making a leap right here...and I expect to be excoriated! (I have seen it....and it is ugly)

Anonymous......I am not reading any more anything you say!

You remind me of anonymous letters......(what am I saying? YOU ARE ANONYMOUS LETTERS!!!!)

I am proud, Decorno that you make that point.....and I am proud you are not anonymous!

I was asked at some meeting of "major leaders",( or who thought they were.)....."who was the happiest person you ever met?" "YPO! (Young Presidents Organization)
It took one second to answer. I met a man in Kenya who was working on a road...he saw what he thought was a bone. Dr Leakey was excavating nearby.....and this uneducated man knew of him......and went to him.....and brought the "bone".

That led to the the most important discoveries in anthropology in the last century. Most the very least; one of the two most important discoveries.......

When I met this man......he was a guide at the Leakey Foundation outpost .....and he had learned English....and showed us all around this place which has been the source of so many "finds"...."Lucy" was one of them...

That man was probably in his seventies when I met him........23 years ago......he was the most joyful, happy, person I have ever this day.........

Some Americans had travelled there.....and had donated the money to create this small museum to house these fossils.....and to hire this man...and to preserve this site in perpetuity! I believe it was an actor......or Hollywood son or daughter.........without that money it would not have been possible. I am proud to be an American...and I was proud to show my daughter that place.....provided by funds from an American for science...way proud! I still am!

Is that called donating "surplus income to charity?"

I don't know.....but I sure love Decorno coming out with the courage to say what she said here!

And you people who are anonymous are a bunch of cowards if you ask me! And you didn't!!


(not anonymous!!)

RJ said...

Penelope...what's with all the....ellipses?

(Oh, and the reason some of us remain "anonymous" is because the Blogspot posting options sometimes don't work. Blogspot doesn't recognize my password now so I'm using the anonymous option in order to post a commnent.)

RJ said...

Well what do you know? It worked this time.

matt said...

ok decorno first off you should be making some serious cash from your blog. you obviously have a highly coveted brainiac readership that advertisers would kill to reach... maybe you could give a percentage of proceeds to your favorite charity? anyway, i really just read your blog so i can find links to cool shit for my modest, yet admittedly chic, townhouse. i work 50+ hours a week and delay gratification so i can get the things in life that i want. that's right -- want -- not need. some evenings i'm at work until 8pm, so fuck it, i shouldn't feel too guilty about it - right? btw, i have no kids at home waiting for daddy so really it's kind of benign - i'm the only one that suffers. i also donate to multiple charities, thus feel like i've atoned for being moderately selfish. i fully realize there are people living on this earth who are living in what i would define as hell. however, i ultimately feel like we as a COLLECTIVE should be addressing this issue. i mean if everyone in america who could afford it gave $250 a year to the charity of their choice could you imagine the good that could be done? but yet after typing this i still feel guilty - thanks a lot. this feeling is almost worse than after watching those aspca commericials with sarah mclachlan. maybe i don't need $150 sheets. whatever, please stop trying to raise my consciousness and do another post about lighting. please.

Anonymous said...

Peter Singer is a crackpot. Read his stuff on abortion and animal rights. According to him, animals are persons and fetuses are not. Um, yeah, ooooookay.

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 12:36,

Wow, talk about doing violence to someone's argument . . .

- Chase

Anonymous said...

I think most people are selfish and if left to choose they will rather buy a pair of useless expensive shoes then give money to charity or give money to someone else who needs it more then they do. I think you have to 'force' people to share and that's where the state comes in. Based on your income (and what you own) you pay taxes and they go towards schools, roads but also things like social security. For me, that state should provide a certain safty net, because life is full of surprises and anyone can end up on the street.

But people have to be 'forced' to share. Unfortunatly in the USA people prefer to hear about tax cuts and it seems to me most prefer to idea of 'every man for themselves' then the idea of a society where the more fortunate pay more to help those less fortunate.

Anonymous said...

Chase, "doing violence to someone's argument"??? How so? That's his bottom line, in brief and without the 500 word graduate student waffling.

fusion said...

To anon 4:14, Chase said that because he already mentioned those two points - up front. You have not done a wonderful investigation and brought down his entire viewpoint, you have repeated something he already said.
Since you seem to have missed it, the point of the discussion is this - you don't have to do what Singer says, but you should THINK about it.

Anonymous said...

Peter Singer? The "ethicist"? The man who thinks it is moral to kill newborn babies (not unborn--that's another although related issue)? Oh yes, we really need to consider his opinions. Seriously. I have. He is at best a crackpot and at worst evil.

Anonymous said...

Peter Singer? The "ethicist"? The man who thinks it is moral to kill newborn babies (not unborn--that's another although related issue)? Oh yes, we really need to consider his opinions. Seriously. I have. He is at best a crackpot and at worst evil.

Iheartfashion said...

I think Pete Singer enjoys being a provocateur, and some of his theories are radical, but the basic premise of this argument-giving excess to the poor, beyond ones basic needs-is admirable, although not likely to catch on with the masses.
The average American gives something less than 1% of their income to charity (obviously Decorno's commenters are more generous than the average).
I don't approve of Rick Warren's position on gays and gay marriage, but I do admire the guy for reverse tithing-he gives away 90% of his income. I'd be surprised if most Christians (myself included) even give 10.
I come here for the Prada shoes and marble tables, but appreciate that it's interspersed with thoughtful commentary. Don't ever change, Decorno!

Anonymous said...

while warm and fuzzy in theory it is most impractical. how many people really have surplus income? there has to be a balance between living, saving, planning for old age and giving to our fellow human beings and animals.

i think a better solution would be to live simpler lifestyle and be less of a drain on resources.

Lolo said...


How do you, as in you personally, apply this to your own life? I'm honestly curious since you're plainly aware of the juxtaposition of consumption of "luxury" versus survival.

I'm also curious about where peoples' individual tipping point is, in regards to their "guilt line" is, so to speak. I grew up in South Korea back when it fully qualified as a Third World nation and we were much more wealthy than many of our neighbors, for example. I do my best to waste nothing but am entirely comfortable with the fact that we live comfortably within our means and don't feel guilty about having nice things. Yet, I would find it tacky to spend five thousand dollars on a bag but would be thrilled to spend it on a work of art.

red ticking said...

wow... reading all of this has my head spinning! i think our sweet, inspiring, talented decorno is simply and wonderfully "enlightening" us to think about how we can be better people and give back... "pay it forward" it is so easy to be a little tenderness...

Anonymous said...

There was an article in my local weekly about a man who recently stood on a street corner holding a sign that said something like "Will Work To Pay The Mortgage. Laid Off. Anything Will Help. God Bless."

He received a lot of kindness from strangers, from cash donations to job offers to words of encouragement to prayer.

I wonder if the disheveled homeless man with a similar cardboard sign a few miles down the road receives the same charity and kindness.

Are we more likely to reach out to those souls in whom we see ourselves? But by the grace of God go I?

Big thank you to Decorno and Chase for raising this thought provoking topic. It has given me pause.

Do I buy the coffee table I've lusted after for months? Or do I give to those in need? I honestly don't know what I want to do now. I really really want that coffee table, but I don't need it - I especially don't need it as badly the man in Vegas folding his blankets by the chain-linked fence needs a place to live.

Decorno, I am new to the blog world and found you just recently via a happy Google typo. I love that one day is about refinishing kitchen floors, the next day is about plumbing disasters, and then I find an deeply moving intellectual discussion about the tug of war between decor wants and social responsibility. Your blog is an inspiration - and not just because of the photos of the pretty pink lamps.


Anonymous said...

Anon 5:21 said it better than I could have myself.

Anonymous said...

government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

got it?

so, if you want to give extra to a "not for profit" organization, you should know that your money is not trickling down. It's used to fatten the already fat capitalists.

Anonymous said...

I think Chase is posting as Chase and half of the other anons.

Anonymous said...

If this were the case then Decorno herself should live with her past kitchen...or at the minimum not have gotten inset cabinets and high-end fixtures, and just passed her hard earned cash along.

Anonymous said...

Chase: are you at Princeton? Just curious. Also, who paid for your undergrad and grad school? Thanks.

Averill said...

I think the theory is sound (and in keeping with most religions' teachings), but that the government shouldn't force people to put it into practice.

It's my belief that government should set the baseline of behavior (e.g., don't kill people or you'll go to prison), but not force the ideal.

After all, can we really consider ourselves "good" if the government is forcing us to do it?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I posted the thing about the goverment 'forcing' people to share.
I wrote force because I think a lot of people would see it that way but my idea of government is an institution providing basic social security by spreading some of the wealth so people can at least have enough food, a roof over their head and receive medical attention. Things that are a basic human right.

Anonymous said...

1. To the few people thus far who have dismissed Peter Singer: I'm completely fine with challenging Singer's conclusions. I'm not wedded to the man or his work. However, attacking an argument takes more than "oh yea?! Well check out what he said here, isn't that conclusion soooooo stupid!?" You have to say why it's stupid, and address his reasoning. He's a utilitarian, and perhaps you don't believe in utilitarianism and that's fine. However, there is a logic to why he said you shouldn't kill animals, but it's OK to kill a baby if you had to choose between a baby and an adult [not, "he's for killing babies"]. The reasoning isn't that animals are people and babies aren't - that's a ridiculous reading of Singer's work. This comment box isn't enough for me to go over each of Singer's famous declarations, as that's a large body of work, so I would just encourage those interested to read Singer's original work on the topics. I find his stuff quite interesting, and certainly not so dismissible in its logic as some people here might try to make you think. I somewhat doubt the people who criticize him here actually have read his writings. In fact, you couldn't hold such a simple view of his work even if you only read his Wikipedia page [I checked].

2. To the person who asked how I address this problem in my own life: I often wrestle with it. I study the political economy of developing countries, and thus I am faced with this contradiction between my ethics and hedonism all the time. I have donated a bit to, and I keep the money circulating, but it's only about 500 dollars. I could use all sorts of ridiculous non-relevant facts to justify my >10% contribution [I'm a student, my family is bankrupt and getting foreclosed on, I'm already setting my career towards helping these issues, I volunteer to help tutor low income high school kids, etc]. However, none of these address the matter of my conspicuous consumption and my ethical values. Just the other day I went on eBay to find a copy of a Bill Evans record, and dropped 35 dollars on something I already have a CD of. So in short, I half wrestle with this guilt, and half avoid the issue, which is prob what most of us do. For what it's worth, I don't make excuses for it, and fully recognize the contradiction.

3. To the person who asked me about my schooling: I'm a grad student at UC Berkeley. I've spent a summer doing research at Princeton [awfully boring town, beautiful campus], but don't attend the school. I got interested in Singer's work about ten years ago, just when I got out of high school. I'm interested in philosophy and ethics [my roommate is a philosophy grad student], but I don't study it formally myself. For my undergrad, I paid for it myself, with some help of scholarships. I used to own two businesses, and money I made from that went to my undergraduate education. For grad school, I'm funded through the university - they pay for all my tuition and give me a $24,000 stipend, which is way more than enough for me to live on [I spend about $16,000 a year to live, which includes my profligate spending on old crap].

This is nice, I think, that we can have this discussion on this blog. My apologies to the person somewhere above who got mad that she had to figure out how to use the scroll bar for posts she wasn't interested in. If only the internet was filled a billion other websites you could go waste your time on . . .

- Chase

Anonymous said...

Also, to Anon at 12:36AM:

I want to thank you for teaching me your amazing debate tactics. I'm often faced with difficult arguments, many that I don't automatically understand or accept. Next time, I think I'll just retort with your "Um, yeah, ooooookay."

Next conference I'm at:

Conference panelist: "Chase, I think you've totally missed the point of reciprocal relationships between FDI and social capital in your modeling of regional development strategies in a decomposed globalized production web."
Me: "Um, yeah, ooooookay."
Conference panelist: "Damn. You win."


Anonymous said...

Chase, you're a self-righteous prick, just like many poli-sci grad students who think they know a lot about ethics because they've taken a course in it. I don't "need" to rebut Singer's so-called "reasons" for coming to a hateful and absurd conclusion. The very fact that he thinks young babies can be killed and that animals are persons makes his "ethical" viewpoints meaningless. If the conclusion stinks, I couldn't care less about the "reasoning". It must be hard when everyone doesn't agree with you.

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 2:48 PM,

Those aren't his conclusions, but just as you don't need to read his work to find out about his reasons, I doubt you need to read his work to find out about his conclusions.

I apologize for being self righteous. "Taking a class" gave me this false feeling of having a better understanding of someone's work than someone who has never read anything by the said author.


Anonymous said...

"he thinks young babies can be killed"

Anon 2:48:

Please quote the passage where he says this. I would like to see the context for myself. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Here are two relevant links.

The first link is a chapter from one of his books, which earlier treats the matter of abortion. You can read the book, but Peter Singer's position on abortion is summed up well in this section on Wikipedia

The rest of the section on euthanasia and infanticide is much less satisfying, which is why I gave the first two links instead. The position on abortion, however, sets up the premise for his position on infanticide.


Anonymous said...

Chase? Go back to your own blog, and leave Decorno alone. Seriously, you've totally hijacked her blog comments (most of these comments are yours) and they are LONG. and VERBOSE. and WE GET IT ALREADY! and you obvioulsy do not get enough attention at home or in class. do you ever shut up?

we get the point you are making, and now it's time for you to go back to your own blog.

buh-bye! byeeee!!

(posting as anon because i don't want to see you over at my blog later today)

Anonymous said...

By the way, I hope my listing of the second link, which is to a very good debate with Peter Singer and one of his critics, demonstrates that I'm not at all wedded to Singer's ideas. My only problem with one of the Anons on here is that s/he hasn't read anything by Singer, doesn't treat any of his conclusions analytically, critically, or even seriously. Even worse, s/he does a sophomoric job of "summing up" Singer's position on infanticide, and then uses that as a reason to dismiss Singer's position on wealth redistribution in this sloppy ad-hominem attack. I'm not asking anyone to agree with Singer's conclusions [since I don't even agree with all his conclusions, including his position on infanticide], I'm just asking for people to treat it with a critical mind.


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

I kind of enjoy Chase the way I enjoy "Penelope Bianchi"--as characters in an ongoing story, whom I watch with a mixture of pleasure and horror.

But charity is always a good topic, especially on a blog mostly devoted to consumption. It makes this place different from "House of Beautiful Stylish Lovely Things That I Covet and Buy"-type blogs.

Plus I get a kick out of the free-for-all flavor all the eccentrics impart.

Anonymous said...

Chase, in light of your arguments here, don't you feel guilty accepting $8000 more than you need to live comfortably from a university of a state that's on the verge of bankruptcy?

katiedid said...

No question an interesting and complex topic. Just a thought to throw out there: What becomes of the many artists, artisans, craftspeople, fashion designers, musicians,jewlery makers,graphic artists, restaurant workers, resort employees.....(you get the picture), when we stop buying their luxury goods? We all need food and shelter. A given. But the rest is discretionary is it not?
Without some spending on goods and services that are not "needed" there would be a much longer line at the food bank.

Don't misunderstand me....I am all for spending $ in creating opportunities for self sustenance (teaching to fish vs. giving a fish.). But I do not think that spending hard earned $ on things that bring a bit of pleasure and new life experience is anything to feel guilty about. Especially if the $ you spend is going to benifit a family that survives by making beautifully crafted fabrics, or art or jewelry. You get my point I hope.

Nick Klaus said...

We've got 2 competing claims here.
Are things like clean water, food, shelter, health etc. positive or negative rights?

The standard that we should not DENY people these basic necessities is to say that they're negative rights. (you have a right to not have something done to you) We're not obligated to improve their lot, but we can't hurt it.

If we say that they're positive rights, then we're saying that these things must be provided... and we're the ones that have to provide them. Of course, this leaves us with the problem of doing this equitably.

Neither of these seem satisfactory. Either the weight of the third world is on the first worlds shoulders, or we just have to act in such a way that we're not actively causing harm.

So what do we do?
Times are tough. Not only for those in need most, but also for us at times.
Don't give your money. Give your time. Help out at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen.
Don't give until it hurts, but do give.

Alice Almighty said...

Sad to say, in the time I read this comment cat-fight, I could have knit a few sweaters, walked down my block and managed to find cold people to put them on. I also came to the conclusion that I would probably like all the pan-handlers better than all y'all.

I still love Decorno.

Refraining from all the things I would like to say, Alice

Anonymous said...

Poor people who can't feed themselves shouldn't breed. They should be given birth control. Give "surplus" money to the elephant sanctuary & homeless vets. Spend some time w/ a little kid in a desperate situation and make sure they have basic math skills and reading skills.

Anonymous said...

'Poor people shouldnt breed'?????!!! WTF

They are not roaming, rabied dogs, they are PEOPLE!

Anonymous said...

I have never met anyone from University of California, Berkeley that is not totally radical, often mildly insane (imo).
And this dude might want to give to charity (this is good), the rest of his stuff sounds wacky (on wiki and elsewhere). Lots of crazy people say one normal thing here and there but they're still kooks.
Chase is on a bandwagon.

Lolo said...

Well, FWIW, I did enjoy this particular round of comments and the tiny bit of discussion. Thank you to Decorno for instigating it and thank you to Chase for bringing something to the table that I had been unaware of.

My question was honestly not meant to provoke any self justification. I do think that in order to function and remain any sort of sane, we've got to filter out a lot of the inequity of the world. Compassion fatigue would just reduce us all to blithering droolpits if we didn't. How you strike that balance of self awareness versus denial of the hypocrisy of your acts is one that is very personal and it does seem to trigger an awful lot of patting ourselves on the back or defensive "it's mine and fuck you for asking".

I know that I'm certainly not one of the do gooders of the world and skate by on the coattails of more the more generous and able.

Renate said...

I always enjoy people like Peter Singer. Gives you some food for thought and discussion.
I do however agree with Christina that just giving poor people money/goods will usually not help their situation.
I would propose an alternative. Buy food and (necessary) goods, that help the poor. Buy fair-trade food, clothes, toys, furniture. It's so easy nowadays - there's a webshop for everything. Yes, those things are usually more expensive. Then give a percentage of what's left that you're comfortable with to charity. Disaster relief is always good - those people really need food, medicine etc. Oxfam, Heifer and several other organisations don't just send goods/money to poor people, but try to improve their situation to get them out of poverty for good.

Renovation Therapy said...

We should all be doing more. I try to do a charity auction on my blog every few months and I do monthly donations from my credit card to various charities, that said, I should do more.

Anonymous said...

Please don't leave, Chase. I have enjoyed this discussion. And, let's not forget, Decorno herself invited it.

For what it's worth, Chase, I feel your pain. People here used the ad hominem debating technique on me when I was posting about plastic surgery and mysogyny.

Anonymous said...

Oh please, Chase. I don't need an 'ad hominem' course when we're discussing Peter Singer's wacked out ideals, and the very fact that you are from Berkeley of all things, makes me take everything you say with a grain of salt (I could say something about keeping all those at Berkeley from breeding...but I won't).

Until our country becomes any more Socialist, I will continue to give to those I wish, with my surplus money, and will continue to use the Bible as the touchstone for my life...something that no doubt rubs you Berkeley-ites the wrong way.


God wants you to take a basic introductory college class on logic. :\

Anonymous said...

I have been a teacher for nearly 25 years. Let me tell you, it is always the poorest of the kids that have the latest gadgets, toys, electronics, and JUNK. They always have money for ice cream, too.

Anonymous said...

Anon at February 19, 2009 9:20 AM, right above me,

That was an amazing, amazing message. Honestly, thank you; I'm not being facetious here. I've sent this around to a few friends, and am probably going to use it when I teach class. Honestly, thank you. The first paragraph is one of the most amazing things I've read all year.

- Chase, who is now totally pleased with this conversation

Anonymous said...

Chase - you've totally lost me.

Anonymous said...

Some Anon made a comment about how Peter Singer's argument is stupid because he prob doesn't give away all his money, and that she gives away 10% because God told her to.

Then I replied and gave her a link to a Wikipedia page about what an ad hominem fallacy is, and told her to take a basic college course on logic.

Then she replied, and said she doesn't need to take an "ad hominem class" [her words, not mine] and my arguments should be taken with a grain of salt because I'm a grad student at UC Berkeley.* This, of course, is funny because she invokes another basic ad hominem attack, which I gave her a link to. An ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy where you dismiss someone's claim based on a personal attack that has nothing to do with their argument.

To give an example, let's say Person A makes the following argument: "We like to look good in front of others. Cake rots our teeth and makes them look ugly. Therefore, we should not eat cake." An illogical counter argument would be "Person A beats his wife. Therefore, we should not accept Person A's conclusion." That doesn't address the argument Person A made, and it's a basic fallacy in logic. A better response to Person A might be: "Eating a little cake won't rot your teeth. We should eat cake, but only in small amounts."

Basically, some Anon said some retarded shit, I tried correcting her, and then she committed the same retarded shit, while citing my correction, without an ounce of irony.

- Chase

* I doubt any of these people who are throwing around all these stereotypes about Berkeley have ever been to the school or know anyone who goes here. The Berkeley image of the 60s and 70s is not at all the Berkeley reality of today.

Anonymous said...

" should know that your money is not trickling down. It's used to fatten the already fat capitalists."

Word up.

Ms. Suebee Honey said...

"Poor people who can't feed themselves shouldn't breed. They should be given birth control."

Add Jews, gays and the mentally handicapped and you'd have the Third Reich!

Ms. Suebee Honey said...

"I have been a teacher for nearly 25 years. Let me tell you, it is always the poorest of the kids that have the latest gadgets, toys, electronics, and JUNK. They always have money for ice cream, too."

Those ingrates; how DARE poor people have gadgets and ice cream!!

Anonymous said...


I got all of that. But you lost me at "I'm not being facetious here".


Anonymous said...

I wasn't being facetious. It was an amazing message, and my thank you was sincere. I really wanted to thank the anonymous poster for giving me such a great laugh.


Lolo said...

Chase, I am totally infatuated with you for the moment. Honestly and truly and really.

Your logic and graciousness in proposing a pretty radical, to some, point of view is refreshing.

To the person who dismissed everything with the "oh pshaw, Berkeley equals dirty hippy socialists" reference ~ I'm sure you would flail at Stanford too. To the person who went to for the "exercise restraint and responsibility equals Holocaust" reference ~ you fail.

Honestly, that is really what is at the root of what I'm reacting to. Just, exercise some restraint and personal responsibility for your choices. It's the grotesqueness of her using the safety net that is already far too thin while seemingly indulging herself to the detriment of her immediate family. It's gross, she's gross and I don't have a single problem with saying that out loud.

Anonymous said...


Thanks =). Glad at least one person on here doesn't hate me.


Anonymous said...

A woman who blogs about "finding the perfect drawer pulls" writes about this?


Anonymous said...

What charming question

Professional Blog Designs by pipdig