The Drowning Child

If you are interested in philosophy, then SaaniaSparkle has a blog you will probably find interesting. It is surprising a 15 year old would come up with it, but there are some smart young people out there.

Here SaaniaSparkle poses a thought experiment invented by Peter Singer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer). Does a drowning child in front of us make the same moral demands as a starving child on the other side of the world.

As SaaniaSparkle realizes to some extent at least, Singer creates an interesting, but false equivalency. The drowning child in front of us does not make the same demands upon us as a starving child on the other side of the world.

The drowning child puts us in the position of the Good Samaritan. It will cost us to help, but we can do something, and we clearly have a responsibility. We have the capacity to pull the child out of the water and fix the problem.

The starving children all around the world pose a much more complex problem. That is not to say we don’t have a personal obligation to help, but there is no simple fix, and the priorities are not as obvious. If we have a drowning child in front of us, then we would have an obligation to drop everything and pull the child out of the water. The starving child, on the other hand, poses no such sense of immediacy. Instead, we each have to consider our priorities and decide which charitable organization we should to contribute to and how much. In addition, since most starvation is due to corrupt governments, not inadequate natural resources, we have wonder what good our donations will accomplish. There is no point in dumping money into a bottomless pit. In fact, if our donations strengthen a dictator, we may be doing something immoral.

We each have to deal with the problem of our human limitations. We each can only do so much. Hence, when our Lord judges us, He will probably be trying to decide whether we did what we could, not whether we fixed all the worlds problems.

Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher who created a thought experiment called The Drowning Child, in 2009.

In this thought experiment, we imagine ourselves walking down the street. Suddenly, we notice a girl drowning in a lake. We have the ability to swim, and we are also close enough to save her life if we take action immediately. However, doing so will ruin our expensive shoes. Do we still have an obligation to save her?

Peter’s answer to this question is yes. We do have a responsibility to save the life of a drowning child and price is no object. If we agree with him on this statement, it leads us to a salient thought-provoking question: If we are obligated to save the life of a child in need, is there a fundamental difference between saving one who is right in front of us and oneon the other…

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12 thoughts on “The Drowning Child

  1. “My first thought was not the outrage toward the police but rather of the bystanders watching all this.”

    Funny, because my first thought was outrage towards all the virtue signaling bystanders who have spent their whole lives completely indifferent to the war that’s been going on our streets for decades, mostly due to the meth and heroin epidemic. Nobody cares about the two women Floyd robbed, the pregnant one he held a gun to, nor the clerk he threatened and terrorized with his counterfeit 20 dollar bill and pack of stolen cigs. Nor does anyone care about the lives of those cops who were subjected to Floyd’s drug infused rant, nor does anyone care about the quality of Floyd’s life before he died.

    The outrage towards all the bystanders who allegedly allowed this to happen is pure projection. Nobody gave a crap about Floyd until he became a convenient and suitable martyr for their cause.

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    1. I saw a human die at the hands of the cops in spite of his cries… and the people watching helped to let it happen. Matters not what he did as that’s for the justice system.

      To your other point of martyrdom.. yeah, apparently he had meth in him and something else, and with the other issues one can easily surmise he’s didn’t have the greatest of life. Had a couple baby mommas, seemed to have had some trouble keeping work. Not judging his life.. but if we are going to include trying to solve racism we truly need to explore the “culture” and lifestyle of African-American family life and developmental support system in those caught in the lower economic strata. Family values are important for personal achievement and self-esteem. Police abuse is the immediate problem… but there’s far more involved than simply “bad cops”.
      I thought it strange that the fellow got more respect as a dead human than a live one.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. @insanitybytes22
      @Doug

      It is amazingly difficult to find anything negative about George Floyd in the news media. It appears that the police just did not like the tilt of his halo. Here are a few things I found.
      https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/11782066/did-george-floyd-have-criminal-past-why-stopped-police/

      https://thecourierdaily.com/george-floyd-criminal-past-record-arrest/20177/

      Here is what happens if you are in a position to speak out on behalf of the police, and you do.
      http://www.citypages.com/news/bob-kroll-plans-to-fight-for-jobs-of-cops-who-killed-george-floyd/570922481

      One of the funny things about Liberal Democrats is the only time nuances matter to them is when their stupid ideas don’t work.

      Whenever we have an incident like the killing of George Floyd, we have to take our time gathering the evidence. The video makes it apparent that that policeman was doing something wrong, but we don’t know why. Yet people have deliberately and maliciously jumped to the conclusion that this one incident proves all policemen are racists. That leap of logic says more about those insisting upon racism and giving blessing to rioters than it does the police.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This concept is one I personally felt the very first time I saw the George Floyd video. My first thought was not the outrage toward the police but rather of the bystanders watching all this. Even now… no question the cop killed him and the others are complicit… but I assign his actual responsibility of his death to those watching and attempting no intervention.
    As my significant other and I were watching this for the first time.. the first thing I said to her.. “Why is no one trying to stop the cops?” She replied.. “How are you going to stop the police?” .. which I assume was the same question the by-standers were thinking.
    No… absolutely no. If my GF and I were there I would have used her pepper spray on the cop using his knee. The shock and awe would loosen his grip. Second option.. if I were alone I would attempt a verbal connection… and/or depending on what George were saying at the time (calling for his mother, etc.) I’d have rushed them and done a body block to get him to release. (those cops were not paying attention to anything).
    Either way.. their attention would be all over me….. knowing cameras were going… and I am perfectly ok standing before a judge and telling him/her what I did and why… and the punishment, if any, would be worth having saved a life.
    But then again.. I’m the guy that would run toward the gunfire.
    The cop killed him.. the on-lookers let him die because of their bias toward the authority of the cops.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Doug

      I won’t accuse you of bravado, but I think bystanders made this assessment. If one of them tried to save Floyd, the three other policemen would have put that person on the ground next to Floyd. That person then would have had a knee on their neck. Besides, who would believe the cops were actually trying to kill Floyd? A knee on the back of the neck is an odd way to murder anyone, but with sufficient persistence it apparently can be done.

      To stop the policemen would have taken more than just one person. Floyd was dead in minutes. There was not time to organize, especially when there was so much uncertainty. So, people recorded the crime or the stupidity. I fear Minneapolis police department approved of that absurdly dangerous procedure, but we shall see.

      Frankly, I don’t know what I would have done. The Apostle Peter promised to stand with Jesus, but he ran when the time came. Courage when confronted by the power of those in authority is difficult. It is one reason the early Christian Church grew. Bystanders saw people willing to obey God instead of Caesar, willing to die rather than disobey God.

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      1. Nice justification for not even trying to save a human life, Tom. All one had to do was listen to what George was trying to say to gauge what was happening. Would God approve? I’m sure you have a Biblical quote to justify not acting.
        On the other hand, we all react to such events quite differently when it happens. You say what you say now… but, like me, we both gave service to something better than ourselves at one time in our lives. You probably still have some of that lingering around.

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        1. @Doug

          Nice justification for not even trying to save a human life, Tom. All one had to do was listen to what George was trying to say to gauge what was happening. Would God approve? I’m sure you have a Biblical quote to justify not acting.

          Hindsight is 20/20. Relative to the crowd watching the murder of George Floyd, we have perfect knowledge. We don’t, but we do know much more.

          We all die because we are all imperfect. We don’t know enough to keep ourselves alive for eternity. We don’t have the capacity to make ourselves perfect. Only someone who is perfect can perfect us, and the One who is perfect taught us to forgive others as we wish to be forgiven.

          Who is the person responsible for the death of George Floyd? God knows. So, I will let him worry about it. Our job is to do our best to prevent such things. So we will put four policemen on trial, determine what laws they broke and punish them as a deterrent to others. Hopefully, the people of Minneapolis will also evaluate what their police department and city management messed up and try to replace the incompetents.

          Anyway, we know why you did not save George Floyd. You are too busy trying to save America from Donald Trump.

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    2. No… absolutely no. If my GF and I were there I would have used her pepper spray on the cop using his knee. The shock and awe would loosen his grip. Second option.. if I were alone I would attempt a verbal connection… and/or depending on what George were saying at the time (calling for his mother, etc.) I’d have rushed them and done a body block to get him to release. (those cops were not paying attention to anything).

      That might be true, but it isn’t the way human psychology typically operates.
      When people are presented with a novel and stressful situation, they typically look at what other people are doing and do the same. Very few break out of that pattern (it’s part of the “madness of crowds” psych, if memory serves…it is very common for people to stand still and just watch in these types of scenarios. Sometimes they just stand and watch as a lone person with a knife stabs people in front of them, and then them, this has been documented and on video).
      At any rate…not saying you wouldn’t, but I doubt there was a person there who reacted as they thought they would if presented with that situation in some rhetorical exercise before the event. This applies to the police as well (I would wager…obviously I cannot read anyone’s mind).
      No one knows how they will react to serious stress unless and until they are under serious stress. That’s why training is important.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually.. it depends on a number of things.. the group (onlookers) psyche makeup (meaning, is there one kind of dominant person type.. personality trait… represented, or a mix), the numbers in the group (people generally find comfort in numbers), the police being the center of the event combined with a measure of shock & awe in the contrasting imagery (I couldn’t believe what I was seeing) with authority figures traditionally due respect committing a questionable act, etc. Very likely had one person stood up to the cops.. others would follow.

        You are very correct.. no one knows until they’ve “been there”. Training matters in the context of coordinating decision-making with the proper response, and whatever “tools of the trade” are required in the response. We consider our military people quite well-trained.. then we throw them into battle and a fair percentage return to civilian life with PTSD. This is because science has yet to explore the brain to the degree by which we can determine how any individual might react to stress situations. Many folks happen to learn traditional first aid, resuscitation techniques, as part of some certification, or even a merit badge in Boy Scouts. But when an event unfolds in front of you where you have to make a split second decision to render aid and treat someone.. it’s more common to get lost in the event and harder to remember training and what to do.

        I was home for the Christmas holidays on a 30 day leave from duty in Iceland back in 1973, staying at the old homestead in Chicago with my folks and sis, sleeping in my old bedroom. A week into January I was woken by the call buzzer.
        (Backstory – at my urging many years before I requested dad install for mother to call my sis or I… second floor bedrooms… rather than her having to yell across the house or up the stairwell. We had a code for whether mother wanted me or by sis or both to come downstairs… or even to answer the phone on the upstairs extension – used as an intercom if you pressed one key to clear the dial tone – Dad installed the push button for mom under the ledge of the kitchen counter. Mom used it very often and daily.. for over a decade… to call our attention to chores or other such things kids hated.)

        I heard the buzzer frantically buzzing.. and semi-tranced in sleep I was momentarily drawn back to my childhood. It was about 3am. I got collected and dashed downstairs. Mother was screaming that dad, in bed, was barely breathing and wouldn’t wake up. She called 911 and went over to a neighbor’s house to get assistance. In the meantime I went into the bedroom and found dad on his back, deep shallow breathing. I called to him… shook him slightly. A moment later he stopped breathing. Up until that point I had some first aid training with Scouting.. and some in USAF basic training…. but CPR at that time was a relative novelty just being taught to first aid. I managed not to hesitate.. did it all by the book… and kept it up until the paramedic guys arrived. But to no avail as dad’s infarction was too severe. But my takeaway… and I can thank dad for this… is that I knew I could react in this way if I had to… and not many trained people ever get to do it in real life. Also… my breath was the last breath dad took… so there’s that emotional connection to be sure. Point being.. I was able to try.

        Long-winded private experience that fit our discussion… but I am sure someone here gets the point. And here’s the amazing part I know everyone is waiting for… I don’t blame Trump!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow, I am so sorry about your Dad, Doug. 😦
          I’ve heard one doesn’t typically rise to the occasion during a crisis, but falls to the level of their training.
          Molto bravo for rising to the occasion.

          When I state above “most people” look toward others to act, it isn’t “all people”.
          Natural leaders break out of that, and act.
          I’m not sure what I would do, I only know what I HOPE I would do. I don’t think I’m a natural leader, but my spouse is.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, thanks, but that was decades ago. But as you said.. one doesn’t typically rise to the occasion during a crisis, but falls to the level of their training. That’s a variant of The Peter Principle.. in a work environment a person will rise to his/her level of incompetence.
            As another personal challenge of sorts.. I got a job in the funeral industry at a rural funeral home and did quite well as a matter of civic performance. But the more important part for me was realizing my personal ability to cope with the awful ways people can die. So I guess what I am saying is that for me I had an interest in challenging my own senses and perceptions in order to understand them better in others. And no.. I have no interest in being adventurous to the point that I need to do things with for an adrenaline rush.
            The tricky part of being a natural leader is recognizing within yourself the effect you have on others and then using that to achieve results… rather than just “bathing” in your personal popularity or the respect of others. Charisma comes in different packages. Sounds like your hubby tapped into his strengths… hence his staff position.

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