The Real Cost of Lifestyle Altruism

A one way flight from New York to Mumbai costs about Rs. 51,727, or $773.95. Volunteering American students coming to India to work with underprivileged children spend about Rs.700 daily in India during and towards their stay–not including discretionary expenses like shopping, tourist visits, and other recreation. A month into their visit, accordingly, the average volunteering American has spent at least Rs.72,727.

Most times a volunteer’s schedule is less exacting than would be that of a dedicated local employee at the average Indian NGO. But assume it’s about as busy with do-gooding and just as valuable, for argument, and it’s worth Rs. 14,000 per month. Then, the value of the volunteer’s charitable service to India is (Rs. 21,000 + Rs. 14,000) = Rs. 35,000 at best, given the travel expenses are repatriated to an American airline. Ostensibly the volunteer’s spent Rs. 72,727 + Rs. 14,000= Rs. 88,727 but the value added by them one month in is really only Rs. 35,000. The discrepancy factor between their perceived value added by volunteering and the actual value added is about 1.6779.

But, that’s not all! They’ll return by flight spending another Rs.51,727 at least. So, their perceived value added by volunteering is at least Rs.140,454. Though the real value added by volunteering trails behind at Rs. 35,000, growing the discrepancy factor to about 4.0129. If the American volunteer coming to India were really concerned about delivering the best value they can to the host nation they could do better by simply donating Rs. 140,454 to an Indian charity with local dedicated employees and forgo the life experiences afforded them by this costly exercise in poverty tourism.

A volunteer such as one described has contributed merely Rs. 35,000 to the beneficiary while funding their lifestyle choices to the tune of Rs. 140,454 – Rs. 35,000 = Rs. 105,454. They’d do better staying home, and sending the money abroad, unless they could add more value by volunteering.

The Poverty of Empathy

Does empathy enable effective charitable dispositions? I think not.

Consider the toy model illustrating the problem.

Glossary:
x = Jack
y = Jill
Hx = Jack is Human.
Hy = Jill is Human.
Sx = Jack thinks his suffering matters in guiding his actions so as to prevent personal suffering.
Sy = Jill thinks her suffering matters in guiding her actions so as to prevent personal suffering.
Sxy = Jack thinks Jill’s suffering matters in guiding his actions so as to prevent her suffering.
Syx = Jill thinks Jack’s suffering matters in guiding her actions so as to prevent his suffering.
Kx = Jack knows what can be done to prevent personal suffering.
Ky = Jill knows what can be done to prevent personal suffering.
Kxy = Jack knows what can be done to prevent Jill’s suffering.
Kyx = Jill knows what can be done to prevent Jack’s suffering.

I’ll show that ∀y∀x((x≠y)∧(((Hx∧Sx)→Kx)∧((Hy∧Sy)→Ky))) → ∀y∀x(((Hx∧Hy)∧(Sxy∧Syx))→(¬Kxy∧¬Kyx))

[Informal English: For distinct humans Jack and Jill, if they think their own and the other’s suffering matters as a guide for their own actions so as to prevent their own and the other’s suffering then it’s not the case that either of them knows what can be done to prevent the other’s suffering.]

Argument: ∀y∀x((x≠y)∧(((Hx∧Sx)→Kx)∧((Hy∧Sy)→Ky))) → ∀y∀x(((Hx∧Hy)∧(Sxy∧Syx))→(¬Kxy∧¬Kyx))
PROOF:
0. ∀y ∀x ((x≠y) ∧ (((Hx ∧ Sx) → Kx) ∧ ((Hy ∧ Sy) → Ky)))
1. ¬∀y∀x(((Hx∧Hy)∧(Sxy∧Syx))→(¬Kxy∧¬Kyx))
2. ((Ha∧Sa)→Ka)∧((Ha∧Sa)→Ka)
3. (a≠a)
4. (a≠a)∧(((Ha∧Sa)→Ka)∧((Ha∧Sa)→Ka))
5. ¬(((Hb∧Ha)∧(Sba∧Sab))→(¬Kba∧¬Kab))
6. ∀x((x≠a)∧(((Hx∧Sx)→Kx)∧((Ha∧Sa)→Ka)))
7. ∃x¬(((Hx∧Ha)∧(Sxa∧Sax))→(¬Kxa∧¬Kax))
8. ¬∀x(((Hx∧Ha)∧(Sxa∧Sax))→(¬Kxa∧¬Kax))
9. ∃y¬∀x(((Hx∧Hy)∧(Sxy∧Syx))→(¬Kxy∧¬Kyx))
10. ∀y ∀x (((Hx ∧ Hy) ∧ (Sxy ∧ Syx)) → (¬Kxy ∧ ¬Kyx))▄

How Many Mosquitoes a Man?

“[D]on’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

                                                                – Matthew 10:31

According to a dominant view it is the capacity to feel pain or pleasure that confers full moral status on an organism; man and mosquito are alike in their sentience and full subjects with moral .worth. The roughly antithetical view holds that full moral status conferral is contingent on membership with the sapiens species; man is the measure of moral worth because man alone is sapient. Call the former view Capacitist and the latter Speciesist. Some capacitists about moral status conferral object that speciesists’ attributions of low and high moral worth respectively to mosquitoes and humans are arbitrary and unjustified. But, to the credit of speciesists about moral status conferral, such differentials in cross species attributions of moral worth are not arbitrary.

There are an estimated 1,000,000,000,000,000 mosquitoes and 8,000,000,000 humans alive today. If moral worth is distributed equitably among all species, a human life is morally equivalent to 125,000 mosquito lives. 1000000 people die from mosquito bites each year. Breeding 125,000,000,000 mosquitoes is a deed equivalent to saving 1000000 human lives each year. Since we tend to think killing off mosquitoes is superior to breeding them, we must think breeding mosquitoes is inequivalent to saving human lives. Ergo, mosquitoes haven’t the same moral weight as humans.

To conclude with an answer to the leading question: 125,000 mosquitoes a man.

Moral Status Vagrancy: A Problem for Anti-Speciesists

  1. Abstract

According to a dominant view it is the capacity to feel pain or pleasure that confers full moral status on an organism. The roughly antithetical view holds that full moral status conferral is contingent on membership with the sapiens species. Call the former view Capacitist and the latter Speciesist. This brief piece presents a novel argument [moral status vagrancy] against capacitism about moral status.

  1. Introduction

Capacitists hold you shouldn’t eat steak because the cow would prefer to skip dinner. Speciesists don’t prohibit a steak dinner because the cow isn’t a person with full moral status. Capacitists allege speiciesists discriminating against cows as subhuman, and so as lacking in full moral status, are no different from speiciesists discriminating against blacks vis-à-vis whites as subhuman, and so as lacking in full moral status. If cows are fit to be dined on, to the Speciesists, then some humans are apt to be slaved.

  1. Argument Appraisal

It remains to the Speciesists to rejoinder that if cows would prefer to live so would mosquitoes. Indeed, the speiciesist has a general argument that the capacities view of moral status entails moral status vagrancy. The capacitists allege if any entity can differentially respond to oncoming stimuli so as to prolong its existence, perpetuate its kind, or prevent bodily insult and annihilation, then it has full moral status. These dispositions to differentially respond evidence a preference for pleasure and an aversion from pain— legitimating, on the capacitists’ view, a conferral of full moral status.

  1. Moral Status Vagrancy: A Problem for Capacitism about Moral Status

Mosquitoes infesting a Sudanese slum would prefer to live and dine with the locals rather than die starved outside bed-nets, or be culled by insecticides. So, if the capacitists are right, mosquitoes have full moral status and ought not to be kept from their pleasure or hastened to a painful end on pain of committing oneself to speciesism.

If one rejects the conferral of full moral status on mosquitoes then one rejects the view that their capacity to prefer pleasure to pain, and life to death, is a sufficient basis for full moral status on pain of committing to the view that some number of men are morally worth less than some number of mosquitoes. Assuming this is incorrect, and men are worth vastly more morally than any mosquitoes or non-sapiens specie member, it is clear the capacities view of moral status conferral is incorrect as well. The predicament where one can’t tell the moral difference between swatting a mosquito and lashing a slave girl is comic rather than tragic, and not one entertained by any respectable speiciesists.  Call this predicament associated with the Capacitist view the problem of moral status vagrancy.

The problem with moral status vagrancy as it emerges in Capacitist accounts of moral status is that it gerrymanders to charismatic megafauna, and is incompatible with the axiomatic commitment to the view that the capacity for preferring pleasure over pain confers moral status. Although cows, which can be very cute, can suffer and rejoice in their circumstances this makes them no different from blithely ugly mosquitoes that rejoice in stagnant pools, and on peoples’ skin, and suffer in a baygon mist.

  1. Conclusion

If the species memberhood of the subjects sets them apart then it is not their capacities for pain or pleasure that matter as capacitists hold. It is their species memberhood that matters as speiciesists maintain.  The capacitists are guilty of pandering to the preferences of charismatic megafauna while imagining themselves impartial pan-specie distributors of hedons.