The devastation couldn’t be more severe. Yesterday, India recorded its highest single-day death toll from COVID for the ninth consecutive day, and the highest new number of cases anywhere in the world. But the United States announced it’s immediately shipping supplies and tapping “every resource at our disposal” for aid, including rapid testing kits, oxygen, protective gear, and vaccine material.
The pledge is reactive, not proactive, but it’s a big step. On the moral and medical questions, there’s an excellent interview, published yesterday, by New Yorker writer Daniel A. Gross with philosopher Peter Singer, whose pioneering texts on effective altruism—how to do the most good—contain a prescription for pandemic relief. “Where does responsibility lie for making the distribution more equitable?” Singer’s answer persuasively compares pandemic aid to climate action: “Governments should be getting together so that the burden is distributed equitably among affluent nations, just as we get together in the Paris agreement.”
It’s not a controversial idea, but he welcomes controversy on other fronts. Last week he co-launched the peer-reviewed Journal of Controversial Ideas, “a response,” Singer says, “to a worrying trend of restricting freedom of thought and discussion, including in academic life.” The journal focuses on lightning-rod ideas without fear of intimidation by “petitions or letters signed against them,” a fear that backfoots many early-career academics and media workers who wouldn’t chance their comfort or employment to discuss and defend essential questions. Which is how Singer got his own start, planting a flag for concepts, including animal rights, that land crosswise for many carnivores and traditionalists who steer clear of his philosophy. The journal is “particularly aimed at protecting junior academics who don’t have tenure.”
The full Q&A is worth a read. Whether the journal itself meets a high bar, decide for yourself. But if unflinching academic analysis makes you queasy, brace for impact. For the faint of philosophical heart, turn instead to the 10th-anniversary edition of his book The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty.