Sunday, May 02, 2021

From 2015

a comment at the Boston Review.  (BR stripped all comments years ago.): 

This entire debate is absurd. Singer says we should aim for more than doing well; we should do good. But regardless of his claims even the word "Altruism" is a form of patting himself on the back.

But what do the naysayers have a response. Angus Deaton refers to studies by the Cochrane Collaboration, and who are they?
We are a global independent network of researchers, professionals, patients, carers, and people interested in health. 
Cochrane contributors - 37,000 from more than 130 countries - work together to produce credible, accessible health information that is free from commercial sponsorship and other conflicts of interest.
Effective Altruists? 
The only point worth making about this stupid debate, the one point avoided, is that you can't do good without getting dirty, if not physically dirty then morally dirty. Deaton's arguments as intended are as anti-political as Singer's: everything seen from the distance of "reason" of one sort of another. 
I met a woman in a bar. She was an ER surgeon. She's been doing it for 20 years and wanted to do nothing else. I said "You feel like a god until you kill your first patient". She looked at me, shocked. "You understand!" Nurses if you're curious have their own kinks. 
Altruism is virtue ethics for pedants, and Deaton responds with the condescension of political realism delivered as a kind of intellectual idealism. How's that for perversity! 
A friend's neighbor is a trial lawyer: big money, drugs and guns and everything else. He says "I'm at the forefront of the defense of your civil liberties". He's right.

The world is the playground. The library is a place to visit not to live in. But still I'd be a bit ashamed to be as rich as Singer or Deaton.
I was thinking tonight about the surgeon at the bar. I searched the blog to see if I'd told the story before. 

I'd changed the tone of her response. She wasn't shocked; the exclamation mark belonged with what she'd said before: "I love my job!" Her response to my reply was subdued and she looked down at her drink. I wanted her to laugh.

In 2017 I spent a day in the emergency ward at Mount Sinai, with a friend who would die at the hospital  a week later. The noise was constant, the rhythmic beeps of the machines, like a nightclub with nothing in sync, 50 little boxes and no bass, and the air an overpowering mix of adrenaline and estrogen. After 12 hours I was high. I walked up to a nurse, an older woman, a dark-skinned Latina:"You love this place don't you!?" It was obvious I felt the hormones in the air, and understood that the tension was connected to competence. She looked right back at me and her eyes went wide. "30 years! You see everything!" We both laughed.

I've always felt at home in clubs. I think that's why I haven't spent more time in them. The anonymous hum is a kind of warmth. I've been out in NY, Las Vegas, and Beijing. The ER is the best of both possible worlds. 

That's the pretentious way to put it, with the in-joke reference to philosophy. The other way is just to say it's the best of both worlds, like drugs and risky sex, but your body made the drugs, or some of them, and maybe you saved someone's life. Or maybe not.


I've told the story about the lawyer a few times, but the last time I added something I hadn't mentioned. I'll repeat what I wrote

I thought I'd told the whole story but I hadn't.  For whatever reason he took one pro bono case and discovered police had lied and falsified evidence. It's was new experience for him to have a client he knew was innocent. "You don't understand... I'm a lawyer... I don't care. It's not my job!"  It's not his job to care.  "But they fucked this kid. He was miles away. I have witnesses!! I'm gonna fuck those cops!" 

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