the wolf, the serpent, the dove
There is some benevolence, however small, infused into our bosom; some spark of friendship for human kind; some particle of the dove, kneaded into our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and serpent.
Let these generous elements be supposed ever so weak; let them be insufficient to move even a hand or finger of our body; they must still direct the determinations of our mind, and where everything else is equal, produce a cool preference of what is useful and serviceable to mankind, above what is pernicious and dangerous.
Hm. See? His conclusion is a bit too sunny, isn't it? I think I've located the problem in the phrase "where everything else is equal." The problem is, of course, that it never is. There are always mitigating circumstances: Wotan would love to uphold and defend his wife's honor, but he also needs to approve of Siegmund and Sieglinde's love. (It's a testament, by the way, to the power of Wagner's gifts that by the time the twins do fall in love, we're not repelled.) He'd love to send them on their merry way, to bring about the new order, but that nagging thing about honor and oath (and his retaining of his own power thereby) keeps getting in the way.
Pop stars might be moved to record a song to raise money for poverty-stricken Africa; listening, you might be moved to donate. But that money will in fact line the pockets of bureaucrats while millions starve, and the little food it does buy is destined to rot in ships.
But Hume does have it right in some way: when presented with the choice as it appears on paper, we very often do choose right. This was Peter Singer's motive for asking not about the child in the charity newsletter but a child standing right there at your computer as you read this, starving within a minute of death. Surely you'd help, right? Well, that kid in the newsletter is that child.
This is where we come in — not you and I but we. I may not be moving a hand or finger of my body to help the world's poor, but America can, by collecting a few cents more every year. Jeff Sachs, of the UN committee on ending poverty, has shown us that we can in fact bring the one billion people in life-threatening poverty (defined as those trying to survive on less than a dollar a day) out of that poverty by the year 2025. It's actually a modest goal. We're not talking about getting them cellphones or three changes of clothes; we're just talking about taking them out of that life-threatening situation.
He's shown that it has less to do with greedy governments and lazy people than with historical accident and geographical fortune, and how that fortune can be combatted with well-placed medical missions and agricultural aid. Kenya, for instance, could permanently rise from poverty in just a decade with one and a half billion a year.
Paul Allen could accomplish that by himself, and still be a billionaire when it's done. But the world's developed countries could chip in and do it for just a few extra bucks here and there. If it were appropriated by Congress, who would complain? Certainly not conservatives, who, like Bush, would greatly desire to see a fragile democracy like Kenya enter the world market and, enriching, enrich. Certainly not liberals, who keep talking about how bad poverty is but rarely seem to take an action that doesn't help prolong it.
Do the wolf and the serpent have anything to fear from the dove? We shall see.