Dare to Be 100: Peter Singer's Mighty Voice

04/02/2015 08:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

Yesterday I bought Singer's new book, "The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically." (1) I eagerly look forward to reading it on my trip to Phoenix tomorrow.

Singer has deservedly been called the voice of our collective conscience, our archetype, our moral compass. Melbourne is his roots, but he is professor of bioethics at Princeton as well. His language is ethics that he speaks brilliantly without pretense.

I have had a lingering interest in altruism since my sabbatical year at the Leakey Institute for the Study of African Prehistory in Nairobi in 1981. Richard Leakey proposed counterintuitively that Paleolithic people rather than being tied to the Spencerian Survival of the Fittest idea that they found alien to their well being actually started to share. Their group survival was markedly improved by being selfless, "the un-selfish meme." One for all, and one for all.

From what I knew of Singer's earlier writings he does not flog capitalism for the great inequalities that it shelters. Poignantly he holds that money is good WHEN it is shared, WHEN it is used to improve everyone's quality of life. I was of course impressed that Bill and Melinda Gates lent their names to the book jacket blurbs. And there is of course my friend Chuck Feeney who skillfully plundered the moneyed citadel to the tune of several billion dollars, only then to turn around and give it all away, "THE BILLIONAIRE WHO WASN'T." (2)

I can't help recalling my interview with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. After silently hearing out my laments over my profession's callousness, she simply remarked, "don't worry about that, Dr. Bortz, just love them."

I never had any medical school classes on love or altruism. Maybe we need recruit Peter Singer to our medical school faculty, as Norman Cousins late in his career joined the faculty of UCLA Medicine in a grand humanitarian effort. Maybe we need to draft Peter Singer to our Stanford Medical School faculty.

Maybe we all need him to assure that our humanity is not askew. Maybe we need him to revisit our reasons for living.

Is the image that reflects in our mirror generous, does it have a soul, or is it totally preoccupied by its acquisitive compulsions?

I look forward to Singer's advisories.


1) Singer P. The Most Good You Can Do; How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically. Yale University Press New Haven 2015.

2) O'Clery C. Billionaire who Wasn't; How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away A Fortune. Public Affairs Books