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The Argument of the “Lifeboat Ethics”

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In the text of “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor.” Garrett Hardin introduces the lifeboat ethics, which is in complete antithesis to the humanism of helping people in need. To state his point of view, the author makes the metaphor of a lifeboat and divides the world into rich nations and poor nations. The rich nations seems like people inside the lifeboat, while the poor ones are people outside the boat. And then lots of assumptions are made, to illustrate the harm and danger for rich nations to help those poor ones. At the beginning, Hardin introduces the metaphor of a lifeboat to describe the main argument of “The Case Against Helping the Poor.” He starts with a simple comparison between the proportions of rich nations and poor nations. The metaphor, a lifeboat full of rich people can help the readers visualize the first object in the scene, lifeboat. Every lifeboat has a limited capacity and resources which are only enough for a small number of people. But the surrounding swimmers, poor people, who want to get onto the lifeboat, are uncountable. However, it comes to me that the lifeboat ethics is so ridiculous since it is based on a completely wrong metaphor of rich nations and poor nations. It seems that in the metaphor rich nations are playing the role of King while poor nations become paupers that could contribute nothing but only wait for help.

This metaphor is so unfair because it totally distorts the relationship and exaggerates the differences between rich nations and poor nations. As we know, in the modern society no single nation could survive without the premise of intercommunication and mutual benefit. Even for the wealthiest and strongest nation the United States, imports and foreign help are quite necessary. For example, as one of the biggest consumers of gasoline in the world, every year the United States needs to import plenty of gasoline from Middle East, which might be considered as poor nations, otherwise the American economic would collapse promptly. In this case, how could the rich countries always be the people inside the lifeboat or rescuer for others? Garrett Hardin then argues that our planet faces the problem of overpopulation. The reproduction rate in poor countries is much higher than in rich countries. Therefore, while population of poor nations is increasing tremendously, the ratio of rich nations steadily decreases. Hardin also introduces the concept of “The Tragedy of The Commons” and explains it as a negative effect on consumers of common resources around the world. It has already occurred in today’s society and not only polluted our environment but also led to overpopulation.

The initiative of rich countries to help the poor resulted in creation of The World Food Bank. Yet, Hardin claims that this program stops the development of poor nations and lets them rely on rich countries when emergency occurs. While trying to find a solution for this problem and help the poor, using the “Green Revolution” program, the goal of which is to teach poor nations to grow “miracle wheat” and “miracle rice.” But Hardin argues that this program resulted in the spread of cancer and overloading the environment; thus, by trying to save people from starvation, other harms were created. Hardin beliefs that immigration is another push factor of the overpopulation issue because it allows people to escape from poor nations and burden the ecosystem of rich countries. Consequently, in “Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping Poor,” Garrett Hardin suggests that our planet could be saved only by following his advices otherwise, there will be nothing left to the next generations.

But Hardin ignores a basic connection between rich nations and poor nations. It completely neglects the fact that all the people in the world are sharing the same living environment. Once this only living environment is destroyed, all the people around the world would need to bear the kickback together, no matter rich or poor. Therefore, helping poor nations is not only a form of humanistic expression, but also a kind of self-help for rich nations. In other words, those rich nations, in a way, help those poor ones out of egoism and the concerns on their own interests, which is quite different from the generous aid for the people outside the lifeboat by the people inside the boat. Therefore, I think the earth actually is a big ship, and all the nations are the people in this ship. All the people on board, regardless rich or poor, shall have the same basic task to protect this ship, since no one would survive once the ship sinks. But now, the big ship faces the problem of overpopulation, it is the responsibility for all the people on board to solve the problems as soon as possible, before the harmful effect of such problems extending throughout the ship.

It is useless to blame for anyone at this time. Although I agree that the control of reproduction is the basic approach to solve the problem in the example of the text, but I don’t think rich nations shall sit back and look unconcerned. In fact, the overpopulation problem has become a big burden on the use of resources in the whole world, rather than for those poor nations only. Those rich nations may help those poor ones by admitting immigrants. By admitting immigrants, rich nations would not only help to ease the burden of poor nations, but also solve the problem of negative birth rate in some rich countries. It is a good way for both poor nations and rich nations. As a conclusion, the lifeboat ethics introduced in the text is not so proper. Helping the poor in need is not only out of humanism but also for the consideration on their own interests for the rich nations. As to the overpopulation problems, it is useless to blame the poor nations only. Although the control of growth rate is the basic solution, the effort to ease the harmful influence by both poor nations and rich nations is quite necessary in the short term.

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