Peter Singer and Chitra Divakaruni each offer a powerful commentary on world poverty. Both of their respective essays, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" and "Live Free and Starve" demonstrate good writing skills and rhetoric are therefore worthy pieces for inclusion into any book club. However, of the two authors only Divakaruni has first-hand experience of poverty. Singer's argument, while more shocking and powerful than Divakaruni's, falls short because of his lack of personal credibility and his over-reliance on making the reader feel guilty.
According to Australian author Peter Singer, We live in a cold and heartless world. The analogies in his essay "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" bluntly suggest that we in the Western world are guilty of crimes against humanity simply by not donating $200 or more each month to charitable organizations. His first story is based on a Brazilian movie called Central Station. The protagonist in the film was offered a thousand dollars to usher a child to his killer. When Dora discovers what she has done, she resolves to make amends. However, Singer twists the tale around to make it seem as if we, the readers of his essay, are guilty of a crime. Like Dora, however, we readers are not guilty of the crimes Singer is accusing us of. Furthermore, Singer offers us no ethos in his argument. His "solution to world poverty" is based purely on opinion and intellectual babble, not on experience.
Ethos is one of the three essential aspects of classical Greek Rhetoric; it refers to the speaker's credibility, his or her credentials, life experience, or education. Ethos generally means that the writer can be trusted. The other two aspects of Greek rhetoric are pathos and logos. Logos is the intellectual fodder that makes an argument palatable; while Singer has plenty of logos in his essay, his lack of ethos makes "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" fall short of being influential. Finally, Singer's article possesses ample pathos, or emotional appeal. Pathos is, however, easy to come by and therefore Singer's essay is not a unique or particularly compelling piece of writing. While he correctly urges his wealthy readers in the Western world to wonder whether their expensive night on the town is worth the cost of a child's life, Singer's diatribe falls short of being truly meaningful because of his lack of credibility.
On the other hand, Chitra Divakaruni establishes her ethos at the onset of her article. An Indian woman who grew up relatively wealthy yet amid the caste system of Indian in which she noticed the severe stratifications of society, Divakaruni writes about the same subject that Singer does: starving children. Both authors urge their wealthy Western readers to do something -- anything -- about the situation that plagues our world: the unequal distribution of wealth. Yet of the two authors, Divakaruni and Singer, only the former possesses the ethos necessary to render her essay worthy of rhetorical criticism and analysis.
Singer's essay is compelling for its literary techniques, however. The author's willingness to be controversial grabs the reader's attention immediately. In fact, Singer's article is more likely to persuade the reader to donate money to charity, no doubt. His infusion of guilt into his essay is the primary reason why readers of "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" will find the piece powerful, even motivational. There are several reasons why Singer's writing is so effective in motivating readers toward practical action. First, Singer knows his audience. All good writers must keep their audience squarely in mind as they compose their piece of material. Singer seems acutely aware that his readers will be amongst the intelligentsia of the world. Penning his emotions for an academic audience, Singer carefully crafts his writing to appeal to a specific demographic. The demographic is not based on race or ethnicity. Although Singer implies that poverty is linked with race and ethnicity, the message of his article is that economic class, more than race or ethnicity, determines one's fate in life. The central message of "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" is that readers of his piece, who would most likely be wealthy, should donate a large sum of money to charitable organizations lest they contribute to the problem of world poverty.
However, Singer fails to acknowledge that part of his audience might be from poor backgrounds. Singer also fails to acknowledge that world poverty cannot be solved simply by having every reader of his article donate a few hundred dollars to charity. In fact, if everyone who read Singer's piece did what he asked and donated $200 each month to charity, it is doubtful that world poverty would be ended. World poverty is, as Divakaruni points out, a more engendered problem. The reason why Divakaruni and not Singer notes the fact that world poverty is not a product of Western society is that Divakaruni, not Singer, has first-hand experience with poverty. Divakaruni is from India, a nation that perhaps more than any other displays extremes of wealth and poverty. The United States now comes close to the levels of income disparity in India, however, which is why both Singer and Divakaruni have valid points. Nevertheless, recommending either author for a book club demands more than just affinity or political affiliation; recommending Divakaruni over Singer requires proof that the latter is a better, and more worthwhile writer, than the former.
Divakaruni is a better writer not because of her diction, sentence structure, or clever use of metaphor and simile. Rather, Divakaruni's essay "Live Free and Starve" is a more compelling piece of writing because she has an ethos that Singer does not. Singer's style of writing is definitely more effective than Divakaruni's and after reading his article, readers will surely feel guilty for not having donated more money to victims of the Asian tsunami. However, Singer has not witnessed first hand the nature of poverty or income disparity. An Australian author, Singer knows only the wealthy world of his first world nation, whereas Divakaruni knows both the first and third worlds. Because Divakaruni has experienced what it means to be poor, her article, "Live Free and Starve" has more ethos than Singer's. Divakaruni's article has ethos, pathos, and logos, whereas Singer's has only the latter two.
'Live Free and Starve" is testimony to the Western world's narrow-mindedness, and to the emptiness of political correctness. Singer appeals to a politically correct audience, a university-educated predominantly white audience who is likely to relate to the guilt-inspiring stories Singer tells. In addition to the Brazilian film -- which by the way is from a third world country Singer probably has little first-hand knowledge about -- singer presents a fictitious scenario in which a man who owns an expensive Italian sports car saves the vehicle at the expense of a young child. Singer implies that his readers would likely do the same: his attitude is therefore degrading and insulting to most of his audience. Regardless of one's socio-economic class, people are far more likely in general to save a child than a car. If nothing else, the rationale would be based on the fact that the car owner would have a decent insurance coverage.
Singer's essay is a good piece of writing and one that I would highly recommend to a book club as a novelty work. However, when presented with the two alternatives: Singer and Divakaruni, I would more strongly recommend Divakaruni for the following reasons. First, Divakaruni has more ethos than Singer does. Her life experience gives credence to what she says: that Western policies regarding child labor are founded on political correctness, rather than on factual evidence or fact. Her testimony is founded on first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be poor and disenfranchised. Divakaruni is not saying that child labor is alright; rather, she notes that child labor is often the only alternative families have to starvation. Singer, on the other hand, assumes that all charitable organizations are worthy of large donations, that it is far better for someone to donate $200 to a charity than on a night on the town. While his article brings out the guilty conscience within us all, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" is devoid of feeling; it is empty and therefore I would select "Live Free and Starve" by Divakaruni for a reading club selection.
I came to the conclusion that Divakaruni's essay was a more compelling piece than Singer's mainly because of her background. I admit that my own prejudices might be in play with my decision. However, I also feel that the ancient Greek rhetoricians knew what they were talking about when they proposed that good rhetoric is based on the proper combination of pathos, ethos, and logos. I realized immediately upon encountering both essays that Divakaruni's made for a better-rounded piece of persuasive writing, one that would more aptly convey the finer points of argumentative writing.
Both Singer and Divakaruni demonstrate pathos and logos. Singer's essay is well-written and emotionally strong:…