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15. The Continuing Mess

XV. Even if I do send the $100 to UNICEF, there'll still be many children very prematurely dying. Indeed, no matter what I do, there'll still be, for very many years, very many children dying from easily preventable causes.

In this thought, is there something to distinguish between our two cases, between John's conduct and your conduct? At first, it may seem so: "Unlike the Envelope's distant children, the Drowning Child presented John with a particular distinct problem. If only he waded in and pulled the child out, the problem would have been completely resolved. Starting with just such a problem, John would finish with nothing less than a completely cleaned scene. But even if I contribute to UNICEF and save thirty more children from dying, there will be a continuing mess involving all those distant children who did not receive aid!"

Is this appearance illusory: Isn't the drowning child just as much a part of the "continuing mess in the world" as the distant children UNICEF is trying to help? As has long been true, and as will long remain true, the world has people who drown. If distant children are part of a "continuing mess," so is the drowning child, no? Neither saving the drowning child nor sending $100 to UNICEF will offer the chance of transforming the world into a cleaned scene. (Adapted from Unger)

Woman with Basket, Senegal

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February 14, 1998
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Oxfam America and CARE
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