Imagine you are hiking alone in the hills and you suddenly come upon a baby drowning in a shallow pool of water. Without your help, the child will surely drown, but saving the child will almost certainly irreparably damage your new Nike Air Force 1s and probably your Juicy Couture yoga pants.
What do you do?
This is the question posed by Princeton professor Peter Singer in Astra Taylor's newest documentary Examined Life (2008), which draws noted living philosophers out of their cloistered towers and into the streets (or, in Michael Hardt's case, the lake) to talk about the life of the mind and the philosophical excursions that occupy it. According to Singer (and probably your own moral compass, unless of course you are a sociopath), the answer to the hypothetical question posed above requires little thought: you sacrifice your signs of conspicuous consumption and save the child. This, Gentle Reader, is elementary, and not at all Singer's real concern; it is a slow pitch ethical softball meant to prepare the ground for the following, more thorny question:
If I told you that the money you spent on those shoes and those pants could have been used by Oxfam International to save not one but all thirty of the children who die every day in Africa from treatable diarrhea contracted from unclean drinking water, would you have saved those children?
Well, would you have?