Radical expansions in the reach of moral responsibility

Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:

…I made out the shape of what was certainly a human being lying on his or her side–a man or a woman who apparently was trying to stay warm inside and among a pile of trash bags on this cheerless, wintry afternoon.

Living in New York for over 20 years has not yet hardened me to the point where I can immediately recover my equilibrium after glimpsing such misery and degradation. Yet, I must admit that, except for giving a dollar to a beggar on the street or subway, I don’t do anything more, anything significant, to aid the shockingly large number of people in New York who live in poverty, which is estimated at 20 percent of the population. What accounts for my moral complacency? Even if there is something soul-numbing in the bureaucratic, value-free language of population and percentages, how do I simply go on with my daily life, knowing that so many people are suffering? In recent days, this question has visited me with renewed intensity, and this is because of all the talk of poverty on a global scale that has come with the unveiling of the United Nations Millennium Project, which seeks to cut world poverty in half by the year 2015.

More here.