Rhetorical Analysis- Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor
I chose Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor, by Garret Hardin, to analyze because, out of all the readings I have ever done for English, this particular one is by far the most memorable. It is also perfectly suited for my argument, because it is appropriately as offensive as it is logical. The essay, in short, is a rhetorical argument that claims that helping the poor or unfortunate people of the world-though it is considered the “right” thing to do- is, in actuality, harmful to the very future of our species. The actual message of the essay, however, is not what I want to endorse. When this essay was assigned to my class junior year, the almost overwhelming reaction was immediately a dismissal of the essay’s content, even though we had only so far been given the title. This can be attributed to the modern sense of morality regarding charity, or what the “politically right” thing to do is; my classmates were so outraged by the idea of not helping the poor that they formed their opinion before even being presented with the argument. This reaction- sensibility before rationality- is what I wish to argue against. I think that this takes place a lot in society, with public support unanimously given to the general agreement of what is “morally right”, even though what is considered “morally right” today may not actually be a good thing at all, and is arbitrary at that; different generations and societies over time- and even different cultures in the same time period- can have totally different views on what is moral and what is not. Therefore, there should always be, for the sake of intellectual purity, a detachment of sensibility from logic, especially regarding major decisions that can affect the entire country, or even the entire world. The essay is crude in terms of the modern western sense of morality, yes, but it is also very logically sound in a lot of ways, and worth at least dissection for truth before dismissal. So my purpose, or what I want to demonstrate in my analysis, is to show that just because something is offensive does not mean it is automatically incorrect.
In regards to the essay, I am going to be analyzing the ways the argument against helping the poor is constructed, and why it is written at all. For my purpose, it is essential to my point- that something morally “wrong” can still have merit- that I demonstrate clearly that the argument Hardin makes is well thought out, written for a legitimate reason, and, above all, logically sound. In order to make my case, I think it is necessary for me to prove that Hardin did his research, and is writing the essay not just to offend people or get a reaction, but out of genuine concern and actual belief in what he is saying. This is important because when the essay was released in 1974, it did indeed generate a public reaction, and was published in a well-known magazine, Psychology Today, so the argument can be made that Hardin wrote the essay for the singular reason of getting attention and provoking people, which, if true, would debase everything I am trying to prove in regards to its validity. My goal in analyzing, then, is to provide enough rhetorical evidence of the legitimacy of Hardin’s argument that my own argument is subsequently well supported.
To prove that Hardin’s argument- and therefore my argument- is legitimate, I am going to analyze four major rhetorical devices he uses to help deliver his message. The first, and arguably most prominent, of these devices is metaphor. Hardin constructs the world in terms of an ocean, with its people floating in it. Wealth, in this metaphor, is a lifeboat, or safety, while poverty is being stranded in the ocean, unprotected from almost certain death. The second device is logos; Hardin uses fact based evidence and logical appeal in his argument as opposed to emotional appeal or personal accreditation. A...