On March 7th, along with other UBC students from different faculties and years, I participated in the UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia. There were approximately forty people that attended. The event, hosted by the Center for Community Engaged Learning, the AMS, and local organizations such as Raise the Rates and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, took place at the BC Hydro Theatre in the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) building and lasted from 1:00pm to 3:30pm. The purpose of this event was to give students a chance to contribute to BC’s first poverty reduction plan by recording their opinions and ideas into a report that would be submitted directly to the government. After some minutes of socializing with free buffet food, the moderator began to introduce the different participants of the event: the professors, the representatives of the local organizations, the student head of AMS, and the UBC graduate students who were in charge of organizing all the information from the small group discussions and compile it into a formal report for the government. After the introductions, both the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, gave a short presentation to give us context on BC’s current policies regarding strategies to reduce poverty. During their presentation, the two representatives explained that British Columbia has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada. Although it is a rich province, they discussed how BC has never put into action a poverty reduction plan and because of that many people are still living below the poverty line; students amongst them.
Afterwards, we all separated into smaller groups on large tables and started to discuss the current problems that the BC government should address in their poverty reduction plan. In my group, we discussed issues regarding the expensive housing market, food, transportation, college tuition and many more issues. During this, along with three other former UBC students, I was able to participate and give my opinion regarding the difficulties that come with paying tuition and finding adequate, affordable housing in Vancouver.
After some time, the moderator asked for volunteers to share with the entire room some of the issues discussed during the small group consultations.
Later on, the moderator asked us to discuss solutions to these problems. After writing down and talking about possible solutions, each table was given the instruction to choose one specific issue to focus on. We were then given the chance to switch to other tables to talk specifically about one topic: housing, tuition, food and etc…
At the end, apart from the official document that the UBC graduate students were to produce in the following weeks, all the tables recorded the solutions discussed on large white papers using colored markers. These large papers were then hung on the wall and each person in the room was given the chance to vote on which solutions or issues were most important by placing a red sticker on them.
As an international first-year student, I came to the event with limited background on BC’s current poverty situation. I assumed that, because BC is one of the wealthiest provinces and Vancouver is one of the richest cities in Canada, then the poverty rates would be lower than in other places. Due to these assumptions, I sometimes lacked the background knowledge to answer some of my group’s questions. Therefore, I asked many questions and clarifications on the current policies and situations of every topic so that I could form my answers more clearly. During our group discussions one of the facts that struck me the most was that currently one in five children in BC live under the poverty line. After our discussion, I felt more aware of the serious poverty problems that exist in BC and felt more strongly about the urge to put into action a plan.
I believe that university students offer a unique perspective on this issue, not only because they represent the future adult workforce; but also because university students often are amongst the group of people that struggle the most financially due to the high costs of their education; therefore, they have a lot of insight on what its like to live under hard financial pressures.
Philosophy is a study of all systems of knowledge such as ethics, reasoning and science. It investigates the knowledge produced by all sentient beings regarding different aspects of their reality. If we break down the origins of the word philosophy, “Philo” in Greek denotes love and “sophia” translates into wisdom.  Philosophy therefore stands for the love of wisdom. Philosophy seeks wisdom; and wisdom – true knowledge – can only be acquired through the evaluation of past, present and future knowledge: including individual and societal systems of beliefs, morals, values, mental maps of reality, assumptions about how different beings should interact, rules of justice and more. Philosophy therefore seeks to understand what is right or wrong, what exists or what doesn’t, and attempts to answer, through logic, some of the most difficult questions about our existence and how we should live it.This definition of philosophy fits with Peter Singer’s discussion on the ethics of human relationships because, as mentioned previously, philosophy is grounded on the search for wisdom, which encompasses the investigation of ethical and social obligation of human beings.
In his article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Peter Singer states, “…suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical are bad…”(https://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm). Therefore, he argues that human relationships should be based on helping one another and therefore it is our moral duty to help others who live under those bad circumstances. He goes on to say that the help humans are obliged to provide to others should not be based on their proximity to the person in dire circumstances. Singer underscores that there is “…no possible justification for discriminating on geographical grounds…” because if one is able to provide help, by any means, to others that are far away from them, then that proves how the moral obligation of a human cannot be limited to physical distance. Singer’s main argument is that, “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.” His discussion also touches upon the notions between moral duty and charity. In his article, Singer discusses how giving money away to help others is believed to be an act of “charity” or “generosity”. However, Singer states that giving away money, to help others who are starving or suffering, instead of using it for one’s own commodity, is a duty. Singer’s discussion redefines the societal beliefs regarding the act of helping others; therefore, it aligns itself with my claim that one of philosophy’s core areas of study is the knowledge of ethics. His revised utilitarian view, allows us to see how if we can do something to promote happiness it is our moral duty to act; and not doing anything would be morally wrong.
The experience of attending the BC poverty event fitted with my definition of philosophy –the study of knowledge claims such as that of our ethical duty – because we had to discuss why it is important to help others in poverty, talk about the injustice that some people suffer under the greed of corporations, and come up with solutions to these problems. For example, we discussed how corporations that privatize the housing market reduced the availability of social housing. This phenomenon impeded paupers ability to afford housing. In this instance, I brought up the point that because those corporations are creating social inequalities it is their moral duty to help others if they are able to; therefore a solution to this problem would be to tax them. The government could then allocate that tax money for social housing and for local organizations to help reduce the population living in poverty. During the event we also discussed how we should ethically help others, while reducing acts of discrimination, as well as stigmatization. All the issues that we evaluated in the event are tied to the overarching goal of philosophical investigation: obtain wisdom and truth in the way we ought to relate to other humans and live our lives.
Participating in events with other people produces better ideas, rather than discussing by oneself, because different views and opinions yield better evaluations of an argument. For instance, an idea that one strongly believes in could be disagreed upon by another or redefined in other terms, which then allows for the premises of one’s argument to be further investigated so as to obtain a more truthful knowledge claim. Moreover, different perspectives can reveal overlooked aspects of an issue. For instance, when discussing the housing market, one person discussed that student homelessness is an issue that is not very much talked about but is a serious problem at UBC. This broadened our conversation and allowed us to understand that both national and international students should be able to afford a residence in order to study. Philosophical discussions like this are very important for they bring to light what truly matters for individuals and for a society at large. We can thus learn from other people’s perspectives and opinions what is moral, just and ethical.
Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence, and Morality, by Peter Singer, www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm.