New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar has written a lot about people committed to what she terms "extreme morality."  Among the long list of people she has profiled are Noam Chomsky and Aaron Swartz.  Why do certain people feel compelled to devote their lives to activism, whistle blowing, the general good, or helping people they are not personally connected to?  This list can include those who devote their lives to saving the environment and other species, many times at what many would consider to be great risk and sacrifice while most people are content to stay focused on their own personal gain and well being of their immediate families.  These "do-gooders" are relatively rare and are not always looked upon favorably.  An excellent example is Edward Snowden.  As Ted Rall recently pointed out in his talk, Snowden was literally one in a million of the people who had access to the same information.  Why was he seemingly the only one who had an attack of conscience?  As MacFarquhar points out, many people make extreme sacrifices in times of war or national emergency and that is considered normal.  Most people would readily put themselves at risk if they saw a drowning child.  In fact it would be considered immoral not to.  So why then are people like Edward Snowden or say Julian Assange considered remarkable?   MacFarquhar addresses this when she points out that these people don't consider themselves to be out of the ordinary at all.  They wonder what is wrong with everyone else.


Others have explored this territory as well such as local writer Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen.  The answers may be as varied as the individuals themselves.  Larissa MacFarquhar's study of some of these personalities may help shed some light on the subject. Her latest book is, Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help.


Thanks to Seattle Town Hall and Elliott Bay Books


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Program Details
Episode S4E39
Broadcast Week Oct 29th 2015
Duration 57:58:11
Audience Rating TV-G
Genre Action
Theme Academic & Education
Language English
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