Miller's The Mating Mind (fwd)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Sep 27 2002 - 04:46:42 MDT

attached mail follows:

Thumbs up on Geoffrey Miller's _The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice
Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature_.

The following pertain to the book.


"Sexual Selection and the Mind: A Talk with Geoffrey Miller" by John

"Precise of Miller on Mating Mind" by Geoffrey Miller

"A Mating of Minds" by Kate Rigby

"Did Sex Make You Brainy?" by Emmett Spier

"Croaks an Tails or Teeth and Claws?" by Laura Betzig

"Likeable but Unlikely, a Review of The Mating Mind" by James R. Roney

"Sexes Choose Big Brains" by Dorthy Tennov

"Our Tales are Our Tails: Miller Revives Darwin's 'Other' Dangerous
Idea" by Timothy Horvath

John D. Wagner's review of The Mating Mind

William A. Sprigg's review of The Mating Mind
(Sprigg's review is very positive.)


The following was of particular interest to me. (Read the last
paragraph for the short version.)


Miller, G. F. 2000. The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the
Evolution of Human Nature. New York: Doubleday.

Copyright (c) 2000 by Geoffrey Miller. All rights reserved.

Chapter 9: Virtues of Good Breeding: Why Scrooge Was Single - The
Evolution of Charity.

    The phenomenon of "charity work" also reveals how generosity is used
as an inefficient fitness display rather than an efficient
resource-transfer device. If the wealthy really wanted to help people,
they should make as much money as they can doing what they are trained
to do, and hand it over to a lower income group who are trained to help
people. The division of labor is economically efficient, in charity as
in business. Instead, in most modern cities of the world, we can
observe highly trained lawyers, doctors, and their husbands and wives
giving up their time to work in soup kitchens for the homeless or to
deliver meals to the elderly. Their time may be worth a hundred times
the standard hourly rates for kitchen workers or delivery drivers. For
every hour they spend serving soup, they could have donated an hour's
salary to pay for somebody else to serve soup for two weeks. The same
argument applies not only to lawyers, but to everyone with an
above-average wage who donates time instead of money. So why do they
donate their time? Here again the handicap principle applies. [Amotz
Zahavi's principle states that the cost of one's "ornaments" indicate
one's level of fitness.] For most working people, their most limited
resource is time, not money. By donating time, they help the needy much
less efficiently, but show their generosity and kindness much more
    Another feature of human charity is that givers must usually be
given tokens of appreciation, which they can display publicly. In the
United States, donors to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) are
rewarded with PBS tote bags, PBS umbrellas, and PBS T-shirts. In
Britain, charities offer donors red paper poppies for buttonholes, red
plastic clown noses, or red tomato T-shirts. Blood drives usually give
donors buttons saying something like "I gave blood today," which
essentially proclaim "I am altruistic, not anemic, and HIV-negative."
Major benefactors of universities or hospitals usually expect buildings
to be named after them. There is the phenomenon of the "anonymous
donor," but we should not take the term at face value. A London
socialite once remarked to me that she knew many anonymous donors. They
were well known within their social circle--the set of people whose
opinion matters--even though their names may not have been splashed
across the newspapers. I suspect that few male millionaires keep their
charitable donations secret from their wives and mistresses.
    A final oddity is that people usually avoid giving to charities that
nobody else has heard of, however worthy the cause. The result is
something approaching a winner-takes-all contest, with the charities
that grow large and well-known attracting ever larger proportions of
donations. Charities must spend a large proportion of revenue on
"fundraising." This sounds like the pragmatic solicitation of
donations. But it often turns out to mean the costly creation of a
strong brand identity for the charity, hiring advertising firms to
promote the charity in the same way that any other luxury good is
marketed. Fundraisers know that when a new charity is launched, it is
important to attract a few major donors, so their rivals feel obliged to
top those donations with larger ones. The charity's goal is to provoke
a donation arms race between local millionaires. From the viewpoint of
efficiently transferring resources from the wealthy to the needy, such
arms races look pathological. They result in overfunding a few salient
diseases in the developed world. They lead to the neglect of more
cost-effective programs in the developed, such as drilling for clean
water wells, anti-malaria programs, pro-breast-feeding campaigns,
elementary school education, and capital for women's small businesses.
If charity really resulted from altruistic instincts for solving other
people's problems, we should expect people to take more time to research
which charities are most cost-effective and most likely to produce
immediate, measurable improvements. This would result in money being
spread around much more widely, ameliorating more of the world's
avoidable misery. Instead, most donors spend less time researching
their charities then they do picking which video to rent. This results
in charity fashion cycles, and over-giving to this season's stylish
    How can we explain these peculiar features of human charity? They
cannot be traced to nepotism or reciprocity. They do not seem to result
from socialization for genuine altruism. Instead, they often look like
just another form of wasteful, showy display. If the point of charity
is to incur the cost of giving rather than to bring real benefits to
others, we can understand why people do not care much about the
efficiency of charities, and why they donate time when they should be
donating money. If charitable donations must be advertised to be
effective as signals, we can understand why donors receive little badges
to indicate their generosity, and why charities spend so much
fundraising money creating a strong brand identity. If donations are
signals subject to the usual demands of recognition and memorability, we
can understand why people give to famous, oversubscribed causes rather
than obscure, worthier ones. Donations as courtship displays would also
explain the charity fashion cycles, which are especially apparent among
young, single donors. For most of us, our charities are cosmetic.
    This is not to say that people giving to charity are "trying to get
more sex." They are simply trying to be generous. That is their
motivation. My question is why the motivation evolved. Their genuine
instincts for generosity just happen to have many of the showy,
fashion-conscious features common to other products of sexual selection.
    Understanding charity's origin as a sexual display should not
undermine its social status. As Robert Frank argued in _Luxury Fever_,
we may have evolved instincts for achieving higher social status through
conspicuous display, but as rational and moral beings we can still
choose conspicuous charity over conspicuous consumption. Every hundred
dollars we spend on luxuries could probably have saved a sick child from
death somewhere in the developing world if we had donated it to the
appropriate charity. The ten-thousand-dollar premium that distinguishes
a sport utility vehicle from an ordinary automobile probably cost India
a hundred dead children. We may pretend that it did not, but our
self-justifications are no comfort to the dead. Perhaps if we imagined
a hundred hungry ghosts haunting every luxury vehicle, runaway
consumerism would lose some of its sexual appeal. While designer labels
advertise only our wealth, the badges of charity advertise both our
wealth and our kindness. As it is, the car manufacturers can afford
better advertising than the needy children, which is why our instincts
for display have been directed more toward consumerism than toward

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