RE: Miller's The Mating Mind

From: mike99 (
Date: Sat Sep 28 2002 - 14:19:42 MDT

. . . .
> 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.

Or one can have both conspicuous charity and conspicuous consumption. This
is how it works in the social circle of the very rich in Palm Beach, FL.
During "the season" (roughly December through March) there is a seemingly
endless round of charity balls where the elite meet to greet, eat, drink,
dance and generally have a good time. These events are held in lavishly
decorated ballrooms where only the finest food and drink are served. Yet
what seems like just a party for the very rich will raise millions of
dollars for genuinely worthy charities, mostly aimed at helping children,
feeding the hungry, and curing various diseases (from which even the rich
may suffer).

Some may object that even more money could be raised if the cost of staging
these events was eliminated and all the money simply given to charity. But
this view, which I would dub "the socialist fallacy," ignores human
psychology. If a government attempted to compel the rich to give this money
via taxation, then the rich would use their lawyers, accountants, ability to
move money across national frontiers, and their political clout to make sure
that they did not pay. Instead, as usually happens, the tax-raising would be
shifted to the less powerful (but in aggregate, more financially vast)
middle class. The middle class is an easier target because each taxpayer in
that group will only pay a little more, and does not have as much individual
influence over policy (or where to put his/her money) as the rich person

> 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
> charity.

Show me a ghost that exists outside the imagination and I'll grant this
notion some credibility. But as things stand right now, the tangible luxury
automobile trumps all invisible ghosts. However, there are advertisements on
television soliciting contributions to various children's charities by
showing heartrending images of starving kids. And I'm sure these ads have
some effect. But let me turn back to what happens in Palm Beach, where
wealthy matrons visit children in local hospitals and give them gifts. Once
again, as in the $400 per hour lawyer who volunteers for a soup kitchen,
it's being there that counts for the donor's self-esteem. (By the way, I
know Palm Beach because I used to live nearby. I am not rich nor was a
member of the Palm Beach plutocracy, but I used to date its daughters ;)

Question: What does all this say about the potential for getting deep pocket
donors to support SIAI?

Michael LaTorra

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