In my Whipping Girl post earlier this week I touched a bit on the idea of taking a huge amount of money as a bribe to change genders permanently - in the sense of identifying yourself to everyone as the other gender and going through physical/medical transition. There was a great discussion in the comments and I thought I should talk a little more about a very related issue, that being what we perceive money to be.
Many years ago I asked a lot of people the question "Would you let Michael Jackson have anal sex with you for a million dollars?" and then the follow up "How about if instead I saved the lives of 10 orphans in a developing country?" Of course Michael Jackson was just a stand in for "Something revolting", but the responses were interesting because the great majority of people said no to the first but yes to the second. I then asked them why they valued a million dollars less than 10 lives when you can save *more* lives than that if you spend a million dollars. The trick was simply that they all imagined spending the money on luxuries and not spending it on charity. I wanted to point out that money is not automatically transformed into luxuries but rather is simply power and power can be used for good or ill.
The Whipping Girl question is comparable. A lot of people look at the question as a matter of luxury - would they transition for the luxury that 10 million dollars could bring? Nearly all said no. For most people I think that is absolutely the right choice because the happiness that 10 million dollars worth of loot is going to bring won't be remotely comparable to the unhappiness involved in transitioning and living as the 'wrong' gender. However, a few commenters pointed out that their lives would be completely different as a result of having the 10 million and that they could *stop* caring about what everyone else thought at that point instead of being forced to deal with it every day. Rather than a Porsche they would just buy a nice place, quit their job and live off the interest and cease to be concerned at all if the entire world thought they were mad / wrong / weird.
Also you must consider that to vaccinate a child in Africa against measles costs less than a dollar. A mosquito net to keep malaria bearing insects away is a dollar. How many lives could you save by buying 500,000 measles vaccinations and 500,000 mosquito nets? I don't know, but I bet the answer is 5,000 at least. So of the 10 million dollar reward you can keep 9 million of it (hardly a difference you will notice) and save FIVE THOUSAND lives. Of course by this logic the developed world has a moral obligation to send huge amounts of aid to developing nations, which is a stance I support. It would be far better for the rich maniacs handing out 10 million dollars to just buy the aid themselves but the thought experiment is an interesting one.
Whether or not the pursuit of money is a noble or frivolous thing is entirely up to the person getting the money. Mostly people use money to buy more luxury but that is not the only way. Anyone who does decide to pursue money avidly and then give a large percentage of their income away to good causes can count on my hat being permanently off to them - it is a rare thing.