Thursday, September 15, 2011

Big money

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.


  1. At the risk of adding to my psychopath case... Rather than say no and then yes I would say yes and then no. And while you could adjust the dollar number low enough that I would eventually say no I'm not sure you could raise the orphan number high enough to get me to say yes.

  2. This is why we have to tip our hats to Bill Gates. Probably to the most generous donor of all time to the cause of international child poverty.

    It's easy to hate Microsoft, but the man has probably done more for saving children's lives than any person in human history not named Edward Jenner.

  3. I did not have the opportunity to reply to the other thread in a timely manner, and then I thought it has moved on too much to rock the boat again.

    Anyway, on my personal case, the problem is taking a decision with the potential to make me miserable (or worse to make someone else miserable) for money would kill me.

    I would not picture how I could improve my life or others with the money. One day, when I am feeling low, somewhere in my guts it will boil down to 'you traded misery for cash, you poor bastard'.

    Doing something similar for altruistic reasons would be completely different. In fact in a bizarre act of alchemy, extra misery for less altruistic gain would be equally or even more appealing. I might still regret my decision, but I know I would not despise myself for it.

    To be honest, it doesn't even cross my mind to use that money for anything but my own benefit. I'd like to think if I ended up having so much money, I would do some charity work with it... but the gut decision is how much I want that money for myself vs the 'moral' price to pay, never how much good I could do with that money. Dunno why. Maybe I was raised to consider money despicable or unworthy? Not intentionally, but could be something I picked up along the way. It is certainly not a rational thing.

    Given time and coaching to open my eyes to the good that could come out of all that money, I might change my mind. But that would be an exercise of improving my revulsion to the idea, more than intellectually proving a point.

    On the particular example, I would happily let Mr Jackson have fun with my bum for that amount money. But that is mostly because I am fairly liberal about sex (including mercenary sex) and do not associate my anal integrity with my male pride, so it is not such a big price to pay for me.

    (Maybe if he wanted to do it in Live TV I would say no. But that would be because of the effect on my family & friends and having to deal with idiots that think differently about *their* bums for the rest of my life...)

  4. Yeah, the other people thing is always the problem. Wendy might not like that I let MJ have sex with me but our relationship isn't based on the idea that sex is the be all and end all. I bet a lot of folks I know would find that deal repugnant but I certainly wouldn't since I have no issues with prostitution and this is almost certainly the best prostitution deal ever made. I definitely feel like the option to not have to go to work for 40 hours a week for 20 years is a *hell* of a lot more important than the sanctity of my butt.

    There is definitely an idea that is prevalent that money is evil and the pursuit of it is not moral. This of course sits side by side with the idea that money is a sign of doing well and shows how hard you work and how resourceful / clever / worthy you are. What ends up happening is people desperately pursue money but deny that money is the end goal in a lot of cases - it is promotions, career, security, etc that is the claimed goal.

    I honestly don't know how I would answer the gender change question. It is hard to imagine exactly how it would work in terms of my marriage and social ties and without having some better sense of what the rules are I can't give a real answer. I know it would suck, but how *much* would it suck?

  5. @Sky

    On your last paragraph, that is what I was going for in the other post I guess. I will not say no because I find the idea of being a man in a woman's body repugnant (I do find it scary, but maybe not 'loads of cash scary').

    The problem would be being a (physical) woman that everybody knew was a (physical) man before, and the impact of that on other people, close and strangers alike (albeit to different degrees).

    And the reason I think the question is good to make you think but bad as a test is because these reasons would be fairly similar if I was a man that inside felt like a woman and was given he same chance. Personally, it would be a no brainer. But the other consequences would be pretty much the same, specially if I have not told anybody I feel that way. And the decision could then perfectly be the same: I might prefer to remain a woman in a man's body to avoid these (I guess I should say 'for fear of these', maybe) other reasons, and the money would hardly come into it.

    So it boils down to me (maybe) preferring to stay on my birth gender, even if it is not the one I feel inside, for reasons not at all related with gender de-alignment, and regardless of the money. Ergo, my answer would be misunderstood as fear of de-alignment when it is fear of my loved ones' reactions (and strangers small-mindedness I 'pose).

    Bah, so much for trying to keep my posts shorter :)