Opinion: why we would rather spend money on beautiful yachts than the poor

I recall watching an America’s Cup race on television with a college classmate of mine. That was in 1992, when America’s Cup race management had just switched from the old, heavy 12-meter yachts to the newer and larger IACC yachts. Working with a new class of yacht the competitors were still trying things out, and there were noticeable design differences between the entrants. But Bill Koch’s USA 23 looked to be the clear winner, even before she started winning. She was right to the eye, and watching her slice through the bumpy Pacific swells off San Diego was pure pleasure to me.

So my college buddy says: “You know, if we just spent some of that money on feeding the hungry and helping the disadvantaged … ” He was not a sailor, but I sort of knew this dig was coming. It was what nearly every student–and faculty–at a left-leaning college would say. I countered with: “Well, don’t we spend millions of dollars on football?” Thud. While Americans spend lots of money on professional sports, it comes from many, many Americans paying an affordable ticket price. American football is democratic, and it is beloved by most men, especially blue collar men.

Unlike yacht racing which is elitist. Bill Koch spent over $60 million USD on the 1992 defense, ten of which was his own money. And even Bill Koch thought it wasteful and said as much [1]. With many poor countries, and most of Africa, having a median household income of less than $1,000 USD per year, those tens of millions spent on a yacht race could go a long way toward bringing nutritious food and clean drinking water to impoverished people. So I had no good answer for my friend.

Now if I just spoke from the heart I would have said: “Sure there are better investments, but sailing yachts are beautiful”. Which surely would have missed as well, but at least I would have said something genuine. As a general rule, left-wing academics, socialists, and communists don’t care much about beauty.

Speaking of which, a central tenet of communism–to each according to his need, from each according to his ability–is a mantra of social fairness and good morals. The moral high ground is assumed by socialists, especially when opposed to selfish, greedy capitalists. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who knew a something about communism, wrote: “there is not even a single precise definition of socialism that is generally recognized: all we have is a kind of misty and sparkling concept of something good, something noble … Socialism is defended with a passionate lack of reason.”[2] So while socialism seems like a system of governance which is aimed at fairness, it is ultimately irrational. And–as Solzhenitsyn reminds us over and over–in practice it is violent.

But how to disentangle this? Socialism speaks for the worker and the common man by using the state to administer financial aid to those who are less fortunate, and rebukes the super rich who would waste millions on useless things like racing yachts. The socialists are the good cops who keep the robber barons in check, make them pay their fair share and prevent them from exploiting the little guy. How could it be, then, that every instance of socialism, such as Soviet communism, results in a bloodstained tyranny? Solzhenitsyn: “All the communist parties, when they came to power, became completely merciless. But before reaching power, it [was] necessary to use disguises.”(p. 58, [2]) Why the need for heavy handed governance and deception? If the socialist movement has a noble kernel, would not some instantiation of it prove beneficial to humanity? It seems that, despite how we feel, socialism is a sugar-coated evil. This was certainly Solzhenitsyn’s view.

Evolutionary biologists tell us that organisms evolved past asexual reproduction and adopted sexual reproduction as a way of weeding out harmful genetic mutations. When it takes two to tango there’s competition for mates, and this competition typically prevents the congenitally sick from making copies of themselves. Human females, as is the case with many animals, bear the lion’s share of the reproductive burden. So nature evens things up by largely burdening the male with proving genetic fitness. That is, because females make the babies, they also make most of the mating choices, and as a result a lot of males get rejected. It is a fact that we humans have twice as many female ancestors as male [3]. This is because human females would rather share a genetically fit male mate with other females than accept bad genes from an available (and horny) bachelor.

Thus, so as not to end up alone and celibate, males must market their genetic fitness. The peacock’s tail is a favorite example of male marketing: “The peacock’s tail is not just a cheap, transient advertisement visible only to peahens. It is heavy, encumbering, hard to grow, hard to preen, and highly visible to predators. Peacocks have to drag it around everywhere they go. Unfit peacocks might be able to grow large tails, but they would not be strong enough to carry them while finding food, or fast enough to escape from predators. Only highly fit peacocks can afford very large tails.”[4] So the female who chooses to mate with a male with a very large, brilliant tail can be reasonably assured that her offspring will be infused with genes for speed, strength, resistance to parasites, etc.–all the things that will increase their chances to survive long enough to produce children of their own, which is all that counts as far as evolution is concerned.

What qualities do most fitness indicators share? They are costly and wasteful, which makes them hard to fake. Though women certainly look for a man’s ability to provide material resources when sizing up a potential mate, the courtship process rarely if ever involves a rigorous cost analysis of raising their children, consummated with a signed contract at the end of the third date. Quoting Miller: “Romantic gifts are those that are most useless to the women and most expensive to the man. Flowers that fade, candles that burn, overpriced dinners, and walks on exotic beaches are the stuff of modern romance. They do not increase a woman’s survival prospects as much as they reduce a man’s bank account.”(p. 329[4]) A woman is wooed by the man who can afford, and is willing, to lavish considerable sums of money on her. Covering high costs is hard to fake. The higher the cost, the more reliable the indicator. Of course the woman must also display her genetic fitness, but her indicators consist largely in what nature has already bestowed upon her: physical beauty and fertility.

Now we might say that the most basic economy of the entire animal kingdom is coined in calories. Every animal needs to ingest enough to survive. The socialist pitch is a society organized in such a way that no one needs to fear calorie poverty–i.e.,starvation–and thus addresses this most pressing concern. Recall Bernie Sanders praising socialist breadlines because at least people are getting food.

Yet as sexually reproducing mortals, the second most basic economy is that of genetic fitness, that of mate value. In many species, as with humans, this largely takes the form of males competing for sexual access to females.

Competition is instinctive to men. I observe this over and over in myself. I may be out on the sound sailing my heavy, non-competitive cruising boat, just enjoying the afternoon, when I see a similar boat sailing in the same direction. Invariably I start noodling with sail trim, getting sharp with the helm–I start racing. And the male skipper of the other boat (typically) will be doing the same. There may in fact be no women in sight who could possibly be observing us, we just do it anyway. Men compete to place each other on success hierarchies, and it is from these hierarchies that women assess genetic fitness and thus select their mates (and there is of course a hierarchy of hierarchies). In other words, the instinct to compete among men already does a lot of a woman’s mate selection for her. And the fact that many women dismiss male competitiveness as frivolous, as “boys will be boys”, and cannot fathom why men get so worked up over a silly little race supports what we have already said: the primary burden of proving genetic fitness rests on men.

So I suggest that the obsession with displaying fitness is perhaps the reason why men engage in collosally wasteful sports like America’s Cup racing. Never mind that many of these men are married and presumably not engaged in courtship. The drive to succeed, though it appears to have its root in maximizing mating success, lives on in the psyche of the average human male like the proverbial monkey on his back. Men know that the more they succeed, the more women love them. And the love of women is intoxicating to most men.

Furthermore, it is not only through sports that men advertise fitness in costly and wasteful ways. Art is also a waste. Insofar as bringing bread to the people, building them shelter, and providing medical care, no Michelangelo, nor Beethoven, nor Shakespeare need apply. Think of all the money spent on universities where students spend thousands of hours studying plays, or all the time spent on practicing with a musical instrument to perform a symphony, or a city block given up to a museum in which people walk around and gaze at paintings. Useless. While art is a complex subject, certainly one aspect of artistic creation is that it serves as a fitness indicator of the artist. Note that the greatest artists are all men.

Of course men also compete ferociously at things which do bring immense benefits to others, e.g., science, engineering, and medicine. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that nearly all of civilization was built by men trying to prove their fitness to the world, if not to win the hand of a beautiful woman. James D. Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, is quoted as saying: “Almost everything I ever did, even as a scientist, was in the hope of meeting a pretty girl.”[5]

One way to see the overwhelming dominance of men as the architects of civilization is to look at patented inventions: “… during the 20-year period covered by the report[1977-1996], 94.3% of the patents went to men and all-male groups. The remaining 5.7% went to male– female teams, groups of women, and individual women. No breakdown among the latter categories was supplied, but two-thirds of those patents were held by corporations, which suggests that male–female teams would be typical.” ([3], p. 144) So if we take two thirds out of that remaining 5.7%, we are left with the estimated fact that fewer than 2% of all patented inventions are credited to individual women or all female groups.

Now those of you who are familiar with my writings know that I am a fierce critic of biological reductionism, of scientism, which holds that the objects of physical science describe a more fundamental reality than the objects of ordinary language. So for example, I am a human male, and I am an American citizen. The reductionist might say that my biological essence as a human male is more fundamental than social constructs like my citizenship. Well try that on a customs officer when you are returning from abroad. Even my entire genetic code would never suffice to determine whether or not I should be let back in the country. It is my citizenship status which is the important piece of information here. Language, including the technical language of science, is perhaps best seen as a set of tools. A surgeon’s tools may be finely machined, technological wonders, but when his car gets a flat in the middle of nowhere it’s a big, crude, iron lug wrench that gets the job done.

So while I think that Geoffrey Miller makes a convincing case that art, technology, literature–culture–is a result of human mate selection, I would add that while true, this is but one aspect of it.

In one of Plato’s famous dialogues, the Symposium, Socrates tells his friends what Diotima once taught him about human sexuality: ” ‘… for eternal virtue and glorious fame like that all men do everything, I think, and the better that are, the more they do so; for the immortal is what they love. So those who are pregnant in body’ she said, ‘turn rather to women and are enamored in this way, and thus, by begetting children, secure for themselves, so they think, immortality and memory and happiness … but those who are pregnant in soul …[conceive] wisdom and virtue in general–to this class belong all creative poets, and those artists and craftsmen who are said to be inventive. But much the greatest wisdom’ she said, ‘and the most beautiful, is that which is concerned with the ordering of cities and homes, which we call temperance and justice. So again the man with divinity in him, whose soul from his youth is pregnant with these things, desires when he grows up to beget and procreate …”

We all hate the fact that we’re going to die. By finding a mate and having children we not only transmit our genes, but our opinions and culture as well, and in this way we live on at least into the next generation. Of course we want to choose genetically fit mates who will be likely produce children of their own and through which some of our essence will live on for many generations. As we have seen, such genetic selection is typically done by means of fitness displays, displays which are hard to fake without the support of good genes.

Now, uniquely human fitness displays range from rap music, to muscle cars, to racing yachts, to Impressionist painting, King Lear, particle physics, microchip technology, and etc.. While all such things may have their root in mate selection, some at least clearly serve a larger purpose, which Socrates teaches us is ultimately a longing for immortality, for in some way being in communion with the divine.

So this is my answer to my friend. The socialist impulse to curb the excesses of the wealthy, to re-distribute obscene sums spent on vanities like America’s Cup yachts in order to feed and clothe the poor, when institutionalized as socialism, communism, Marxism, etc., is ultimately dehumanizing. It reduces moral considerations largely to the calorie economy while ignoring or minimizing the economy of mate selection (often by perverting it, think of all the gender bending going on in American culture today, in 2022). The socialist does not like it when talented peoples consume scads of precious resources for their brilliant displays while many must live in inescapable penury, and endure the sting of envy to boot. But enforcing this kind of justice means using the state to crush what issues from the natural process of sexual selection–human inventiveness and creativity–which is the both foundation of civilization and the engine of its growth. In the Soviet Union art could only exist as propaganda, philosophers were party hacks, and religion was laughable because the state determined that God didn’t exist. And the average Soviet citizen was very poor compared to an American.

I am, of course, not suggesting that we all become cheerleaders for wealthy profligates. This would have us committing the naturalistic fallacy, which is to turn simple biological facts, e.g., survival of the fittest, into moral precepts. On the other hand, we need to remain ever wary of moralists who ignore biological facts–as well as longstanding wisdom traditions. History shows that fits of moral passion often lead to deeper hells.

References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/17/sports/yacht-racing-america-successfully-defends-the-cup.html

[2] Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr . Warning to the West (p. 121). Kindle Edition.

[3] Baumeister, Roy F.. Is There Anything Good About Men? (p. 63). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Miller, Geoffrey F. . The Mating Mind (pp. 123-124). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Moxon, Steve. The Woman Racket (p. 20). Andrews UK – Academic. Kindle Edition

[6] W.H.D. Rouse (translator), Great Dialogues of Plato (Mentor Book, 1956),p. 103.

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