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the point of money

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I was listening to Thought for the Day earlier this week. For those that aren’t familiar with BBC Radio 4, it’s a quasi-religious moment just before 8 o’clock in the morning. I’m guessing that it’s aimed at an intelligent multi-faith audience and it provides a refreshing pause to the morning. Anyway, this particular instalment was by Indarjit Singh, who as you might guess is Sikh and his thought was “A narrow pursuit of profit distorts and skews life.”

One of the things that really caught my attention was a statement to the effect that, the point of money is to help other people with it. This was illustrated with examples from the life of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Now, I try to be a good person, but I can’t honestly say that is the point of my money. In truth, the point of my money seems to be to feed, clothe and entertain me, to help create my future, and to help other people. It’s mostly me, me, me.

Am I selfish, or normal, or both? 

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17 comments for “the point of money”

  1. I agree with the sentiment, but would develop it further by saying that our money comes from and belongs to God. How we use our money is a form of worship. How we pay our bills, care for our family, spending habits and what we give to all indicate our view of God.

    Posted by rocketc | November 2, 2007, 2:20 am
  2. @rocketc:
    At first I was going to disagree with you, but actually you’ve kind of got a point. My choice of charity for giving to, my provision for my future are all related to my lack of belief in God.

    Posted by plonkee | November 2, 2007, 9:22 am
  3. I think the point of a certain amount of money is to feed, clothe, shelter us, etc. Once you have the needs met, then I believe that extra money should go to help others meet these needs. Of course, it’s a personal matter to determine what’s “extra.” One has to figure out savings, entertainment, etc.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | November 2, 2007, 11:21 am
  4. I think money is a complex entitity with multiple levels, whatever that means. First you need enough for a roof and food. Then you need enough for your future. Then you need enough to help a few others, even if that is your family, dog etc. Then you need enough to be charitable.

    And people with more than £100,000 should get 100% tax on that… until of course I ever reach that point (not going to happen)

    Posted by Llama for brains | November 2, 2007, 1:49 pm
  5. plonkee, now we’re getting somewhere.

    If there is no God, what is in us that distiguishes us from animals. There is no charity between animals, yet it is a common element in the human condition.

    Posted by rocketc | November 2, 2007, 3:43 pm
  6. @Llama for brains:
    I think you are right. Especially about the tax part ;)

    You and I both know that we aren’t going to agree.
    Broadly speaking, nothing distinguishes us from other animals, in the same way that nothing distinguishes dogs from other animals.
    We have evolved charity beyond our own close relatives, it is not a big deal.

    Posted by plonkee | November 2, 2007, 4:11 pm
  7. We are all selfish on some level, no matter if we believe in God or not. It’s part of being human.

    100% tax on money earned over $100K? That is a strange belief…

    I suppose it goes back to selfishness. You believe other people shouldn’t earn that much, so you would just take it from them if that power was in your hands. In other words, legalized theft. Brilliant.

    Read Ayn Rand sometime. She has a solid atheistic view of money.

    Posted by Ryan Healy | November 2, 2007, 4:19 pm
  8. The tax bit is slightly tongue in cheek, and it would be £100K (about $200K US at the moment).

    I might add Ayn Rand to my Christmas list. And yes, as humans, we are also all selfish. It’s another thing that we’ve evolved (although we have this in common with most/all species).

    Posted by plonkee | November 2, 2007, 4:24 pm
  9. rocketc:

    From an evolutionary stand point giving charity is quite rational, it maintains social cohesion and thus helps secure your and/or your descendants safety and access to food and water. A happy and healthy neighbor will also be in a better position to buy some of your and/or your descendants’ goods or services.

    Studies have shown that empathy is present in very young children, even at eighteen months of age and possibly younger (New Scientist, 2007). It was also found that chimps extend help to unrelated chimps and unfamiliar humans, even when inconvenienced and regardless of any expectation of reward (Warneken and Tomasello, 2006), isn’t that an example of charity by ‘animals’? Perhaps us humans giving charity is entirely selfish, we no longer want to feel the pain that empathy brings.

    Posted by Moby | November 2, 2007, 5:11 pm
  10. So charity is actually selfish - a means to get security, comfort, and customers.

    Why has ‘charity’ not developed at the same rate in every culture? It is pretty apparent the the UK and the USA are at the forefront of emergency relief effort worldwide - earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, etc. Even when those catastrophic events happen in countries that hate us (Iran). Both countries donate billions of private and public dollars every year to aids relief efforts, hunger relief, infrastructure in the third world and water exploration in other countries.

    Do you have an evolutionary explanation for the disparity in charity between cultures?

    Posted by rocketc | November 3, 2007, 12:48 pm
  11. In evolutionary terms, no act is either selfish or unselfish. Successful mutations will be passed on and unsuccessful mutations will not, and we will end up with successful mutations. Individuals with empathy are more likely to be successful, so empathy survives in the population. Empathy leads to charity. No big deal.

    There is no biological evolutionary explanation for the differences between cultures because as I understand it, they are not biologically different. There is more genetic variation within countries than between them, essentially.

    It is the case that more wealthy nations give more in absolute terms than less wealthy nations. It is not clear to me that they are therefore more charitable. I’d be interested to learn if, in fact, they were, but I certainly don’t think that the UK is at the top of the %age of GDP in donations league table.

    Posted by plonkee | November 3, 2007, 2:41 pm
  12. What evidence to you cite to back up the theory that charity is a “successful mutation”?

    Posted by rocketc | November 3, 2007, 4:51 pm
  13. Wouldn’t that assume that mankind as a whole is becoming more and more charitable and that cultures with low levels of generosity will fail more and more? Is this happening?

    Posted by rocketc | November 3, 2007, 4:53 pm
  14. It must take a lot of faith to believe that charity and self-sacrifice are a product of biology and survival of the fittest.

    Posted by rocketc | November 3, 2007, 9:26 pm

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