Monday, June 29, 2015

Philanthropy and why you can't resist the urge to help.

"Margins increase the further down the torso you go." Scott Galloway
I remember watching a documentary on PBS, The Persuaders, about how marketers winkle their way into people's lives. One segment that stayed with me was about Clotaire Rapaille, a French psychologist who had advanced his career from working with autistic children in his home country to advising luxury brand marketers in the United States about how to, well, winkle their wares into people's lives. He is a fascinating character. He lived in a chateau in upstate New York. His client's would attend en masse to hear his liturgy about parting exclusive customers from their millions by deploying a theory about the human brain.

He described 'the lizard brain' - an ancient part of the human mind that behaves in an unprogrammed way - aside from consciousness or rational thought. The lizard brain is hard-wired to facilitate our base instincts for survival. For example you can rationalise your choice of mate for their refinement and taste but, whether you are male or female, rich or poor the unreasonable drive from your lizard brain is to breed with the partner that is most likely to help you pass your genetic code onto future generations. A mutual love of piña coladas and getting caught in the rain might sound like a marriage made in heaven, but, I'm sorry primal urges overcome the mild buzz of rum, coconut, pineapple juice and tropical weather conditions. To synthesise Rapaille, the display of luxury items is simply an indicator of one's capability to provide and protect the product of your union. That's why chinless wonders and old guys who strike it rich immediately buy Ferrari and Rolls Royce cars - to symbolise their supremacy in the breeding stakes. Kind of like bright feathers in the ornithological world or exaggerated size of proboscis in the mating rituals of elephant seals. Likewise all non-utility fashion is a sexual display - even if you rationalise it with a pronounced fetish for design.
It is via this circuit that we come to philanthropy. Why do we have an urge to give as well as to receive? My theory is that we are social creatures. As innate as our drive to have the most widely dispersed 'seed' is, there is the corresponding sense that we are part of the group or tribe we are related to - by paternity/maternity, marriage or species. Our DNA is bound with the group, interhelixed.

Even when we rationally 'know' that we are not related by blood to others in a wider contemporary culture… our lizard brains don't 'know' anything. Its function is simply automatic - there is little we can do about it. You can read Ayn Rand's ridiculous theories and novels and nod in undergraduate, pseudo-intellectual agreement that it is every wo/man for themselves but the lizard in you knows that hunting and living in groups is more successful and offers protection from the savagery of the wild. Which, of course, multiplies your chances of successfully passing your genes onto children and so on. There is nothing you can do about it. 

Faced with a surplus? Married with children already? Another Ferrari or Versace frock would simply be vulgar (and probably have your partner worried about the stability of and your commitment to your protective family unit). 

Your philanthropic urge - to support the society in which your children will prosper - is as innate as your drive for genetic immortality.

That is why I urge you to help me end homelessness for as many young people in need when I take part in The BigSleepout on 2 July.

It will help you sleep better at night.


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