Like a lot of us, I’ve been making charitable donations as we approach the end of the year, but I’m also pretty much tapped out in terms of cash I can afford to give. During a month when many of us take a look at how we are giving back to our community, it’s pretty cool to know that there’s a way to give back that is as easy as taking your laptop into the bathroom and making a recording.
After Cyber Monday comes Giving Tuesday, a day to support one (or more) of your favorite charitable organizations.
Handler further apologized and has pledged to match donations to We Need Diverse Books for 24 hours up to $100,000.
Halloween, as much as Thanksgiving, is a holiday about generosity.
George Clooney wasn’t the only wealthy dude to get married this weekend. According to the Vows section, a Vanderbilt just tied the knot.
Meghan Marie Knutson, a daughter of Debra L. Knutson and Terry K. Knutson of Burnsville, Minn., was married Saturday to Travis Murray Vanderbilt, a son of Alison Platten Vanderbilt and Alfred G. Vanderbilt III of Norwalk, Conn. Jordan B. Hansen, a friend of the couple and a Universal Life minister, officiated … The groom is a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt.
He seems like a nice guy, too, despite having been raised in Connecticut.
We all have our favorite rich people: the honorable and now dear departed Mitford sisters, for example (#TeamDecca), or Ebenezer Scrooge, because that’s the best name ever, nobody names ‘em like Dickens. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt – Union hero, transportation magnate, and the 2nd or 3rd wealthiest American ever, bless his whiskered heart – is one of mine. His financial backing allowed Victoria Woodhull, first lady of American awesomeness, to set up shop with her sister Tennie on Wall Street. Behind them, on the office wall, they hung one picture of Jesus and another of “Com.”
Victoria may have been sleeping with him. Tennie certainly was. But Com also respected both sisters a great deal. He was a savvy businessman; he didn’t part with money except where he expected to see profit, and indeed the sisters made about $700,000. Not bad for the first American women stockbrokers.
I have come under some criticism of late for being uncharitable toward the rich. To be more precise, I offhandedly wrote, alluding to Ester’s piece on trust fund kids, that my policy concerning people born rich is to distrust them. Commenters took me to task for that, and rightly so: it is foolish and wrong to suppose that affluence, in and of itself, defines character. As one commenter noted, mine was “exactly the kind of ignorance several writers on the Billfold would preach against if it were any other kind of discrimination.”
I think that commenter was right, and I said so in comments and a note appended to the post in question. I also said, “We could have a separate discussion about whether there is any moral imperative on the inheritors of wealth to do something selfless and worthwhile with their money, or about the attitudes that may or may not prevail among them about whether they deserve their good fortune.” Several commenters later suggested that yes, that is a discussion worth having. This came to mind over the weekend, when I was engaged in that most proletarian of leisure activities, camping and reading the New Yorker. So let’s start our discussion about the moral obligations of the wealthy with a focus on how they help people with acute need.
I suppose I should not expect a worldview untouched by a certain elitism when I read the New Yorker, but more and more, I notice that there is an archetypal story about rare diseases and how progress is made in their cures. It goes like this:
1. An upper-middle-class couple notices something unusual about their infant child. 2. Doctors are either flummoxed and unhelpful or convinced that it is a terminal illness. 3. The parents refuse to accept the doctors’ assessment and devote large sums of money to (a) organizing and lobbying for more research on the illness; and (b) making all kinds of costly changes to their home, lives, and routines to accommodate their ill child and make the child’s life more enriching. 4. Progress in treatment results from the parents’ tireless efforts.
This sequence became clear to me while reading Seth Mnookin’s piece, “One of a Kind” in the July 21, 2014, issue. The article focuses on a couple, a college professor and an M.B.A., whose son has an extraordinarily rare genetic disease, and their ultimately successful quest to push the medical establishment toward more data-sharing and collaboration to develop treatments. (Spoiler: the disease isn’t quite as rare as previously believed.) The article is great and fascinating: in addition to following a family with the surname Might and involving a glycobiologist who is actually named Hudson Freeze, it illustrates how more base human motivations (researchers’ desire for sole credit on publications; institutions’ need to compete for scarce funding) can impede medical progress. It also has a happy-ish ending: the Mights’ son is showing surprising progress as he gets older; research is progressing.
But all that progress is predicated on the fact that this terrible disease befell not just Matt and Cristina Might’s child, but the child of Matt and Kristen Wilsey as well. The Wilseys, we learn, “are one of the most prominent families in San Francisco.”
Wouldn’t Prudie and the Ethicist be a good name for a band? Anyway. Someone wrote a letter to Slate’s Dear Prudence with a question that they should have pointed our way:
My good friend has found her mate after several failed relationships and is desperate to be married and start her family (tick tock). I am thrilled that she is engaged, and she has asked me to be in the wedding. I would normally be pleased to do so, except for one issue. She has debt of approximately $250,000 in credit cards and student loans, and she has not told her fiancé about this. I feel strongly that she is morally and ethically required to tell him before they are married, but she refuses. I can’t help but feel like an accomplice to her dishonesty by standing up in the wedding. What is the right thing to do? —Silent Accomplice
Prudie tells SA that she’s right to be squicked out: her “good” friend is perpetrating a fraud.
debt like this is something that simply must be revealed before two people wed. Keeping from your intended painful news, like a diagnosis of major illness, a previous incarceration, or the fact that you are dead broke (and not Hillary Clinton dead broke), means starting a life together based on an implicit lie.
Startlingly, Prudie does not suggest that SA write the clueless fiance an anonymous letter suggesting he follow the money. I wish we knew whether the bride were hiding financial truths from the groom or straight out lying. Either way, marriages have been based on deceit since the beginning of time. Years shaved off of ages, ex-wives forgotten, goats gone unaccounted for, paternity fudged. This can be seen as just another strike against the Wedding Industrial Complex, the societal idiocy that drives us to get married at all costs, often literally. Audits and prenups for all! Or don’t get married. That’s cool too.
Meanwhile, at the Ethicist’s lair …