ON THE MATERIAL VALUE OF INDIVIDUALS
Western society measures value in terms of currency. In a court of law, your guilt or innocence is often dependent upon how expensive your lawyer is. The opinion of a person working for minimum wage is considered to be of lesser importance than that of a rich individual. Physically attractive people are paid more than those who are ordinary.
Our culture values athletic ability as well as appearance. The average annual salary of an NFL player is 1.2 million dollars. For this, they are expected to play a game in an entertaining manner. The average salary of a university professor is less than a hundred thousand dollars, and for that sum, it is expected that they will educate many individuals, and perhaps through their influence, cause their students to change the destiny of mankind.
The average annual salary of an NBA player is four million dollars. For this, they are expected to play a game in an entertaining manner. The average doctor earns 187 thousand dollars a year, with the expectation that they will save the lives of hundreds of people.
The average annual salary of a baseball player is 2.1 million dollars, and an individual can make as much as 25 million a year. For this, they are expected to play a game in an entertaining manner. A physicist will earn eighty-five thousand dollars, and it is hoped that they will gain a better understanding of the nature of reality, and perhaps contribute toward the advancement of technology in order to make life better for all of humanity.
An attractive movie star can make 20 million dollars for appearing in a film, and for this they are expected to entertain us for a couple of hours. Academic biochemists are paid an average of seventy-five thousand dollars a year, with the hope that they will cure what ails us, and potentially extend the lives of billions of individuals.
So why do we place a greater value on entertainers in particular, than on the people who are more of a tangible asset to humanity, contrary to common sense? A major reason is due to the one thing that can always supersede common sense: sex. Physical attributes, whether involving appearance or athletic ability, signify the superior sexual partner in the animal kingdom. It is not just that we idolize some as the ideal sexual companion, we identify with them. We live vicariously through these alphas; their successes are our successes. In the same way that lesser males in a chimpanzee troop have a desire to touch the alpha male as he passes by, we feel that we can somehow share in the aura of the superior mate. We cheer on our team because it represents the best of our primate troop, hence "we" contend with other troops for sexual dominance.
In general humans, like other animals, compete to demonstrate their superiority as mates, and to us, money represents sexual dominance. In the hyper-competitive culture we have created, our basic instincts are magnified by the artificial standards we set via materialism.
Perhaps we can justify the nature of society from this competitive perspective. Maybe it does not matter that the poor are convicted of crimes they would otherwise be found not guilty of if they could afford a top lawyer; after all, in a culture where survival of the fittest is the rule, such people can be deemed unfit because they have failed to win in the financial contest. Maybe the opinions of those who have demonstrated the ability to succeed materially, at the expense of those who are inferior, are the only opinions that matter. Maybe those who are gifted with exceptional looks or athletic ability possess the genes we want to perpetuate, hence they should be rewarded for their luck.
Perhaps this attitude should continue; but because it is an abstract manifestation of primitive drives, we must then consider ourselves simply as confused animals, using a symbolic representation of labour to haphazardly substitute for natural selection. What we interpret as moral values and justice are in reality the instincts of gregarious creatures; where all members of the herd are relatively equal in terms of available resources and protection from harm. We have confused social structure with sexual hierarchy. Gregarious animals persevere due to what we perceive as ethics; communal social interaction has evolved to ensure the survival of the species as a whole, with any divergence from this system being, by definition, unnatural.
Of course, there is no harm in experiencing a thrill of a subconscious sexual nature; and we will always have a need for athletes and other celebrities to play a role. However, there seems to be no limit to the Western obsession with such pursuits. Billions upon billions of dollars are directed toward the infrastructure that provides us with entertainment. The individuals who are showcased receive outrageous sums because the corporations behind them are reaping huge profits.
Our priorities are absurd, and it would not be too extreme to say that we suffer from a form of cultural madness. Entertainment is the most significant thing in our lives. Sure, we want all the medical, social, and technological advances to occur; but we'll reward the person who may have the capacity to find a cure for cancer three hundredfold more if they can excel at hitting a baseball or have the looks to be a movie star. We financially encourage people to choose the path we see as most important.
Wages are market driven, and individuals try to distance themselves from the inequities of our society by pointing fingers at a vague entity known as the marketplace. However, economics are controlled by supply and demand; and because the masses demand entertainment at any price, the market will supply it. If people were as passionate about curing cancer, and directed the same amount of disposable income toward research as they now do for spectator sports, companies would compete for a share of the wealth; subsequently driving up salaries for scientists, and motivating young people into making science a career choice. The marketplace rewards success, hence the researchers who get results would be the high paid stars of the discipline. Just as modern athletes have pushed human physical limits past that of their predecessors, so too would science drive human knowledge to new heights.
In the case of sports franchises, facilities are often built and maintained with hundreds of millions of tax dollars. This is the will of the people, who often believe that by subsidizing the incredibly rich, the money generated by fans will remain in the community and fuel the local economy. This, however, is a falsehood. In the absence of a sports team, people will still spend their disposable income; they will just spend it on other things. Money that someone would have used to buy tickets is still money that will be spent on other luxuries. Advertising dollars will still be aimed at the same market, for companies want to reach potential consumers of their product; regardless of whether they are seeing ads in a stadium, or through another medium. Money that would otherwise end up in the pockets of millionaires, who might only maintain a temporary residence in the community, preferring to live the rest of the time in more hospitable climes and tax environments, stays within the city.
People contribute to the profits of corporations and individuals in the entertainment industry indirectly in one curious manner; by the wearing of branded apparel. There was a time when companies would compensate people for walking around with an advertisement emblazoned on their person, but now individuals will actually pay for the opportunity to do so; usually at a price considerably higher than unadorned merchandise. This would seem like further verification of the fact that human intelligence is declining.
Most people feel that entertainers are overpaid, and are amazed at how much the salaries are increasing year after year. But the situation is market driven, and many of the people who complain about it are part of the cause. Supply and demand means that, to create larger profits for those supplying the product, those wanting it are willing to pay a higher and higher premium. A market correction occurs when supply exceeds demand, and the costs to produce the product fall to meet the reduced level of demand.
In other words, the fault lies with the consumer; and people who entertain us through competition, performance art, and music are more important than educators, scientists, and medical personnel because it is what the masses have decided. Members of Western society primarily live for the moment. The destiny of ourselves and our children is a concern that requires foresight; something lacking in our culture.
Because each individual is a component of the sum, every person contributes to what is the "will of the people". Therefore each individual who refuses to pay exorbitant admission prices, or a premium to be a walking billboard, alters the status quo. It was not really that long ago when entertainers thought of themselves as extremely fortunate to be able to earn a middle-class wage for doing something they would do for free anyway. Realistic salaries would not change the quality of our entertainment. Would an NFL player rather work eight hours a day for fifty weeks in a factory, or continue to work a few hours a day over sixteen weeks, if the salary was the same?
Whenever attempts are made to control the upward trend in wages paid to performers, they threaten to withhold services. Agents are not entirely to blame, for they are aware that, because the amount of money that pours into corporate coffers continues to rise, the employers are quite capable of sharing the wealth. The situation, however, is self-perpetuating; and since every business wishes to maintain their profit margin, salary increases are followed by price increases, and consequently higher profits lead to higher wage demands. It is the very nature of commerce that, if expenses exceed income, the business fails; hence if entertainer's salaries were to rise above corporate profits, they would soon find themselves unemployed, and labour action becomes irrelevant.
It is not at all surprising that greed is the driving force behind the entertainment industry; one only has to look at the disparities in the world to realize that most people are entirely self-serving. There is no logic to the accumulation of riches for its own sake; in one year the average professional sports entertainer makes enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their life. The annual income of one superstar could feed an entire Third World nation. The money spent on sports alone could put an end to poverty and suffering on this planet.
It is the collective "we" that is responsible for this situation. Each of us in Western society causes this disparity by our decision to fund entertainment over utility. The fact of the matter is that we don't really care that this is the case; people will think that, yes all those billions of dollars could be put to better use, and next week go out and spend a couple of hundred dollars on tickets for the next game. Individuals will contemplate how it would be wonderful to find a cure for heart disease; and then spend their extra money on a replica jersey of the player they have chosen to be their sexual surrogate. Each of us contributes to the human condition, and each of us determines what is personally most important. The world is exactly what we make it to be.