The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Potlatch


When I was an anthropology major in college, we learned about an indigenous North American ritual called the potlatch. In the potlatch, families vied to bring the biggest and most elaborate gifts and foods to a communal feast. Even when people were scraping by to get enough to eat, they would bring something flashy to the potlatch because a poor showing would disgrace the status of the family. (Actually, this was the reason why the potlatch was banned in the US and Canada). When I was in college, I was very PC but also earthy-crunchy (not-shavey), so I recall appreciating this odd cultural tradition and being offended by the waste at the same time.

Now that I am back in the midwest, I am seeing the modern equivalent of the potlatch all over the place. Joseph's school relies on outside donations in order to keep going. But the enthusiasm for donation is baffling. Although it is a great school, and we do donate time and money, it seems like my donation money is better contributed to sources that less directly benefit me and relatively affluent private school families. But at these fundraisers, parents compete with one another to donate more and more money--literally $1000s of dollars at a time! I have to conclude that the public donation serves as an indicator of affluence and status (yes Biology fans, the handicap principle--only rich people can afford to waste loads of $$$, so wasting $$$ is an honest indicator of wealth). Tomorrow, Danny and I are going to the Mulberry school Gala, in which families vie to outbid one another for various prizes. We are only able to go because someone bought extra tickets and going to these things on our budget is rather like going to Vegas without any gambling money. So we may be in for a dull time.

Also, this afternoon, one of the faculty members at ISU Biological Sciences suggested that faculty contribute to the local public radio station so that the department could sponsor Darwin day. A great idea, for sure! But immediately, my inbox was filled with faculty attempting to outdo one another by contributing more and more $$$. When I offered to chip in $15, I was told that they wouldn't accept my money because postdocs don't have enough cash to spend it on donations. I pointed out that I had to renew my public radio membership anyway, so the radio station was going to get my money one way or another, but no dice.

2 comments:

Kim! said...

Is that Normal?

Beth said...

Does poor people money not spend the same as rich people money?