Today I ran across, in my web meanderings, a site run by a Maryland couple who are using the "beg for money on the web" (a.k.a. cyberbegging) method to raise enough cash to build and inhabit their very own hobbit hole. This intrigues me for a couple of reasons.
First, what a great idea! I mean they aren't the only people to think of it, but it really would be cool to live in your very own hobbit hole. Just from an energy saving standpoint, you really can't go wrong with subterranean dwelling. And just think of the increased survivability factors if you live in tornado country. Tolkien's opening sentences of The Hobbit immediately make almost anyone envious of Bilbo's hole under the hill, and the reader dreams of having such a home of their own. (This is what makes the opening of The Hobbit one of the best beginnings of a novel ever, in my humble opinion). Everyone would want to live in a home such as this, including me. But this brings me to my second thought.
I am sure the folks in Maryland attempting to raise money for their project are wonderful people. No doubt they are creative, smart, and most likely kind to animals. The thing is, if I've got $5 to give to them, these people with enough financial wherewithal to maintain a website and view this idea as fiscally reasonable, then why should I give them any money? I mean these people (unless I've missed something here) already have a home. If I'm going to give away five dollars, shouldn't I give it to someone, or to an organization to help someone, with no home at all? Why should I help make their dream come true, when they've already got so much more than millions of people in the world?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to come off as this self-righteous guy who will only donate money to homeless people. I don't deny that I myself have been tempted to try the "give me money because I need x " technique that so many people have used with moderate success. I don't deny that the thought of having a luxurious hobbit hole is alluring. I certainly wouldn't deny our Maryland couple their right to ask people for money. I guess I'm most puzzled not by the people that ask for money in this way, but the people who give it.
I can actually almost understand why someone might donate to help someone build a hobbit hole. I can certainly understand why someone might donate to help someone who is legitimately in financial peril. There's even an online listing of sites on which people ask for money, presumably for good reason. But how about the college student who set up a donation web site to get money for a boob job? Or the first one I can remember seeing (sorry, can't remember the link), where a guy asked for a dollar just because he wanted more money, and he got it! Why would anyone with even a dollar in change sitting around and an itch to donate it not give it to someone who's really in need? Why not give it me? (Just kidding).
All of this just makes me wonder about what we as a culture value. How is it that a person can derive satisfaction from giving money to a college girl who wanted (and got) a breast enhancement, but not think to give that money to the homeless guy on the street, or the orphanage downtown, or the charity saving lives over seas? I don't have an answer, and I'm not sure there's any moral imperative here. Yet I'm left with a sense of cognitive dissonance. The boob girl's site makes me want to take a shower. Certainly these people have a right to ask for money, and certainly other people have a right to spend their money as they see fit, including giving it to some kid who wants to be a millionaire. I'm just not sure they should.