Joe, as is so often the case I’ve enjoyed your well-written and persuasive article. I would add, however, that from an evolutionary perspective it’s unpersuasive. The caveat is that we can afford (to some degree) to ignore material assets provided that we have enough and live in a society that’s rich enough. Once these elements are satisfied sufficiently, one can move on to more abstract requirements. But even so, one shouldn’t under-estimate the real power of wealth (and power). I used to know an ultra-wealthy man who drove a variety of extremely expensive (think $500,000 cars) vehicles and would regularly find women’s underwear tucked under the windshield-wiper blades with a phone number written in lipstick. He’d rarely call but he noted that all the women he did date mocked men flaunting their wealth, were totally convinced they’d never be swayed by great wealth, and…. reliably offered themselves to him the moment they became aware of his billion-dollar bank account. I even saw the same phenomenon myself a decade ago at an Oxford University alumni meeting in San Francisco. A friend of mine from a different College and I were sitting with our wives talking happily, observing the throng, and everyone was content. Then the Vice-Chancellor announced that he wanted to thank Mr X for just donating $150 million to Oxford University. Two minutes later, both our wives were glued to the short, balding, unimpressive billionaire who’d written such an impressively large cheque.
Fact is, evolutionary psychology predicts certain highly adaptive behaviors and given a sufficiently strong trigger we still respond in the old hardwired ways. Even when we believe we never do, and mock others for doing so. In human affairs there’s often a striking difference between (i) what we want, (ii) what we need, (iii) what we say, and (iv) what we therefore do.