You meet a wizard in downtown Chicago. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive if you pay him money. When you ask how this process works, the wizard points to a random person on the street. You look at this random stranger. The wizard says, “I will now make him one dollar more attractive.” He waves his magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all; as far as you can tell, nothing is different. But–somehow–this person is suddenly a little more appealing. The tangible difference is invisible to the naked eye, but you can’t deny that this person is vaguely sexier. This wizard has a weird rule, though–you can only pay him once. You can’t keep giving him money until you’re satisfied. You can only pay him one lump sum up front.
How much cash do you give the wizard?
With this hypothetical Klosterman has offered us a question that doesn’t appear to have any real answer. What do we know?
- The wizard’s power seems to be real.
- You can only pay the wizard once.
- The increase in attractiveness will not come from a drastic change in your actual physical makeup, but rather from some je ne sais quoi; it is perhaps less accurate to say that you become more attractive than to say that the world will find your appearance more attractive. It is the seer who changes, not the seen.
What don’t we know?
- We don’t know whether the effect on the stranger’s attractiveness was real or psychosomatic–I mean, did the stranger actually become more attractive, or did the power of suggestion make you think they did?
- The marginal value of a dollar in “attractiveness units.” Unfortunately, there is zero data for figuring this out; you’ve seen the stranger become more attractive, but even if that delta-attractiveness were quantifiable in units, you have no idea whether the change the wizard induced in the stranger would cost a dollar or a thousand.
- You also don’t know whether the thousandth dollar will have as much effect as the first.
- You don’t know whether it’s possible to overdose on attractiveness. If you give the wizard too much money, will you end up like Narcissus? Or will you be ripped to shreds by members of the opposite sex driven mad by lust? (Sorry to be a Debbie Downer–just looking at all the angles.)
There is also some information that will be particular to the individual. I don’t see this question as having much of an objective answer; like many hypotheticals, how the question is answered elucidates more about the answerer than the hypothetical. To that end, how important is it to you to become more attractive? If you’re already sexy as hell, even if you believed the wizard, you’d have no reason to give him any money; you’re already at the top. You could also care less if, like Diogenes, you live in a barrel and hang out with dogs while you pursue the philosophical life.
Now that I’ve brought up celebrity, though, you might think this stuff happens all the time, and especially in Blackhawk! (Sorry if that’s an irresponsibly local reference; it’s the rich part of Danville, which is the rich part of the East Bay, which is a rich part of the world, so, draw your own conclusions.) We’re appear to talking about plastic surgery–putting a price on beauty. However, there is a very interesting nuance to Mr. Klosterman’s formulation. While it could be that the physical change in the stranger is imperceptible, the wording–the tangible difference is invisible–leads me to suspect that we are talking about no actual change to your person.
This leads to some very puzzling questions. Perhaps you have qualms about changing your facial structure or getting your boobs done. You may consider these actions somehow untrue to your self, or an affront to your genes. Is there a difference between becoming more attractive through these ends and through the wizard’s work?
Let’s consider an extreme example. Let’s say you have a congenital malformation–we could even say you have a tail. The plastic-surgery version of the story has you getting the tail removed. The sex-wizard version of the story has people finding the tail sexy. This is obviously pretty far out, but each of us has imperfections; if you insert your personal imperfections as “tail,” there you have it. I expect that most people could understand an objection to the tail removal as “changing myself,” impinging on the essence of one’s own identity. The real question is, is the sex-wizard version of the question any different? Our identities are socially situated and negotiated, and our identity as much determined by how others see us as by how we consciously position ourselves. If these portions of our “identity,” to the extent that identity an isolable phenomenon, are commensurate, then the sex-wizard version–changing without changing–is just as offensive as the physical change.
We’ve delved deep into some nuances of this question and made very little headway into making an actual answer, mainly because, as I’ve shown, the answer will be highly dependent on individual values. The best I can do is tell you how I would answer the question. While I do not consider myself to be the kind of person that puts especial importance on attractiveness, my first impulse is to think that I would give the wizard money. How much? My thoughts have ranged from ten to a thousand dollars. I should note that this is not a logical response: logically, the only risk in my decision is if I make myself too attractive. Unfortunately, we have no rational indication that the scale upon which the wizard’s changes will be made corresponds in any way to the rest of the US market; a penny to the wizard might make me Brad Pitt (and therefore a dollar might have serious adverse effects), or it might do nothing. Therefore the risk-averse thing to do would be to not give the wizard any money at all (this would NOT be the case if I thought that my current state of attractiveness were an active hindrance to my well-being, which is in fact the state of mind that much of our country lives in, and thus cannot be discounted).
I’ve probably driven you insane by now with all this going in circles. I’ll take the out, be a literalist, and point out that the question says “how much cash would you give him?” As I rarely carry more than $30, I would say twenty bucks, knowing that this is in no way a satisfactory or rational answer.