Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sugar-babies, too, are a part of capitalism :(

In graduate school, I was vaguely acquainted with a student from India, who was also of Tamil Brahmin stock and had come to America for higher education.  That common heritage aside, we had nothing in common other than a few friends.  Once, after a movie, my friend dropped her off first at her apartment before I got dropped off.  She lived in a much better neighborhood, way pricier than mine.  She could afford that because somebody else paid for it.  In exchange, she had to be available for that patron.

I never would have imagined such possibilities.  But, there it was.  She was brilliant, charming, beautiful, yet something offbeat like this.

A year ago, the Atlantic featured such arrangements that were apparently becoming more and more possible thanks the internet and smartphones.
In 2013, Seeking Arrangement announced that approximately 44 percent of its 2.3 million “babies” are in college. This is a trend that the website encourages—if babies register with a .edu email account, they receive a free premium membership (something the guys have to shell out as much as $1,200 for). Seeking Arrangement creates the illusion that the sexual element of these relationships isn’t forced, but organic. No one associated with the website wants to admit that what it’s doing is facilitating sex-for-money exchanges. The large number of college women on the site helps preserve this illusion, for both the daddies and the babies.
That graduate school acquaintance was a sugar-baby; a phrase that perhaps existed even back then.

But, I didn't think much about that Atlantic piece, until now.  Because, the Economist also has something to say about sugar-babies.  As I always comment, if the Economist and the Wall Street Journal report on such social aspects, then it means that it is not any fringe happening.
As the cost of university has risen, so has the number of “sugar babies” who pay for it by selling companionship and sex to wealthy older men. Monthly pay for this is typically about $3,000, though some “sugar daddies” offer much more. According to SeekingArrangement, a firm based in Las Vegas, two-thirds of sugar-baby graduates have no student debt.
Students who post profiles on know what they want, so “it’s almost like a business partnership”, says Angela Bermudo, a spokesman for the company. The site hosts some 900,000 profiles of sugar babies enrolled in American universities, up from 458,000 two years ago. Their ranks swelled during the recession and are still growing fast, says Brandon Wade, the site’s founder.
I suppose if we live long enough, we will get to witness quite a few strange things in life.
The boom is fuelled by increased acceptance of “sugaring” (dating for money), says Steven Pasternack, the owner of a Miami firm known as Sugardaddie. The company’s site gets more than 5,000 new profile uploads worldwide every day. A quarter are students. Astute marketing helps. Sugardaddie’s pitch notes that it does not “discriminate against people’s desires”. Sugar babies are increasingly advised to negotiate not an “allowance”, but rather a certain “lifestyle” in exchange for dates. These arrangements can remain discreet. New Yorker Keith and the younger woman he met online, seeking a sugar daddy to pay for college, both tell friends that they met in a bar. His weekly $500 deposits into her bank account will cease, he says, if she becomes unavailable.
You are probably thinking, "hey, this is prostitution."  And you run into legal trouble for prostitution.  Right?
Might any of this qualify as prostitution? The websites say no. A sugar daddy doesn’t want his sugar baby to leave, whereas no client of a prostitute “wants the hooker to stick around”, as SeekingArrangement puts it. This argument has prevailed in America’s courts. If a relationship exists, payment can be labelled as compensation for companionship, not sex.
As that Atlantic essay noted:
When we consider what it means to be a high-end prostitute, we generally think about Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman—a desperate young person willing to trade some of her dignity for the chance to avoid working on curbs at two in the morning. A college education seems fundamentally at odds with that image. By actively seeking out college students, and publicizing the high numbers already in its ranks, Seeking Arrangement makes it easier for smart, young women with bright futures to rationalize the decision to join Seeking Arrangement: If so many college women are signing up for the site, it must be something different. It must be more socially acceptable somehow. It can’t really be prostitution.
Sugar-babies are yet another reason why we need to spend time thinking about what it means to be human, what it means to belong to humankind, and what our existence means in this universe that is a mystery; I have quoted the following before and is worth repeating:
we're living at a time when public moral deliberation is rapidly moving away from considerations of ultimate ends, ideals of human flourishing, in favor of a morality of rights that is largely indifferent to what individuals do with their freedom. As long as you refrain from harming others, you are free to pursue happiness however you like, no questions asked.
Politically speaking, this might be the best available strategy for people who disagree about the highest good to live together pluralistically in relative peace. But this doesn't mean that it's possible for individual human beings to forego the question of how to live, to bypass the question of human flourishing — what it consists in, and how to achieve it. In fact, with the retreat of institutions that once proposed compelling comprehensive visions of the good life, the burden of choosing among various ways of life falls more than ever on the shoulders of individuals.

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