Visible Personal Sacrifice leading to strange rituals

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright October 2016


Visible Personal Sacrifice (VPS) is part of human thinking. It is the feel-good feeling people get when they make a sacrifice for the community and do it in visible ways. This produces personal good feelings by allowing neighbors to show approval and by letting the sacrificer sleep better at nights.

But this is instinctive thinking, which means that when it is applied to modern Industrial Age lifestyles it is going to sometimes produce peculiar results. They are peculiar because they are wasteful, which means the world is a poorer place when the sacrifice is made, not a richer one.

The two examples of VPS-inspired rituals I will be talking about in this essay are tipping servers at restaurants and giving money to people holding cardboard signs on street corners.

The mystery

For years it has been a mystery to me why these two practices both endure and have expanded in their magnitude. Here are the problems I see:

o when servers get tipped they are being paid by the customer not the restaurant owner. This causes all sorts of management confusion. The server is in effect sub-letting a table from the restaurant owner and conducting his or her own business at the table. Adding to this confusion is the rapid tip inflation that has been going on over the last decade. This means "How much to pay?" takes a lot of thought at each meal, whether you are an arithmetic fan, or not.

o when a person in a car gives money to a person standing on a street corner they are paying that person to stand there. Is this the best activity that this person can be engaged in?

homeless not phoneless, be my paypal

coming soon....

"Homeless but not phoneless. Be my Paypal."


The wrong answers

A tipping enthusiast will explain that, "These servers aren't getting paid a living wage. I'm fixing that."

A giving enthusiast will explain that, "I'm helping this homeless person. This is a person that clearly needs help."

Why these are wrong

These are warm and fuzzy answers, which is why the activities have large and enthusiastic followings. But they are wrong.

The "living wage" issue is putting the cart before the horse. These servers aren't being paid a living wage by managers because managers can see they are getting lots of income directly from customers. If customers didn't tip then managers would raise wages and pay servers comparably to what they pay their other staff. Can this not-tipping work? Yes, it does in many places around the world, and in many activities besides serving tables in a restaurant.

The "street corner" issue doesn't take into account that it would be much safer and simpler for the giver to write a check to a homeless shelter charity than hand out money through a car window. The giving would be simpler and safer and the recipient could spend their day inside either watching TV or learning an employable skill. Much better all around.

The role of VPS

So... Why do these institutions endure?

The answer is VPS -- visible personal sacrifice.

These people who are giving are stroking their VPS instinctive thinking. They are giving in highly visible ways and feeling approval for doing so. They get thanks and they sleep better at nights.

This is why these peculiar institutions endure. To have them diminish, the VPS instinctive thinking powering them must be taken into consideration. Some alternative way of stroking VPS must be developed, and the community must stop offering visible approval to the givers who engage in these activities.


Visible Personal Sacrifice is powerful instinctive thinking in many people. Because it is instinctive it is well adapted to the Stone Age lifestyle, but not well adapted to modern age lifestyles. This means that the feel-good it generates can easily be twisted into supporting odd rituals.

Tipping at restaurants and handing out money to people holding cardboard signs on street corners are two examples of odd rituals that are supported by VPS thinking.



--The End--