Let’s say you’re a younger gay guy who’s been doing ethical FinDom (financial domination) for a few years and you’re good at it and you feel good about doing it because you take reasonable amounts of money, aka “tribute,” from your finsubs and you give value in return. In my case, I share sexy text messages, pics, and do meet ups with subs who’ve earned my trust. And let’s say one of your trusted subs — someone you’ve been draining in your own ethical way for a few years — offers to sign everything he has over to you. House, condo, vacation home, savings, stocks. Everything. This person says it’s their ultimate fantasy and they ask again and again. Do you have to say no? At what point can you ethically say yes? Let’s say this particular sub has no kids, no spouse, and his nearest relatives are...
Kant Say No
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...earest relatives are Trump supporters and homophobes who were awful to him when he came out. He doesn’t want them to get anything. He says if I don’t take it all, he’s going to give it all to charity. I’m 32 (not that young, I guess) and he’s 72 and he’s not in great health. This would set me up for life and I would be able to help my parents out. Thoughts? What if I had to marry him to make it possible for tax reasons? Should I marry him? No one in their right mind would make an offer like this, right? I half expect him to come to his senses and think I’m a monster if I say yes. Can I do this and still think of myself as an ethical FinDom? Seriously Entertaining This Unbelievable Possibility P.S. I told him he could leave me whatever he wants in his will, but he says he wants to have the experience of giving it all to me while he’s still alive to enjoy it. I shared your letter with three random gay dudes who do financial domination online. All three were extremely jealous and all three, perhaps unsurprisingly, felt you should take the money — and the house, the condo, the vacation home, all of it. In fact, two of them initially responded with the same three-word answer: TAKE THE MONEY! But since you seem concerned with the ethics of the very unique situation you find yourself in, SETUP, I shared your question with a couple of actual ethicists. “The fundamental, background, taken-for-granted ethical framework assumed by Dom/sub relationships is that they’re entered into autonomously and both parties are ‘in their right mind’ in some relevant sense,” said Dr. Brian Earp, Senior Research Fellow in Moral Psychology at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. “Running with that, if SETUP really does think his sub may not ‘be in his right mind,’ if he thinks his sub is offering to sign over all those assets due to some breakdown in his decision-making competence, then, yeah, it would be exploitative and wrong to say ‘yes’ to this offer.” So… Dr. Earp doesn’t think you should take the money? Not necessarily. Dr. Earp cited a relevant debate in the field of bioethics, which is his specialty, that might argue in favor of taking the money, SETUP. Indeed, following this particular line of reasoning, it could be “objectionably paternalistic” of you to assume your sub isn’t in his right mind just because he wants to do something others might regard as imprudent or even harmful. “Take someone who refuses to go on kidney dialysis because she’s ‘tired of life’ and doesn’t want to deal with all the hassle,” said Dr. Earp. “In a recent real-life case, the doctors basically said, the sheer fact she says she prefers to die — which seems pretty harmful! — instead of getting the doctor-recommended treatment suggests she ‘lacks competence’ to decide about her own healthcare and so she should be forced to go on kidney dialysis ‘for her own good.’ But if you go with that way of thinking, you can basically just declare people incompetent — people who otherwise would not be seen as incompetent — every time they choose something you think is a bad idea.” So, to avoid even the appearance of behaving in an objectionably paternalistic manner — because God forbid — Dr. Earp thinks you should take the money? Not necessarily. If there’s evidence of diminished mental capacity independent of the specific decision at issue here — your sub giving you everything he owns — that additional evidence of diminished mental capacity would argue against taking the money, the house, etc. “Basically, if SETUP has some other, independent set of good reasons for thinking the sub is ‘not in his right mind’ apart from the sheer fact of offering to sign away all his assets,” said Dr. Earp, “then it’s not paternalistic to say, ‘No, I’m not going to honor your request.’ But if the offer is the only thing that makes the writer think the sub is not in his right mind, then the writer may be projecting their own values, preferences, or worldview onto the sub in a way that is, itself, disrespectful of the sub’s underlying autonomy.” So, if signing over all his assets is the only crazy thing your sub wants to do, you can take the money. But if signing everything over to you is one crazy tree in a forest full of crazy trees, you can’t take the money. But how crazy is wanting to give everything you own to someone anyway? “If we were to think giving all your stuff away without ‘expecting anything in return’ is evidence of not being in your right mind,” said Dr. Earp, “I wonder why you wouldn’t reach the same conclusion if the person just wanted to give away most of their stuff, or half of their stuff. Why wouldn’t you conclude that entering into a FinDom relationship as a sub is not by itself evidence that someone is not in his right mind? But if SETUP isn’t willing to concede that, as I assume he is not, then I don’t see why — without other corroborating evidence of decision-making incompetence — SETUP should think that the sub’s desire to give away most or all their stuff is somehow, by itself, disqualifyingly irrational.” When it comes to big decisions — and this one more than qualifies — it’s always helpful to get a second opinion. “I don’t think marrying this person would be an ethical issue,” said Dr. Manon Garcia, quickly dispensing with one of your concerns. “Marriage has been used for a long time as a way to protect and transfer assets,” and you’re free to use marriage that way and still regard yourself as an ethical person. Zooming out, Dr. Garcia, Junior Professor of Practical Philosophie at Freie Universität (Berlin), thinks you should consider Kant’s Formula of Humanity: “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.” (This is German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) first-ever appearance in Savage Love. Shame he isn’t alive to enjoy it.) What that means, Dr. Garcia explained to me, is that we have an ethical duty — a positive duty — to treat people as ends in and of themselves, not merely as means to our own ends. “This positive duty is very demanding,” Dr. Garcia continued. “It requires attention to the particularities of persons and the fact that they are not abstract beings but individuals who have their own cognitive limitations that could affect their ability to consent in different situations.” So again, if your sub’s not in his right mind, you can’t take the money. But if you know your sub well enough — and you love and respect him — and you believe your sub truly wants to give you all his money and has the cognitive abilities to make this choice and it would make him happy — if it would achieve his desired end — you can take the money. It should go without saying — but I’m going to say it anyway — that you have a conflict of interest here, SETUP. So, to be perfectly scrupulous about the ethics of this, you should ask your sub to get a full psych workup before you agree to his offer. Additionally, you might want to book a few sessions with an extremely sex-and-kink positive couples’ counselor you can talk with together before he pays you the ultimate tribute. Zooming back out for a second… Financial domination took off as a kink over the last 15 years. Its sudden popularity has, I think, something to do with the mass cultural trauma of the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 and the way our smartphones have facilitated certain kinds of fantasy play and arms-length sex work. And while SETUP may be the first FinDom I’ve heard from facing this particular dilemma — a finsub nearing the end of his life who wants to leave him everything — I don’t think he will be the last. I expect that others may find themselves in more ethically challenging dilemmas. But assuming SETUP is telling us the truth — his sub offered, SETUP didn’t demand; there are no children or other dependents — this one seems like a pretty easy call. But for sake of argument — and because this might come up again in the future — let’s say SETUP’s sub had children. Could he take the money then? “Parents have some duties to their children,” said Dr. Garcia. Dr. Garcia cited French law, which require parents to leave their children at least 30% of their estate, even in cases where children may have been absolute shits. “In most cases — that is, in cases where the kid does not have psychopathic tendencies — parents have something to do with how children treat them,” said Dr. Garcia, “so the children’s behavior cannot be grounds for complete disinheritance. I also think that inheritance plays very often a role of proof of love after a parent is deceased, so I do think one wrongs their kids by leaving nothing to them, no matter the behavior of the kids, given that parents have a duty to love their kids. Therefore, if the sub had kids, I’d say it’d be unethical to agree to receive more than 50-70% of their assets — depending on their number of kids.” Finally, SETUP, once it’s your money — if you take your sub’s money — you can do what you like with it. That could include setting up a generous trust fund that benefits your sub for the rest of his life, with remaining funds being returned to you after his death. If he doesn’t want and/or need the money from the monthly or quarterly check that comes in the mail while he’s alive, he can sign it over to you. So, even after everything is yours, he would still be in a position to pay you “tribute,” which he clearly enjoys doing. Good luck to you, SETUP, whatever you decide to do. Also, best wishes to your sub, best wishes to your parents, and always remember to tip your advice columnist generously. You can follow Dr. Brian Earp on Twitter @BrianDavidEarp and learn more about his work and his books at www.brianearp.com. You can follow Dr. Manon Garcia on Twitter @ManonGarciaFR and learn more about her work and her books www.manon-garcia.com. Send your question right here on Savage.Love. email@example.com