Philosophy,  Politics

Notre Dame

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So the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris partly burned down. Historical significance, cultural significance, religious significance, architectural significance, etc. Yes, it is kind of sad this beautiful historic landmark, whatever other things be culturally or philosophically impacted, has been gutted, but there are arguments to be made on a variety of points.

First, I will not argue that it’s not a cultural treasure, because it is. If I were to visit Paris, the Cathedral would certainly have been on my list of things to see, at least from the outside. Very much not at issue.

Things that are at issue are people’s reactions. I don’t just mean the religious reactions, because some of those are as predictable as they are disingenuous. I wondered how long it would take for the pictures a service of some cross that survived fire for people to start justifying how God was great and how do not believe in him now. The cross being used for that, and it only took a few hours, is made of solid gold, which melts somewhere around 1100°, and the wood fire burning in the funeral was probably only 700 or 800 degrees at best. Not to mention that there’s a whole lot of stonework and actual woodwork that’s completely untouched, including pews in the same room. And candles right behind it. Anyway, my question for every situation, is why did God or down the church just save one cross? What point is he making? Why not not burn the landmark church down?

No, I’m more concerned prioritization of things over people by Western society, and in this case, I’m particularly centering of the rich. It took less than 24 hours after the fire was out for half a dozen billionaires to pop out of the woodwork and, collectively, offer the equivalent of something like 1.2 billion dollars to restore the church. Many people’s initial reactions, and I’m including most the media in this, was wow, how incredibly generous of these ultra-rich people to give up big chunks of their personal fortune to restore this national treasure. Isn’t that awesome?

My initial reaction, you might guess, is a little bit different. And I’m not the only one having it.

Disregard for a moment that the Cathedral is actually owned by the French government, because it’s not owned by the Catholic Church, let’s pretend there’s no one responsible for maintaining the church and it’s just burned down with the same relative significance. And now the same half dozen billionaires step forward and offer hundreds of millions of dollars each to fund the restoration of the ancient building.

Sorry, but once again, my response is going to be a fairly hardy screw you.

And it’s pretty simple reasoning. Probably the same reason that those same billionaires are so rich, whether they got that way themselves inherited from previous generations. Screw you.

Do we need to expand on that?

I’ll start by assuming they were all billionaires before the Cathedral burned down, which seems fairly safe and likely won’t make an ass out of either of us.

What is the homeless rate in France? Do all French citizens have equal access to healthcare? Are there people in France who go to bed hungry at night?

But no, let’s applaud these individuals for stepping forward to restore something that’s actually owned by the government and will get tax dollars for the years-long restoration project.

Now, let’s extend that to every other Western country, just to begin with. What’s the homeless rate in the United States? Does everyone in Germany have equal and unfettered access to healthcare? Are there people who go to bed hungry in Canada?

There are ultra-rich people in every country. And people in that class step forward with like crap this all the time, saving the physical representations of our cultural heritage.

Most of the rest of us struggling in some fashion for at least some of the time over at least some aspect of our lives. That group of people, those billionaires, the ultra-rich, will never know what an actual struggle is, to be concerned about meeting the bills next month, covering debt payments, paying for groceries this week, keeping tjhe electricity on. Worry about how much time they have to take off of work when their child is born because paid parental benefits are poverty level or worse.

I ordinarily hate sweeping generalizations, and before I get too far down the rabbit hole making this one, I’m going to point out that not everyone in this particular socioeconomic class is a giant douche bag. Bill Gates springs to mind. Richard Branson, Andrew Lloyd Weber. Check out any reference to the Giving Pledge.

But if it’s a struggle to come up with even a dozen examples of people using their giant fortunes to actually do good in the world, and half a dozen complete unknown billionaires spring up overnight to try to look good in front of the camera by donating to restore a cultural landmark, what does that say about the most financially advantaged class of people in our society?

You’ll note I haven’t yet suggested we look at any of the less developed parts of the world.

Reminding everyone that I don’t believe in separating the art from the artist. To make my politics completely clear once again, I am far more concerned about people than profits or things. I think we all should be.

Be well, everyone.

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