The show must go on
When a series of terror attacks in Sri Lanka broke out recently taking some 350 lives, nobody out of my Facebook friends colored his/her profile picture into the Ceylon national colors showing compassion and solidarity with this disaster, mourning the victims. Can you recognize this flag at all?
When another explosion at Baghdad or Kabul market happens with dozens of casualties, flesh and blood everywhere, nobody cares.
When another boy in Ethiopia dies of hunger, it is the reality of Africa; after all, it’s been happening there for millennia.
But when Notre Dame is in flames, the show begins and we all start wondering: why the fire fighters couldn’t fix it earlier? Was it just an accident or was there some Moslem interference behind it? Would it be possible to fully restore it? Sure, there would be many more questions to ask. Yes, it was a show, just like the September 11 attacks but with no political background: an ancient symbol of Western civilization is on fire. Very impressive.
Yes, it is funny but I even start to suspect that the whole thing could have been some genius PR-campaign – orchestrated by some smart ass to raise money for the Notre Dame ongoing reconstruction. Before that, the fundraising wasn’t effective, cruising in stop-and-go mode. Now, according to press reports, huge money, up to 1 bn Euros has been already collected so far. Everybody donated, from French millionaires to the ‘forgotten men and women of America’, so to speak.
This is why I think Notre Dame is going to be fine in a very short period of time. The money flooded in and there will be some considerable surplus, no doubt. It was a great show with a happy ending so you have to pay for enjoying it.
At the same time, another kid in Ethiopia has probably just died of starvation.
What’s the difference you might ask? OK, the difference is the show. Notre Dame in flames was a show and it got right to our hearts. A nameless kid in a country not many of us could find on the map is not. You may like it or not but in the real world human misery is worth less than a landmark historic building in flames with not a single victim.
It takes another Live Aid to change things dramatically. What was Live Aid? Correct, the greatest rock-n-roll show of all times. Here’s the key.
Actually, poverty has always been worth so little as to not merit a mention. This is a conscious decision on the part of society that transcends culture and time.
We decide that poverty/hunger/misery are of no value and very few of us care. This is a conclusion we all have come too. Think I exaggerate? Consider the same story with three possible outcomes:
Story Version One: A very handsome young lady is walking down the busy street and the construction worker hoots and catcalls from the site of a new building. She is somewhat disturbed but ignores him and keeps walking.
Story Version Two: A very handsome young lady is walking down the busy street and the construction worker comes out, throws her over the car bonnet (hood to English speakers) and starts to rape her. Several males intervene so fast that he never even disrobed her.
As a society, we have made the decision that rape is not permissible. It carries jail time just short of murder and the men walking down the sidewalk will not ignore the young lady’s cries for help. In fact, our construction worker is so sure of the outcome he will not even come out to the sidewalk, let alone attempt rape.
Walk another fifty feet and the same men will absolutely ignore the man holding out a hat for donations. We will look the other way and pretend we don’t see the beggar. Have you ever done this? …And tell the truth.
The Yellow Vest of France is angry. They are mad because people don’t have food while Paris raises money to rebuild a church.
I will disagree with their basic assumption: if you have one, you will not have the other. In other words, they believe that money will not go to the hungry because it went to repairing Notre Dame. This is a false belief because it assumes there is a fixed amount of money.
Example: In the US three black churches (American slang for churches with majority African-American congregations) burned down. Someone started a GoFundMe campaign. No luck… a few thousand dollars were raised and that’s all. Once the church in Paris burned, serious money poured into rebuilding these small churches too.
In the Yellow Vest world-view, the money was no longer available. These churches would never be rebuilt because that money went to another church.
It would be quite easy to assume that I don’t have any concern for the poor. Not true at all, its just that I do not believe human misery will be vanquished until…
Story Version Three: A very handsome young lady is walking down the busy street and the ex-construction worker holds out his hat and ask for money. Several males will not tolerate this and intervene so fast the construction worker never got his hat back. He will live in a small house just outside town.
Human misery – worth less than an historic building.
When the first disturbing images of the Notre Dame fire were shown, it was not possible to feel anything but regret at what was happening – it was disturbing, because it seemed many people might be physically hurt or worse. Eventually, it seemed no-one had, but the damage was severe and repairs would cost a fortune, and would probably take many years to complete.
I could understand the shock of the French people, knowing how much this 850-year-old church had played a part in their history and culture, and had survived many worrying episodes during the centuries, including the Nazis and WW2. Us Brits can also recall two terrible fires which severely damaged both Windsor Castle (1992, costing today’s equivalent of £60 million) and York Minster (1984, much cheaper to repair, but the work took four years.)
What does grind with me, however, is the speed of, and the sheer magnitude of promised donations to go towards rebuilding the damaged parts of Notre Dame. We’re talking, as I write this, over £700 million already raised. And that is before anyone has a clue as to what needs doing, and how much it may cost.
The cynic in me says, as far as some billionaires donating up to a 100 million each are concerned, they are merely taking advantage of a French 60 per cent donor’s tax deduction, but that might be just a tad unfair…(no, actually it isn’t).
Notre Dame is, ultimately, just a building. Yes, it’s one with an extraordinary past going back over centuries, but it’s just a Christian church – in a country where, frankly, Christianity is being relegated to the Championship of religion there. Muslims are now in the Premier League, being the biggest worshippers. There are mosques being built all over the place, and by all accounts, they are full.
So wouldn’t multi-million pound donations be much better spent on alleviating the suffering of women, children and men all around the world? We’ve had famines and war since biblical times, but there is obviously now plenty of millions of hard currency available at the drop of a hat. Why not use it for the betterment of civilisation all around the world, instead of an un-costed repair job on a cathedral of a dying religion?
Of course, one reason this doesn’t happen is that the cost of repairing Notre Dame will eventually be finalised. No such ceiling with famine, war and refugees. Such is the fucked-up state of our world right now, that abject misery for so many millions of people will continue for, probably, ever. And no-one is going to offer to keep paying for that.