#debate  #doublestandard  #society  
Issue 25
May 5, 2019
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On April 15th, flames engulfed and almost destroyed the iconic Cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris, France. In the immediate aftermath of the blaze, people all over the world pledged vast sums of money to help pay for Notre Dame’s rehabilitation. This triggered a “fire storm” – excuse the pun - of controversy across social media. There was outrage that so much money could be raised at such breakneck speed to rebuild this venerated physical structure despite the many blights facing humanity. Wealthy French businessmen and philanthropists bore the brunt of the criticism.

Actress and activist Pamela Anderson expressed concern that a children's charity benefit she had recently attended also raised money to help rebuild Notre Dame de Paris.

Belgian golfer Thomas Peiters echoed Ms. Anderson’s concerns. He contended that “Kids are starving to death in this world and EU wants us to donate to rebuild a building ...I don’t understand.”

American writer Kristan Higgins chimed in, “Donate to help Puerto Rico recover. Donate to get the people of Flint clean water. Donate to get kids out of cages. Jesus didn’t care about stained glass. He cared about humans.”

Simon Allison, a well-respected reporter in South Africa noted, “In just a few hours…650 million euros was donated to rebuild Notre Dame…In six months, just 15 million euros has been pledged to restore Brazil’s National Museum (that was damaged in a fire last September). I think this is what they call white privilege.”

Anderson continued via Twitter:

"Last night we attended @OM_Officiel annual Gala to help raise money for youth suffering in Marseille - full of good intentions. While raising a meaningful amount of € for a great cause. Then ‘big surprise auction item’ came to raise money for rebuilding Notre Dame???" "Surely the children suffering in Marseille could have used the 100,000 € more than the church that has already received over a billion in donations by billionaires....I hope they will reconsider and give to where it is needed. to the community here in Marseille where it was intended. And would go much further in making lives better."

She makes a valid point.

Anderson and her boyfriend Adil Rami, a defender for the French soccer team, Olympique de Marseille, are avid supporters of his football club's children's charity. They were dismayed that a portion, albeit small in comparison, of the proceeds would be allocated to another cause. To this specific point, Ms. Anderson and Mr. Rami are correct; a charity created for and that subsequently earmarked funds to be deployed towards a specific cause should not re-allocate resources to another cause, however worthy that cause may be. Anderson is well known for her activism and philanthropy, supporting a range of causes from animal welfare to climate change and beyond. While we may not agree with all of Anderson's politics – she has publicly advocated for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, an accused rapist and leaker of top secret information - or the causes she supports, we can all agree that helping children in need is a most noble and worthwhile pursuit.

With regards to the more general criticism over the Notre Dame fundraising fracas, our initial reaction coalesced with those of the critics as underscored by the examples listed above. We agreed the vast sums of money that were raised so rapidly, in near hysterical fashion, to help re-build Notre Dame while millions of children throughout the world go hungry, want for better education and healthcare, women and children are sex trafficked, and a litany of other serious issues, was misguided and inappropriate. However, after some reflection and considering other points of view, we have changed our mind.

There was much criticism leveled at businessman and philanthropist François-Henri Pinault (Salma Hayek's husband), who pledged ~$113 million towards Notre Dame relief efforts. Critics accused him of not caring as much about ailing children in Africa or Europe's homeless as they did "a building." Other wealthy French citizens faced similar wrath.

At TQC, we reject these criticisms and the specific attacks leveled on social media against French billionaires for allocating large sums of money to help rebuild the cathedral while it was still ablaze.

For one, it is unfair to make such flagrant assumptions. Most individuals with a net worth similar to Mr. Pinault's consistently make a range of donations via their family foundation or corporation to benefit all sorts of causes -- from addiction treatment to disease research to building hospitals and aiding children's literacy and more. While we cannot speak to the types of charities Mr. Pinault, specifically supports, it is fair to say that without philanthropists like him, or Ms. Anderson for that matter, the world would be a far worse place.

Indeed, it is ironic that some of the same people who have deep pockets but short arms are critical of others who make donations. It is reasonable to assert that wealthy businesspersons like Mr. Pinault, Bernard Arnualt, CEO of LVMH, and others have done far more to support the needy than many of the rest of us. Philanthropists have the right to allocate their funds as they see fit. Furthermore, it does not mean that monies wouldn’t or don’t go towards other causes as well. Just because people cared enough to support the rebuilding of Notre Dame does not mean they automatically place a greater value on a building than they do a human life. There is no proof for such reckless accusations. In fact, aside from the outsize amount of funds donated to religious organizations, a disproportionate amount of charitable giving does go to support the causes that the critics argue the Notre Dame funds should have been allocated to.

According to Charity Navigator, an estimated $410B was donated to various charities in just 2017 alone.

The donations break down as follows:

Religious charities - $127.37 billion
Giving to Education charities - $58.9 billion
Donations to Human Services charities - $50.06 billion
General foundations received $45.89 billion
Health charities - $38.27 billion
Public-Society Benefit charities - $29.59 billion
International charities - $22.97 billion
Arts, Culture and Humanities - $19.51 billion (5% of all donations).
Charities supporting the environment and animal welfare - $11.83 billion

Does this mean that people who give to religious causes care more about their religion and place of worship than people in need, who, ironically most of those religious institutions claim to want to help?! For the most part, of course not. Per the logic of the Notre Dame critics, this is synonymous with what they are arguing. We think this is misplaced denigration. The restoration and preservation of Notre Dame is a worthwhile and noble cause to support.

As a bastion of faith and an icon of Western Civilization, the near demise of Notre Dame de Paris cannot be understated. Watching this almost thousand-year-old cathedral consumed by flames warranted the dismay expressed by the international community.

While the horrendous blaze that ravaged the cathedral's structure has thus far been ruled an accident, it is also crucial to note that Notre Dame de Paris has been the target of vandalism and terrorist threats before, including a botched bombing plot in 2016. One reason it is so vital to support the preservation of Notre Dame is precisely to take a stand against the very forces that would have had it erased. It is to stand against the purposeful erosion of Western Civilization.

The potential destruction of Notre Dame carries deeply symbolic weight. As we progress further into the 21st Century, younger generations have grown uninformed of our most basic history. Even college and university campuses across the West are minimizing -- erasing, even -- the significance of Western Civilization's contributions to humanity. A study called "The Vanishing West" published by the National Association of Scholars revealed that in 1964, 40 of the 50 elite learning institutions mandated Western Civilization - by 2010, the course had quote: “disappeared entirely as a requirement.”

That is one reason why the preservation of Notre Dame is so important. It is not "just a building" -- it is a living artifact and a historically significant architectural masterpiece.

The Quintessential Centrist is unequivocal in its belief that human life supersedes all tangible objects. We agree with Pamela Anderson and share her ire over the misappropriation of a charitable donation intended for children. We, likewise, applaud the successful fundraising efforts to rebuild Notre Dame for all of the important reasons noted above. Raising money for Norte Dame and raising money for other human causes do not need to be mutually exclusive undertakings, especially for ultra-high net worth individuals. Hopefully, the funds raised thus far will be sufficient to rebuild the cathedral.

Bernard Arnault summed it up quite accurately when he noted that, “It’s an empty controversy…It’s pretty dismaying to see that in France you are criticized even for doing something for the general interest.”