[Viewpoint]Applause for the richThe Christian Science Monitor recently carried an article on aid to Africa quoting some skeptics who belittle the increased attention celebrities have been giving to the continent, calling it a fad ― “AIDS babies, hungry villagers and uprooted refugees are today’s must-have visual ‘accessories,’ intended to burnish a star’s profile.”
However, this is not something that should be looked at cynically. In the past, the rest of the world did not care how many innocent lives were lost every day in Africa.
However, people started to pay attention to the continent after Oprah Winfrey and Bono went there.
And money started to flow there along with people’s rising interest. For example, former U.S. President Bill Clinton used to invite rich people on his trips to Africa.
Tom Hunter, one member of his entourage, alone donated $100 million over the past two years.
This being the case, should we still point fingers at celebrities who take photos with African aid recipients in the background?
I know it is not right to say so, but there are so many needy people in every nook and cranny of the globe that it is not possible to cope with their need by relying solely on people’s philanthropic good will alone.
It is said that the lives of between 1 million to 3 million African children could be saved every year if we provide them with mosquito nets that cost 5,000 won ($5.40) apiece.
About 1.2 percent of Ethiopia’s population have lost their eyesight -- the highest rate of blindness in the world.
The Guinea Worm Disease, which is curable by taking medicine worth only 1,000 or 2,000 won, is the cause.
This being the case, is there any reason we should not applaud the “egoistic charity” of celebrities who go to Africa to use the power of their names?
In retrospect, we have not been generous even to the philanthropic activities of the rich in our society.
This is because we considered their actions mere shows staged more to promote themselves than for charity.
This is perhaps the reason why people more enthusiastically applaud donations made by anonymous grandmothers who donate a lifetime’s fortune made from selling rice rolls or rice cakes in the marketplace.
Of course, the ideals of grandmothers who decline praise by giving anonymously deserves applause, but I think it is too much to expect all others to follow their example.
Richard Dawkins, the author of “The Selfish Gene,” said, “Throughout human history, there never existed an act of apparent altruism.” Human beings are in general selfish animals.
A recent court decision that the chairman of a big business group who broke the law should pay an 840 billion-won fine in the form of charitable contributions has spurred heated debate.
Perhaps being aware of national sentiment against the court’s ruling, the prosecution appealed the case to the appellate court, claiming, “It is difficult to consider a fine paid by a rich man as service to society.”
But I have a different opinion.
Warren Buffett, the largest shareholder and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway, declared that he would donate 85 percent of his fortune to society, and Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft, recently established the world’s largest philanthropic foundation by donating $20 billion.
Whenever topics on rich people in other countries are mentioned, Korean people shake their heads and say, “Why don’t we have rich people like that in our country?”
Let’s look at it another way. Even if someone is rich, they will still feel reluctant to spend their fortune without reason.
In order to make the rich spend money, there should be something they can gain in return.
As is well known, there are many universities in the United States that adopted the names of their benefactors.
Harvard University was named after John Harvard, who left his library and half of his estate to the university upon his death in 1638.
But Korean people would reject the idea of universities being named after their benefactors.
I think we will have Korea’s equivalent of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates only when we can heartily applaud the rich people who spend money for society.
It is quite natural for people to enjoy getting applause regardless of whether they live in the East or the West, or they are being applauded for something they did in the past or the present.
*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shin Ye-ri