Did American Lance Armstrong and Britain’s Sir Jimmy Savile attempt to use charitable giving as a kind of moral sunscreen? asks Robin Scott.
Two things have happened on either side of the Atlantic in the past month that point to a worrying trend among famous faces: that of using charitable giving as a protection from moral scrutiny.
Lance Armstrong has built himself such an army of support, that even evidence from several former teammates, and the castigation of a brutal 1,000+ page report, for cheating, has been described by many as a witch hunt. It took even Nike a week to drop their initial support of Armstrong after 26 witnesses told how the American had systematically cheated at sport’s highest level.
Does Armstrong’s charitable work place him into “untouchable” territory?
Further, if Armstrong is a cheat, does it not follow that at least some of his charitable work was done with a degree of cynicism? Was Armstrong trying to protect himself from future scrutiny by setting himself up as more than just a sporting hero?
Across in the UK, while Armstrong was cheating his way to seven Tour de France titles, Sir Jimmy Savile, OBE, was – if recent allegations made after the star’s death are accurate – an active and unpunished sex offender, who took underage girls into his confidence before abusing them.
Savile was an active charity worker throughout his life. This may indicate why a man, around whom “rumours” of sexual perversity were rife, was never subjected to any particularly serious scrutiny, during his lifetime.
It is not charity which is the problem here, however, it is these people’s apparent use of charitable giving for personal protection.
Gaining a personal benefit from the operation of charities is nothing new. It continues every day. Have a flick through the celebrities on Twitter, and see how many of them are talking about “charitable” things they have been up to of late. It is perhaps less charitable to give someone $5, if the fact is also shouted through the world’s biggest megaphone.
Worse, many figureheads and celebrities will use their Twitter “bio” to tell you they are a “philanthropist.” Philanthropy, for those who have misappropriated the word, is most accurately defined as “an altruistic concern for human welfare”.
Altruism can be taken to be the very opposite of selfishness. An altruistic person would, therefore, consider of the needs of others before him or herself.
There is very little altruistic about the piling up of vast amounts of personal wealth by these self-styled philanthropists. There is even less altruistic about vociferous charitable giving to “raise your profile” in the eyes of the general public. It is, at best, a cynical ploy.
The giving of money without condition for a specific and genuinely altruistic purpose, is an inarguably good thing. However, giving money publicly, or agreeing, for example, to appear at a highly public charity benefit is not giving money without condition. There is a condition attached here. It is conditional upon some form of recognition, or, in other words, a payment in kind.
A Return on Investment for the giver, so to speak. Perhaps charity isn’t charity if you’re getting something out of it?
Perhaps acceptably so, for the Greater Good? In most of the above cases, charities may make more money and, as a result, become better able to do that for which they are intended: to help.
However, the trading of celebrity endorsement in return for a higher profile appears to have been superceded by something darker: celebrities and famous faces who use charitable giving as a mechanism for personal protection.
These people appear to use charitable giving as a kind of sunscreen for moral scrutiny.
For celebrities who are pushing the envelope in terms of what is legal or acceptable in their personal or working lives, what they get out of it might be immunity from punishment; or, they may remain hidden from social censure; or both.
These untouchables are able to continue their objectionable behaviours because their charitable giving means they are thought of as Good People. They are very clever, deeply motivated people. They do little of anything without a guiding or underlying reason. In short, these people, in hiding behind charitable giving knew exactly what they were doing because they did it on purpose.
This person who hides their moral wrongs behind charitable giving, however, does charity a great disservice.
The people, when they learn of the “why” behind the donation feel like “un-giving”. We want our money back. It feels tainted. And it is.