Philanthropy, Celebrity and Incoherence

Intellect Books
Publication Type:
Celebrity Philanthropy, 2015, pp. 41 - 58
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Aid, and celebrity philanthropy in particular, is often criticized as if such help was always a simple matter of it defending, or governing, those structures of power and order which produce the need for philanthropy in the first place. This argument should not be downplayed; however it might not be the only line to the story. Criticism of celebrity philanthropy might equally stem from a desire for tidiness and order in the world that does not acknowledge the complexities of the situation, of human motivation, of the difficulties of virtue, or of unintended effects, and itself does little to fix the situation. Indeed demands for order and for divisions into good and evil may also lead to significant problems in dealing with the difficulty, magnitude and ‘horror’ of the troubles facing the world. This chapter explores ‘incoherence’ as a response which, if stayed with, has the potential to produce an opening which may allow us to deal with overwhelming mess, chaos, divergence and despair, and to build empathy without foreclosing those possibilities into premature order, certainty or condemnation. The term ‘incoherence’ is used to refer to disorder of speech, disorder of argument, and disorder of intent and results, that is, to a general lack of congruence and coherence. The argument proceeds by looking at the relationships between help, exchange and empathy, moving into a brief history of ‘help’ (primarily in the UK) and finally exploring an interview with Angelina Jolie – film star, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Special Envoy to the current High Commissioner of the UNHCR. I argue that incoherencies are inevitable and often useful if not dismissed, and emulation of celebrity may be preferable to attempted compulsion or control.
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