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Notre Dame: What now?

Posted by Thersites on  UTC 2019-04-16 13:53 Updated on UTC 2019-04-17

It's difficult to work up energy for any response to the fire in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Overcome by all the hyperventilating about devastating loss and calamities, even the usually sane Douglas Murray bursts into textual tears.

In this matter, indifference is the best we on this website can do.

Notre Dame was built eight centuries ago by a feudal despotism with money that had been appropriated by the religious-aristocratic complex. It was stocked up with the usual superstitious junk that passed then for objects of piety: a bit of the One-True-Cross™, the Crown-Of-Thorns-Without-Thorns™, assorted skulls and bones and bits and bobs. Its connection to piety or religious feeling is slender or non-existent.

Nearly everything in it is superstitious fakery: the statues of the saints and fathers of the Catholic church are merely artistic fantasies. The religion on which it was based all those centuries ago is now in the charge of that not-so-crypto-Marxist Pope Francis – enough said – and its current preoccupation is how to cope with the fact that its nonsensical doctrine of a chaste and celibate priesthood drives so many of its priests into the darker corners of sexual activity.

Whatever the original purpose of Notre Dame, its tourism potential was discovered in the 19th century, just when it was close to becoming a ruin. The building was smartened up and has sucked in millions of tourists since. It now appears to have no other purpose.

Unlike some of the great ecclesiastical buildings in Britain, it is merely a tourist bauble in a constitutionally secular state. Let's see if the constitutionalists in the French Assembly let President Macron spend any public money on repairing this has-been, for there were serious problems raising the cash for current the repairs, which, we are now informed, were 'underfunded'. In a few weeks, when the dust has settled and the charred smell has dissipated, passers-by will look at the ruins and think: 'What was all that about?' Still, never underestimate French pride.

Knock it down. Build a science museum to reflect the intellectual process that has raised humanity out of the swamp of superstition and foolishness it was in when Notre Dame, that monument to bigotry, was built. You know, a proper science museum, not one with just dinos and CAGW for school classes. Throw in something about the Enlightenment while we are at it. Or – even better – establish a top-flight research institute. A statement of our cultural confidence.

Or even something really practical like a beautiful park in the middle of the Seine, where city dwellers can take their little handbag-dogs, their Subway baguettes and their paramours for a lunchtime quickie.

Our fetish for preserving old buildings that have outlived their usefulness appears to be a compensation for our own lack of artistic and cultural confidence. We have nothing that will stand comparison with the products of previous, sounder generations.

We started with glass boxes and concrete boxes, then learned how to bend glass and steel and concrete, so that now we have bent glass boxes and bent concrete boxes – but have got stuck there. When required to extend the Louvre in Paris, the best the great minds of the age could do was to put almost all of it underground, apart from a meaningless, small, glass, barely-there pyramid.

We learn that the Houses of Parliament in London, during the upcoming renovation period, will be replaced by a silvery bubble shaped like an inflated peanut. Many millions of pounds is being thrown at the project of renovating the mid-Victorian building, which was designed and built with self-confidence, because after one hundred and fifty years of 'progress' we apparently cannot come up with anything better than a peanut.

Perhaps our modern civilisation is too plastic and limp-wristed and throwaway. In which case we should brazenly build something plastic and limp-wristed and throwaway which will mirror our own age – the great function of architecture. Then, after fifty years or so, we can throw it away and build something that will be the mirror for some future age. Let's find the confidence to be right – and the confidence to be wrong.

Stop wailing about cultural disaster and knock Notre Dame down.

Update 16.04.2019

He's not wrong:

The truth is though this isn’t a tragedy. There are no reports of loss of life as yet, near a miracle for a building of that size going up. It’s a sadness, certainly, it was and will be a magnificent building. But no, not a tragedy, let’s reserve that for more important matters…

A mischance, a sadness, certainly, but not a tragedy. Let’s reserve that word for the infant child shitting itself to death as the diarrhea induced by unclean water strikes. Something that happens half a million times a year. That is, something that happened at least a 100 times as this fire took that building. That is tragic.

Tim Worstall, The Continental Telegraph.

Worstall, as a hard-headed economist, knows that there is always an opportunity cost, whether in the 12th century when you are building the thing or in the 21st century when you are rebuilding it.

Update 17.04.2019

We amateurs of the French political-economic nexus are nodding our heads sagely: 'Here we go again'.

Those unfamiliar with France need to know that M. le Président sits at the apex of a giant pyramid of pyramids, at the apexes of which sit other, lowlier beings – ministres, dirigeants, chefs d'entreprises etc., down to the lowliest maire. A switch is thrown, a lever pulled – and all the subordinate and subservient switches and levers clatter into position like relays. No one ascends this system unless they enjoy the favour and patronage of their respective apex.

French people grow up in this social model and find its existence perfectly normal. Foreigners find it disconcerting (at first – the wise soon wake up) to be invited to a meeting with their tax inspector so they can 'get to know each other'.

So it is amusing to observe the big beasts of the pyramids coming to the aid of their Président in his time of need. A few million here and there are just chump change in the context of future favours to be bestowed, contracts to be granted, a look-the-other-way nod to the inspecteur des impôts at the next review. Many of these businesses (such as Total) are already entirely or partly state-owned, so no further discussion is needed.

And you thought indulgences were bad: most of these 'gifts' will be highly tax deductible, which means that ultimately the citoyens and citoyennes of France will be stumping up to enhance the radiance of their current roi-soleil. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!