Why would anyone donate money to build a new wing of a museum rather than donating to help prevent illnesses that can lead to blindness? At least that's what Bill Gates wants to know.
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Gates espoused the writings of moral philosopher Peter Singer, arguing, "The moral equivalent is we're going to take one percent of the people who visit this [museum] and blind them. Are they willing, because it has the new wing, to take that risk?"
For a philanthropist tackling the world's most devastating poverty and disease, the answer is obvious. Art is a needless luxury in the face of the most basic human needs. How could you fund art when there are still people in the world who don't have eyes to see it?
But having sight doesn't necessarily mean we can see. To see is to have vision, and vision is something we cultivate with experience. The more we see, the more we understand.
Of course, if you don't want to understand, you don't want to see.
This Thanksgiving, the conservative Twittersphere exploded with moral indignation when the cast of the Broadway hit Kinky Boots performed at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The cast sang their promise to "Raise You Up" but were themselves cut down because many were men in drag.
The most frequently tweeted complaint was, "Now I have to explain this to my kids!" The problem was that the kids saw. So now they might understand.
Our forefathers knew that their battle in the darkest days of AIDS was not against disease but against dismissal. "Silence = Death." They kept a constant vigil of scream so that there would be no choice but to hear, no choice but to see, so that there could ultimately be some chance to understand.
And that's why we parade. Every year, at another parade for which I give thanks, the pride parade, come the inevitable questions: "Why do they have to put it out there like that?" "Why the leather, feathers, skin, whatever?"
Why? To be seen. To demand to be seen. It's an act of defiance if you don't want to see me, but ultimately an act of generosity if seeing me helps you understand me.
If we don't see, we'll never understand. Art might not give us sight, but it certainly gives us vision. And that's worth everything.