Friday, June 19, 2020
The toppling of the statues of Saddam Hussein was a powerful image of the Iraq war. As regimes or culture changes, pulling down the statues that do no longer represent the values of society can be a good idea. However, in that consideration one needs to evaluate *all* the values that this statue represents, and not focus on some narrow issue.
In most first-world countries, cultural values have changed a lot over the last 50 years. Homosexuality went from being illegal to being accepted with equal or near-equal rights as heterosexual partnerships. While obviously there is still a lot to be done to improve the treatment of minorities, we have come a long way from segregation and apartheid. Religious freedom also improved in many places, to the point where in several places around 1% of the population can declare their religion to be "Jedi".
Saying the cultural values have improved implies that the standards of previous generations weren't as high, if measured by modern standards. In other words, pretty much everybody living in a previous century could be described as a "racist". Even people who for example in the mid-19th century held the progressive view of being abolitionist are probably "racist" by today's standards.
So the latest trend to deface or topple "racist" or "colonialist" statues ends up with targets that don't really deserve being pulled down: Abolitionists, peacemakers, fighters against facism, and explorers. In balance, people like Gandhi do deserve statues for their live's work, and should serve as examples for us all. If we only leave statues of people who are up to the high "woke" standards of 2020, we basically erase thousands of years of history. Those losses would be far higher than the gains of toppling statues of everyone not perfectly "woke".