Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 19, 2020
Toppling statues

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 As regimes or culture changes, pulling down the statues that do no longer represent the values of society can be a good idea.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".

Take down all statues, everywhere. Replace them with trees or abstract, non-representational art. Or nothing. Any statuary considered to hold either aesthetic or historical value can be preserved in museums, galleries or sculpture parks, with appropriate explanatory commentary to contextualize it for future generations. The rest, which has neither, which will be most of it, can be recycled.
Funny thing. When they tore down all those statues of Stalin after the Soviet Union collapsed my copy of "The Great Terror" didn't disappear from my book shelf. I didn't open up "The Gulag Archipelago" and find all the pages blank.

This is because statues are not history, not even metaphorically. History endures. It is all still there for people to find.

Statues out in a public square or in a capital building are objects of veneration, statements that the person represented should be praised. They were often put in place by people with a political motive to push a certain agenda. That applies to even the statues of people of whom we approve in a given moment.

Society evolves. Views, values, and norms change. You shouldn't have keep venerating somebody like Cecil Rhodes just because somebody else 100 years ago thought his brand of imperialism was pretty cool and they appreciated all the money he was throwing around to support the idea.
I think history also needs a publicly visible side to it. I think if you went to some public place and asked around who had read "The Great Terror" and "The Gulag Archipelago", you'd realize that nobody there did.

And I'm okay with removing *some* statues, if, on balance, society judges that this person has done more bad than good. But Gandhi? Churchill? Columbus? I think the public space would be poorer if there are no reminders of great people left.
Iconoclasm isn't very woke, Bhagpuss! Remember the fuss a few years back when the Taliban destroyed some old Buddhist statues?
Eh I imagine you are referencing America and while yes some idiots are defacing statues that they shouldn't I have no problem with tearing down statues of traitors to this country that were erected with the purpose of showing who was really in charge at the time.

In the South the vast majority of the 700 or so Confederate statues were erected either during the Jim Crow era or during the 1960s. They were meant as a signal to blacks and other minorities.

Those are the statues that should be taken down. Unfortunately the majority of people don't know this history and probably couldn't tell you which statues in their town were like the ones I mentioned or legitimate figures like Ghandi deserving of a statue. Hell I bet plenty of people my age or younger couldn't even tell you who Ghandi was.
Christopher Columbus was a pretty terrible person and a good example of someone who upon further examination we probably shouldnt be venerating as much as we do.

He should go down in history because of his contributions but he isnt a person to be glorified.
People are commemorated with plaques. Statues are for venerating ideals that are considered to be worthwhile. The person on the statue is representing those virtues, rather than themselves. A statue is not an endorsement of the person that features in it. However, if the person on the statue does not represent the virtues that the statue is supposedly commemorating they probably be changed. If statues extol virtues that society now considers to be repellent, they should be removed.
The Greeks got did not put real people in their statues. They were mostly statues of Gods or concepts and when they had reason to commemorate a person, they would not use their actual likeness. The statue would feature a generic image to represent the person doing an action worth of memorialising as opposed being a statue of that person.
Remove whatever statues you want or don't agree with but there's a process to doing that. If you decide as a mob to tear down a statue without going through that process then you have a vocal minority imposing their will on society. There's statues that should come down and those that shouldn't, I just don't think the mob is smart enough to make that decision for all of us on their own.
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