Recently with all the protests about racism, there has been a lot of discussion about removing various statues, renaming monuments etc. I suppose it’s a natural progression in any political movement, but I have to wonder of the statues we are keeping, road names, etc… how many were perfect? Because unless I’m woefully mistaken, in fifty years’ time we will be left with Jesus and no one else. Only we won’t be allowed to have statues of Jesus because that’s exclusionary to someone and never mind whether he was real or not.
It’s a thorny subject because, obviously, we don’t want to celebrate bad people. But who gets to be the arbiter and judge of “good” and “bad”? People are being measured by modern standards, not the standards of the time they lived in. It’s utterly ridiculous accusing anyone living before the 1950s of homophobia, for example, based on words they said. Everyone was homophobic. Likewise, it would be silly to remove everyone who was anti-Semitic before the second world war. Everyone was antisemitic around the time of the first world war. Don’t believe me? Read The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Full of anti-Semitic sentiment. A product of its times.
History isn’t about sanitizing the past to make it palatable to the people of today. Nor is archaeology. It is about showing what happened. Remembering. We need to see and know about the bad and good, and assess both, side-by-side. Removing the bad artificially makes us feel good about ourselves and lets us continue to believe we never had a problem with racism or other -isms. We remember bad things as a survival mechanism to avoid repeating situations which were detrimental.
It’s a bit of a childish world view to believe that in every conflict, one side is “good” and another is “bad”. Trying to find anyone in history who was all good is an exercise in futility. Churchill, for example, was known to fly into rages. But we should still celebrate him because he led the world to victory. If you aren’t sure whether his contribution to the second world war was valuable, imagine BoJo being in charge when Hitler invaded Poland. Now imagine that was Theresa May. On the other hand, Hitler was kind to some babies. That doesn’t in any way offset the great evils he committed.
It disturbs and disappoints me that, instead of looking critically at people’s actions and deeds, and in spite of the fact we all love a good redemption story when it’s not real, in the real world, our society is so facile and juvenile in its thinking that we believe there are “good guys” and “bad guys” out there.
Anyway, given the long history of systemic misogyny throughout every civilization in the world, in every time period, if we are just deleting the past based on the misdemeanours of its actors, we should basically throw away everything from every moment in time, including now, and declare petulantly that nothing at all was of any consequence because we still don’t have equal rights for women and we are still disempowered.
Case-in-point, JK Rowling. A woman holds one unpopular opinion out of thousands and she gets death threats, people burning her books, and people trying to “cancel” her. Contrast with Donald Trump. He holds thousands of unpopular (and outright nasty) opinions and gets voted president. Or Jacob Rees-Mogg. Or Dominic Cummings, who didn’t even need anyone to vote for him. All repulsive human beings of the sort I wouldn’t want to step in on the pavement, yet they’re men so they get to hold huge amounts of power and tell us what to do. Whereas JK Rowling has contributed something profound and meaningful to our society and given joy and hope to millions, then she says ONE thing people don’t like hearing, and she gets trashed. Don’t tell me that’s not sexist because it really is.
If we’re erasing everything bad, we can pull down every statue of every man everywhere because they are men and men hurt women in a myriad ways all the time.
Oh, wait, this is one of those things where we topple the bad guys because they were bad and bad things are bad (except when they happen to women because that was her fault because excuse, excuse, excuse, blah, blah, excuse).
I’m starting to see a pattern, and I don’t like it.
People don’t seem capable of thinking critically anymore, all I’m seeing around the world are grown adults acting like six-year-olds in playground cliques. “You can’t play with us because you said something that wasn’t liberal enough.”
Not being liberal enough is the new “not being liberal” which is the new “being a fascist”. It’s not okay anymore to be against racism, to be pro-transgender people, to be pro-feminism, to be against Brexit, you have to do it in the exact right way as the groupthink or you get smashed on social media and all your friends passive-aggressively stop talking to you except that one angry crashing bore who tries to score points with the group by “calling you out”. Which famously alienates people rather than educating them, but it makes the person doing it feel good (we used to call “calling out” “bullying” but not any more) so people continue doing it and people too scared or too empty-headed to write any actual calling out words but who want to enable the bully can now paste screenshots of other people’s decontextualized witterings or they can click the like button. I’ve seen it a lot lately and I don’t like it.
Why can’t we all think for ourselves? Why do we need the nanny state to come and hide away the scary statues of the mean old Scout leaders of the world? Women have been walking through this world for thousands of years without such considerations given to us, and now because it’s affecting men, suddenly we’re worried about a statue because the man who founded Scouts was homophobic. Because the white liberal man has given minorities permission to be outraged, because the white liberal man is outraged on your behalf and his opinion is still the only one that matters. Baden-Powell died in 1941. Everyone was homophobic back then. Hell, everyone was homophobic in 2001.
We absolutely shouldn’t have statues of slavers, we should replace them with statues and road names for BAME individuals who did neat stuff in their locality or nationally, and I agreed about the man that got chucked in the Harbour in Bristol, but threatening Robert Baden-Powell is going too far. We can’t censor the past like this. Otherwise we are no better than Hitler when he got the Nazis to burn the books. And guess what? The ideas in those books didn’t go away and good prevailed over censorship.
And since I mentioned Nazis, I’m invoking Godwin’s law and ending this article here.
This is my opinion. We’re still allowed to have those, and we’re allowed to deviate from other people’s opinions.