Ramblings by Robert

The world’s monumental problem

As long as people have carved likenesses in stone, they’ve occasionally done so to honor people they thought worth remembering.

As long as there have been people who disagreed with the people so honored, they have occasionally pulled the statues down.

This is a thing. People fall out of public favor and the public pulls down their monuments. This is not new.

The problem is, this is pretty much always a visceral response and little thought goes into visceral responses. Thus, you end up with the statue of King Robert the Bruce in Scotland defaced with grafitti proclaiming him a “racist king.” In truth, it’s an open question whether the 14th-century ruler ever saw a nonwhite person. On the other end of the island of Great Britain, the statues of Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, are in jeopardy.

As I said, the urge to pull down monuments is most-often visceral and has little to do with common sense. However, the same can be said with the urge to preserve them. Common sense should dictate a simple litmus test for whether a monument stays or goes.

The current iconoclastic push would extract a du jour moral purity from the person being honored. The problem with that is that standards of morality are in constant flux and often have little to do with any objective notion of “right” and “wrong.” But beyond that is the objective reality that all people are flawed. Indeed, if having monuments only to the morally pure would leave only Jesus Christ so depicted and, I dare say, there are a great many statue-pullers who would have a problem even with that.

So, recognizing that the morally pure person does not currently exist, what should be the standard, then? I say it’s simple: The person so honored has to have advanced and/or improved his or her society in some significant way. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and, indeed, likely raped at least one. However, he also wrote the founding document of American values, even penning the very words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” He also, as president, doubled the size of the United States with a shrewd land deal. George Washington owned slaves. However, he also led the fight for U.S. independence, presided over the drafting of the Constitution and laid the very foundation of the presidency.

Across the sea, Robert the Bruce freed his country from English rule; indeed, it would never be ruled from London again until a Scottish king sat on the English throne. Robert Baden-Powell, while he led troops in colonial wars of subjugation, also founded an international youth brotherhood with the creed “Do a good turn daily.” Sir Winston Churchill held (by contemporary standards) very cringeworthy views on nonwhite people. However, he also successfully defended his country from fascist tyranny.

Now, contrast this with Confederate monuments. The majority were not even erected to honor the southern dead but went up during Reconstruction and “Jim Crow” to intimidate black southerners. And rather than honoring the memory of someone who advanced or improved the society, they depict people who fought and killed to rip it apart.

The litmus test is very simple and there really shouldn’t be any controversy if we just employ our heads at least as frequently as we do our guts.

1 Comment

  1. Scott Holmer on July 3, 2020 at 10:44 am

    While most of your opinion is great and well needed in this day and age where people can march where they want and destroy what they want in the name of equality, you are 10000% wrong on Thomas Jefferson ever raping anyone. How ill informed can you be? If you are referring to Sally Hemings, you first need to learn that DNA can not accurately pin her offspring to Thomas Jefferson. According to the Monticello website, his brother was a close enough DNA match that it ruled out that it can be stated that is was Thomas Jefferson who had offspring with Sally Hemings. His brother was known to visit the homestead and could have been the one who had the relationship.

    But secondly, at the death bed of Thomas Jeffersons wife, he was made to promise not to ever marry again after her death. This was documented on the History Channel special on his life. They also pointed out that Sally was Thomas Jefferson’s personal companion in just about everything, she even travelled with him to Europe and stayed with him there for years. If she was being raped, highly doubtful that she would have missed the opportunity to escape him while she was in Europe, which she could have easily done. Seems that they could have been lovers if they were anything at all. Descriptions of her indicate that she was beautiful and graceful. It sounds like Thomas Jefferson kept his promise to his wife, and did not marry his lover.

    If you have some proof that he raped a black slave, you need to offer it up. It’s a horrible accusation to make. If not, you need to correct what you said.



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