Should We Remove Monuments of Unpopular Historical Figures?

There has been a lot of debate recently around the presence of the confederate flag at various government buildings along with war memorials to Confederate figures. Below are a couple of recent articles on the topic. These raise issues about how we should treat the past through these memorials and whether we should remove or edit them once the figures, or the ideas they represent, become unpopular.

Confederacy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

“Confederate symbols are still celebrated despite the ugly history they symbolize. John Oliver suggests some representations of southern pride that involve less racism and more Stephen Colbert.”

Baltimore City commission recommends removal of two Confederate monuments

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-confederate-monuments-20160114-story.html

New Orleans votes to remove Confederate, Civil War monuments

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/17/us/new-orleans-confederate-monuments-vote/

Richmond mayor vows to confront tributes to Southern Civil War figures

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-the-former-capital-of-the-confederacy-a-new-path-forward-on-monuments/2017/06/22/3133e044-56c3-11e7-a204-ad706461fa4f_story.html?utm_term=.2a1d409eff8b&wpisrc=nl_draw2&wpmm=1

In England, a similar debate is happening over a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

  1. ‘Black lives are cheap at Oxford’: Furor follows decision to keep Cecil Rhodes statue

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/01/29/black-lives-are-cheap-at-oxford-furor-follows-decision-to-keep-cecil-rhodes-statue/?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  2. Over one third of Oxford students want Cecil Rhodes statue removedhttp://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/15/oxford-students-cecil-rhodes-statue-removed?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  3. Removing visual reminders of unsavoury history is not the best way to confront the past.http://www.historytoday.com/rupert-fitzsimmons/rhodes-must-not-fall?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073

New York City Just Removed a Statue of Surgeon J. Marion Sims From Central Park. Here’s Why

“With Sims, the controversy is not about the merits of his medical achievements, but how he accomplished them. Though Sims founded New York’s first women’s hospital and innovated new surgical techniques, his success came at the cost of unethical medical treatment of enslaved women in the antebellum era.”

http://time.com/5243443/nyc-statue-marion-sims/

Podcast: The Falling of the Lenins

“The same protests that brought down that Lenin statue eventually brought about a new government in Ukraine, which sought to eliminate all physical reminders of communism and Russia.  But it hasn’t been easy, logistically or politically, because removing these things erases history that is still important to some Ukrainians. Furthermore, communist symbols are very pervasive in the built environment — they can be found on buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.”

http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-falling-of-the-lenins/

Other Posts on this topic

https://toktopics.com/tag/monuments/

 

Shooting Bambi To Save Mother Nature

Interesting topic that lends itself toward a discussion of different ethical approaches. There have been a lot of interesting cases of states and countries raising money for conservation through selling hunting permits. From a consequentialist perspective this seems to be a really ethical approach. Those who believe that hunting is categorically unethical would disagree, regardless of the outcome.

This is a good, brief podcast (10 minutes) which is worth a listen

(other good items related to this topic)

A lot of the funding for conservation in the U.S. has traditionally come from hunting. With the number of hunters is falling in the U.S., finding money to fund wildlife conservation is getting harder.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/01/22/687530630/shooting-bambi-to-save-mother-nature

Planet Money Podcast: What causes what?

Knowledge Question:  What are the limitations of our abilities to reason?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/10/17/658119019/episode-453-what-causes-what

What makes knowledge valuable?

Knowledge Questions: How do we determine the value of knowledge? What is the purpose of producing scientific knowledge? To what extent does scientific knowledge have to have practical application for it to be considered “valuable”?

Useless Knowledge Begets New Horizons

Fundamental discoveries don’t always have practical uses, but they have soul-saving applications.

Freedom is the license the roving mind requires to go down any path it chooses and go as far as the paths may lead. This is how fundamental discoveries — a.k.a., “useless knowledge” — are usually made: not so much by hunting for something specific, but by wandering with an interested eye amid the unknown. It’s also how countries attract and cultivate genius — by protecting a space of unlimited intellectual permission, regardless of outcome…

And yet, in being the kind of society that does this kind of thing — that is, the kind that sends probes to the edge of the solar system; underwrites the scientific establishment that knows how to design and deploy these probes; believes in the value of knowledge for its own sake; cultivates habits of truthfulness, openness, collaboration and risk-taking; enlists the public in the experience, and shares the findings with the rest of the world — we also discover the highest use for useless knowledge: Not that it may someday have some life-saving application on earth, though it might, but that it has a soul-saving application in the here and now, reminding us that the human race is not a slave to questions of utility alone.

The question can further be narrowed to ask when governments should fund scientific research.

People who are critical of government spending often find government funded scientific research projects they deem wasteful and publicize them as examples of government waste. Sometimes the discussions are just political theater but the conversation does raise interesting questions. What is the government’s responsibility when it comes to funding science? What criteria should we follow when determining what is worthwhile and what isn’t?

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has on multiple occasions published lists of projects he thought were wasteful but he also published an interesting list of 20 questions he thought should guide our decisions on which projects deserved government spending.

Questions like:

  • Will this research advance science in a meaningful way?
  • Will the findings advance medicine?
  • Will it improve our national defense?

(You can find the full list here)

You can download his whole document here.

Science Magazine Responds

Analysis: Senator’s attack on ‘cheerleading’ study obscures government’s role in training scientists

Below is a link from Science magazine addressing the Senator Flake’s approach and assumptions.

“More importantly, perhaps, how NSF did spend the money illustrates an important point often lost in the sometimes highly partisan debates over government research spending: Most of those dollars go to educate the next generation of scientists. These students are trained in many disciplines and work on a wide array of projects—some of which might sound dubious to politicians. After graduation they use their knowledge to bolster the U.S. economy, improve public health, protect the nation from its enemies, and maintain U.S. global leadership in science.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/analysis-senator-s-attack-cheerleading-study-obscures-government-s-role-training

Planet Money Podcast: Shrimp Fight Club

These issues were discussed on a Planet Money Podcast which was adapted from another podcast Undiscovered.

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/06/21/533840751/episode-779-shrimp-fight-club

 

Podcast: More Creative Historical Thinking

Our conversation about how all history is revisionist and open to creativity with Michael Douma continues this week.

You don’t have a weaker understanding by having an additional explanation, every additional explanation that you have makes the painting come more alive and stronger. That history described and explained from different perspectives is history better understood. And so, a historical pluralist like myself would say there is not one objective story to be told, there’s true stories and false stories based on correspondence theory. But we can look at any event and tell many different stories depending on what it is, that we wanna pull out there what do we wanna highlight what is important to us because history is always written from the perspective of the historian.

https://www.libertarianism.org/podcasts/liberty-chronicles/more-creative-historical-thinking

How do you communicate danger to people 10,000 years into the future?

lomberg-comic

In this 99 percent invisible podcast and accompanying article, the challenges of communicating the hazards of materials that will be radioactive for the next 10,000 years are discussed. This is an interesting exercise in thinking about how to communicate the the most “universal” way possible.

 

This WIPP site is going to be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, though this panel was only responsible for keeping this place sufficiently marked for humans for the next 10,000 years—thinking beyond that timeframe was thought to be impossible.

Though 10,000 years in the future is still fairly inconceivable. 10,000 years ago, the biggest new technology spreading across the planet was farming. Culturally, we share almost nothing with people alive back then. Who knows the world will look like 10,000 years from now?

The panel began by thinking about language. But language, like radioactive materials, has a half life. Beowulf, from only 1,000 years ago, is incomprehensible today.

The panel also considered symbols, which seemed like they might be more universal. A smiley face seems to have a global appeal. And face logos have already been used as warnings.

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/ten-thousand-years/

Song Exploder Podcast: Weezer

In this episode, the lead singer and song writer of the band Weezer explains how one of their songs came together. What struck me about this episode was how this writer creates the lyrics to his songs. There is no overarching story he is trying to tell. He has a running list of ideas for lines on a spread sheet from various sources and then uses those random lines to create songs. He looks for words and lines with the proper inflection and sound quality to decide which lines to include in his song.

From the podcast:

“It sounds like something happened in my life, and then I observed it, and then I wrote a song about it. It’s coherent. There’s a beginning middle and an end. And that’s totally not the case at all. Each line is from a completely different place and I just reassembled them in some order that suggests a story that never happened. It’s a crazy way to write.”

This raises some interesting questions about the importance of the intent of an artist. If the artist himself says there is no meaningful story he is telling, does that mean that a listener cannot find meaning in them? Does revealing this story undermine the value of the artwork being created?