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Notes On Statues (and Such...)

~
2020.07.12


A Profoundly Unserious Way of Dealing With the Past
Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic
June 24, 2020

The author lays our principles of evaluation:
  1. Is the evil a man or woman did [sic] the most important fact of his or her life?
  2. Is the person about to be memorialized, or does the monument exist and its obliteration is intended to remove painful memories of a past?
  3. The decision needs to be made carefully, and with thought, discussion, and justification; dissenting views must be treated with respect, no matter where the outcome lies.

Argues that, while the removal of many statues are long overdue—confederates soliders, secessionists, etc.—that the lack of nuance and historical understanding is leading to a shortsighted and unproductive conversation on monuments:

Our current conversation is not taking seriously the problem of context, of how to judge the failures of previous generations, and it reflects a curious assumption that we may not seem equally retrograde and morally obtuse to future generations.

Americans are living, as they so often have, through a moment fraught with violence and hope, in which they see both their aspirations and their fears in the news and in their hearts. One of those fears is of having to confront the complex history of their country and of their heroes. In that respect, some of the decisions of the moment are about not confronting difficulty but wishing it away, which is a malady of the spirit. It is much harder, braver, and better to wrestle with the conundrum of Jefferson’s anguished declaration that “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever” than to remove him from sight in a spasm of preening righteousness.


Yale Doesn’t Need to Change It’s Name
Graeme Wood,
The Atlantic
July 1, 2020

Last week, the conservative troll Ann Coulter needled leftists by asking whether Yale would change its name to distance itself from Elihu Yale (1649–1721), who got rich plundering India and dealt in slaves before giving books to a cash-strapped university in Connecticut.

Coulter is not just a troll; she is a Founding Mother of American trolldom. She is one of the modern inventors of saying things with no motive other than to rile and sow discord among one’s enemies... The evidence that this controversy is confected is overwhelming… almost no one seems to have thought reckoning with Elihu’s crimes meant changing the name of the university, which has long been divorced in meaning from the life of Elihu Yale… The same cannot be said for Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee, or John C. Calhoun, whose name was removed from a Yale dormitory in 2017.

This conversation is a distraction—not because the legacy of injustice at institutions such as Yale and the U.S. government isn’t worth discussing, but because it is worth discussing, and #CancelYale is a way to prevent that discussion by replacing it with a much stupider one that will, by proximity, discredit the one that should occur.

Confected discord could overwhelm us and become real… the name of the university is the least of our problems. Far more serious would be our apparent helplessness when confronted with manipulators, who can, with little more than a tweet, commandeer our minds and dictate what we think about our history and our present.




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