We are slowly forgetting how to oppose something without seeking its utter destruction.
How we treat symbols we disagree withBasically it’s just such a hysterical atmosphere at this point, that no one can conceive of a person who is against something but also willing to tolerate the expression of that thing. Can we be against Jeff Davis — and also against destroying art and monuments and history just because they involve Jeff Davis?
Symbols are tremendously important, and state sponsorship of symbols is very much worth fighting about. But there are ways to express disapproval of art, monuments and aspects of history without taking the approach of, say, blowing up the Buddhas, to take one recent example.
And how we manage these processes of disapproval truly is important for civil society. To quote Heinrich Heine, a man who definitely knew of what he spoke, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning men.” Mobs aren’t actually the best judges of such processes, no matter how righteous they feel or certain of their cause.
Listen, it’s great that we’re aiming to be an anti-racist society. That’s very, very good! But it’s bad that we are slowly forgetting how to dislike something without seeking its utter destruction. Somehow we’ve abandoned the aesthetic of Abraham Lincoln for that of Mao Tse-Tung.
When I first moved to the D.C. area from Colorado, I had a bit of culture shock relative to the Confederate symbols on display here. I live not a mile from a cannon that marks where Confederate troops gathered to go off and fight. But rather than call for its removal, I’ve used it to learn history and teach my children about their commonwealth’s history. And I’ve used other monuments, cemeteries and buildings to teach my children about their history, including both the good and bad points.
I wouldn’t put Confederate kitsch up in my house, but mainstream media figure Claire Shipman and former Obama press secretary Jay Carney put up Communist kitsch in their house. There is something intriguing about how the elite left tolerates art celebrating those who killed 100 million people in the last century, but seeks the erasure of anything associated with the Confederacy.
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