Recent protests following the death of George Floyd have reignited debates over Europe’s monuments of slave-traders, racists, and other morally dubious historical figures. Even in Cambridge, hundreds of students have signed a petition to remove a stained glass honouring Ronald Fisher, solely because the noted statistician happened to be a fierce eugenicist. The SJWs’ argument is simple: we should tear down these relics from the past as they wrongfully honour individuals whose words and deeds are not entirely aligned with the moral values we hold today. To some, this reasoning may seem obviously wrong; but many others, rather worryingly, are convinced of its soundness.
The first reason why I oppose this view is philosophical. Essentially, the removals of Colston’s or Rhodes’ statues are founded on the idea that moral judgements are intemporal. Now, I am not a moral relativist: I do think that racism is a sin, and one regardless of which society it is perpetrated in. Nevertheless, there is something highly unfair in blaming someone for not living up to standards that did not exist in their time. Kant famously wrote that “ought implies can”, meaning that moral duties must be realisable to count as proper duties. And although not becoming a slave-trader was certainly a logical possibility for Colston, the social context of the 17th century was such that it would have been difficult for him to reason as we do now.
SJWs are condemning historical figures for not being pioneers of morality, and applying this stance coherently leads to rather absurd conclusions. Evidences suggest that Mahatma Ghandi held anti-black beliefs: let’s remove his face from all memorials. Louis the XIV owned many slaves: let’s destroy Versailles (after all, it was erected in his honour). One can quickly see the implications. Hence, it is only reasonable to adopt the following test. Was it widely acknowledged in x-year that doing y was wrong? If yes, there is a case for condemning the person. If no, blame is not in order, even if the action itself remains wrong.
But the crucial points lie ahead.
Removing those public monuments reduces historical figures to their wrongdoings. Ronald Fisher was first and foremost a statistician who made tremendous contributions to his field, and most of what he is remembered and honoured for is unrelated to racism. The fact that SJWs so desperately want to destroy his legacy sheds light on a disquieting truth. SJWs want racial equality and so do I, but their means of achieving it are fraught with excesses. Answering to passions only, they take action in every possible area. And as the present proves limited, they now seek to rewrite the past.
This is particularly concerning as this reconstruction of History is pursued with a punishing mindset. As seen, differences in ethical thinking over time command tolerance when making moral judgements. Unfortunately, SJWs only care about putting our ancestors on trial, disregarding clear attenuating circumstances. Fuelled by their moral hubris, they succeed in diabolising our past as if nothing good came from it, hence forgetting that men of quality once thought differently. Instead of accepting our complex heritage, this particular Left wants us to hate it. Thereby erasing significant aspects of our collective memory.
Quite obviously, SJWs want to rewrite History because History isn’t as they wish. Our past is complex, nuanced, and the many individuals that compose it are often full of contradictions. By approaching them through the simplistic lenses of (anti)racism, (anti)sexism and other similar terms, these past individuals are reduced to an existing though often minor aspect of their life and legacy. The Ronald Fisher and co. are unreservedly decried for their words, whilst those on the “good side” are sometimes lucky enough to be magnified as heroes to fit into the binary narrative. SJWs are not interested in History as a self-standing pursuit. History becomes subordinate to their ends, and remodelled at their whim.
Needless to say, this tactic is nothing but misguided. The increasingly prevalent black-and-white account is insufficient to capture the complexity of distinct and distant periods. And although it is a common truism that full objectivity is not achievable in History, reductive perspectives of this kind can only doom to failure endeavours to better understand the past. And so paradoxically, the new doxa which holds ‘diversity’ as one of its precepts, is caught sacrificing the richness of History at the altar of passions.