The Values We Celebrate: A Treatise of Monuments and the Collective Psyche

Recently, there has been a resurgence in interest in taking down racist monuments and other racist things. A sentiment, I generally agree with. Especially, Confederate monuments should be demolished or moved to a museum. Although, a few monuments need be erected to Confederate people like privates William Finklea, William Boyd, Jimmy Pratt, and others who valiantly and nobly survived the war to procreate and to whomever in the Confederate army killed or died in such a manner that they contributed to the ability for them to procreate because my existence is so epic and beautiful that it is worth every Yankee’s death that led to those men procreating. Other than erecting monuments to the Confederate soldiers who led to my existence, most Confederate monuments should be deconstructed.

The bigger question is what we honor, generally. More importantly, what we don’t honor. For all the war monuments there are, there aren’t many peace monuments. There isn’t a romantic bronze likeness of Abbie Hoffman at Grant Park in Chicago like there should be. There aren’t nine shining gold-leafed angels where the Catonsville Jesuits burned their draft cards. There isn’t an obelisk for Father Vitale’s anti-nuclear protests in the 1980’s, protests at which the likes of Carl Sagan was arrested. There, indeed, is a monument to John Humphrey who authored the initial draft of the UN Declaration on Human Rights but it’s a tiny and obscure monument. It’s not just that there are monuments to the Confederacy and the horrid things it fought for but that the bulk of the grandest monuments in our culture are oriented to the glory of the mass murder that is war.

Our national holiday celebrates a war where thousands of men were killed in their prime. I much prefer Thanksgiving. Now, of course, the Pilgrims were puritanical Calvinists of heretic-cidal disposition and shamelessly abused and mistreated their indigenous hosts. However, I think of the first Thanksgiving like the Christmas Truce of 1914. It did not demonstrate the abolition of nationalism, militarism, or the end of the war but it was a single moment of beauty in an ocean of ugliness. Humanity is mostly depraved and evil so beauty must be taken in the microscopic droplets it comes in. Thanksgiving does not accurately represent the historical narrative but it does embody the values of peace and love. Taken out of context, it may be a whitewashed myth but, if so, it is a myth that conveys benevolent values whatever its historical inaccuracies are. People are psychologically conditioned by the stories they hear, not the stories they don’t.

Which all feeds the point of this article. The monuments we build represent the mythos and the psyche of the culture. The inaccurate heroic Columbus isn’t that bad because that fake Columbus has good values. What would have been really bad is if his genocidal reality, rather than his myth, was lionized. Celebrating the fake Columbus is not celebrating his genocide, it is celebrating a false narrative of a noble and bold explorer. Bigger than historical accuracy are the values the myth represents and imparts. I’m not saying we celebrate his myth, I’m saying doing so isn’t that bad since accuracy comes after values. Conversely, celebrating Joan of Arc, Al Capone, pirates, Vikings, warrior deities like Thor, games like Grand Theft Auto and Halo, and countless more are not celebrating good values, they celebrate war. They go un-protested by my fellows on the left and many on the left participate in their flourishing as cultural items. Items which glorify, glamorize, and celebrate the disgusting act of watching the light doused from another’s eyes.

As a culture, we should try to remove the celebration of all malevolent values and promote the celebration of benevolent ones. There are far too many movies about killing people and lionizing the people who do it than those who refuse to kill and actively try to save lives and stop war. One of the reasons for my quark-sized faith in humanity is their obsession with war and violence. The redneck-like sexual love of warfare that makes the Norse Pantheon popular and makes people play war in the bulk of their video games. Violent video games may not cause mass shootings as they were accused of in the past but there is something tragic and anti-human about role-playing murder. With all of the protests going on, now, I am a member of the microscopic percentage of people in my generations (I’m both Millennial and Zoomer) who has actually participated in anti-war protests and I am among the few who has focused on anti-war politics after they went out of style.

We should romanticize the glorious street-battles of 1968 and the heroic diplomats who spent long hours and grueling days in boardrooms hammering out peace deals. Our culture’s juggernauts should be the ones who pushed the culture forward and wrought as much love as they could. As well as scientists, philosophers, and figures who contributed to the betterment of our culture and possessed traits an lived lives that we should hope to emulate. That if they did do war, that they didn’t like it and that being good at it was not their most defining feature. The debate we’re having about monuments should be as much about the other issues those monuments represent as the racism.

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