On Statues

Statue4

 

There are certainly some persons who deserve to be remembered more than others, but does anyone deserve a statue molded in their likeness? Should any man or woman be memorialized by a larger than life image?

First hearing by word of mouth of the controversy in Charlottesville, Virginia last Sunday, it was hard to be surprised. There have been many acts of terrorism in the news lately, and one more senseless act added to the numbness. Terrible, egregious, disgusting, inhuman, evil… these words may be accurate descriptors, but they often fall short of empathy and feeling. It’s one thing to describe an incident, and it’s another to live it.

Later that night after having some time to reflect on the incident, a discussion with a friend commenced over a game of pool. What motivated the event? Why now? Is our society in regression or experiencing growing pains?

Then came the discussions of this week. Historical figures were compared, and the differing perspectives on their memorials were illuminated. Oppressive or defensive? Worthless or worthy? Hate or heritage?

During another brief personal discussion came the words “…understand both sides…”. “Understand” was inaccurate, and “both sides” was a poor choice of words. Some emotion brewed in a friend’s face as he asked if a memorial to Hitler would be appropriate? The question was rhetorical, but thoughts comparing Confederate leaders to Nazi leaders immediately came to mind… Do these men deserve to be memorialized?

Is there enough goodness in those Southern soldiers that is worth remembering? Or, does the obvious and overwhelming evil that these soldiers died defending rule out a position of honor for their statues? Is felling a Confederate leader’s memorial ignoring history, or would destroying theses statues be an acknowledgment of past crimes? It’s clear that history often, if not always, remains up for interpretation.

Another reality is that honorable intentions do not right injustices. Every human seems more dynamic than people are willing to admit, and stereotypes or generalizations often cloud the complexity of a life. However, are there things that must not be condoned, even if done by a generally good man?

The most accurate interpretations of the integrity of the men who’s statues are being debated should be left up to those honest individuals willing to search historical records and primary sources for the facts. That is not the subject here. The more relevant issue seems to be one of putting the present into historical context.

The men memorialized by these statues lived through events that changed the course of history. The nation that was split in two reunited, but were wrongs righted? Were all hurts healed?

Roughly 8 years after the inauguration of President Obama…

  • nearly 50 years after the death of Dr. King…
  • approximately 70 years after Robinson first swung a major league bat…
  • around 116 years after Booker T. Washington published Up From Slavery
  • something like 154 years after the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry…
  • 160 years since the Supreme Court’s decision on Dred Scott v. Sanford…
  • 184 years after the death of William Wilberforce and the subsequent abolition of slavery in the British Empire…
  • nearly 200 years since the birth of Frederick Douglass…
  • thereabouts 243 years after General George Washington halted the recruitment of black soldiers for service in the Continental Army…
  • 228 years after the publication of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography…
  • give or take 398 years since the first Africans were enslaved on American soil in Jamestown…
  • more or less than 516 years after Saint-Domingue (Santo Domingo) became an international slave port…
  • and circa 525 years since Columbus planted the seeds of European colonialism in the Caribbean – what would prove to be a tragic omen for millions of indigenous people in Africa and the West…

…these “American” lands are still reeling over past sins – sins that cannot be made right.

While there is no way to right the wrongs of the past, there is hope in the present.

  • First, those who have ancestors that were responsible for the injustices of genocide, slavery, or other acts of racist oppression and/or those who have benefited from systematic social hierarchies resulting from a history of white-European colonialism, would do well to seek recognition of how evils of the past have influenced their current circumstances.
  • Besides an awareness of the history of these injustices and their effects on the present, a sense of regret for the racially motivated decisions of the past would benefit current societal relationships.
  • Third, “white-guilt” is not something to be ashamed of, in the sense that feelings of remorse for generational transgressions lead one to self-hatred. Rather, this guilt is something to act on.

There is no shame in discouraging voluntary segregation or prejudice, even if one’s blood-line may have systematically oppressed the ancestors of another ethnicity or people-group, and vice-versa.

  • Feeling fear of unknowns at the site of a dinner party crowd of different cultures or skin tones should incite an urge to join their company rather than remain in the comfortable circle of more predictable commonplace.
  • Discussions of injustice driven by petty things such as skin color, wealth, or greed should not be constantly avoided but addressed with humility, authenticity, and caution – especially regarding an experience a person could not understand unless she or he took on the appearance, heritage, environment, and event of the one who lived it.
  • Having affections for an individual of a skin color quite opposite from one’s own may feel odd at first, but it should not feel wrong simply for sake of appearance or avoidance of surface-level judgement.
  • Lastly, if such affections should turn romantic and result in a desire for marriage, know that color line was crossed long ago and is littered with the footprints of many joyful couples.

On statues, carved or modeled – molded or assembled, they are lifeless things meant to represent or honor something greater. What benefit do these motionless creations have to offer besides reminders of higher ideals and heroic deeds? At best, statues are but a caricature of the people they are meant to emulate. Far from the beating hearts and original minds of the persons they represent, statues are cold giants that use size and art to vainly seek to make up for humanity lost.

This humanity is not flawlessly set as sinner against saint or hero versus villain. As much as people aspire to glorious perfection, it has yet to be reached by any of the finite creatures that populate this planet. Rather, each memorial should be purposed to bring out the best of this human condition while acknowledging the truth of the times which the figure represents.

An effective memorial should not encourage people to wallow in its presence or rage against its existence but carry on with their lives, taking with them a memory that will spark to light part of what it means to be truly human. There has been far to much tragedy in this world already. While history must be remembered for what it was, humanity needs not to abide memorials that recall and breed division in the present.

Statues should be constructed to promote a sense of righteous resolve, connectedness, or hope.  History has afforded many examples of individuals and events, flawed, but resulting in courageously righteous action. Uplift that which will uplift. If statues fail to meet this criteria, history can continue to be honestly maintained while the figure is respectfully removed from a place of honor or, disrespectfully, torn to the ground.

On Truth

OnTruth

On Truth, written by Harry G. Frankfurt who was a professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, is a book defending and elaborating on the concept of truth. The first thing Frankfurt does is dispose of the fallacy that truth does not exist as disproving  itself (i.e. saying truth does not exist would be an absolute truth). The second thing Frankfurt does is emphasize that he is not writing about what is true and what is not true, but about the vital concept of truth itself.

Frankfurt then examines the importance of truth within modern society and some of the ideologies surrounding the idea of truth. Frankfurt indirectly invites the reader to consider if a person’s idea of truth is determined by her or his experiences and environment. The author emphasizes the importance of truth in regards to being honest about one’s self and in regards to a healthily functioning society. He discusses Baruch Spinoza’s idea that people who love themselves and their lives tend to love truth because of the role truth plays in life.

In the second half of “On Truth”, Frankfurt seems to continue his consequentialist approach to truth as he describes the importance of a person accepting reality for what it is regardless of whether or not she or he agrees with it. Though he continues to elaborate on the necessity of truth in living a fulfilled life, Frankfurt’s dialogue brings some fundamental questions. Is it better to utilize truth for one’s own gain, for the gain of a group, or for the gain of society as a whole? Is it better to exercise delayed gratification or immediate gratification?

For example:

The issue of the growing national debt of the United States government is discussed with every election cycle, and this topic must influence decision making on the part of U.S. citizens. Is it better to allow the debt to continue increasing to bolster the U.S. economy now or should the U.S. government make severe budget cuts now to avoid long-term consequences? One could argue that both approaches can be motivated by a consequentialist perspective (i.e. one seeks to benefit people in the present and the other seeks to benefit people in the future), but which approach provides the most benefit for the greatest number of people?

When considering a consequentialist approach an important distinction must be made between what benefits the individual (or the individual’s group) and between what benefits the greatest number of people in society. Though these discussions will likely make decisions much more complicated, they should also serve to make decisions more intentional in beneficence or non-beneficence and more effective in reaching set goals. A gray reality of conflicting information and viewpoints beckons for reasoning on principle / truth rather than impulsive black and white decision making based on preset preferences / experiences and incomplete information.

Frankfurt’s realization of the variation / grayness of life is refreshing. At one point Frankfurt implies that a lie may have consequential utility in one situation while being a burden to society in another situation.

For example:

Comedians lie frequently about their experiences to create a more humorous punch line. This is one example of how manipulating the reality of a situation may be of benefit to a great number of people. Often jokes are dependent upon realizing the untrue nature of a statement, and such sarcasm may serve to mock a falsity and admire a truth.

If the example of comedians seems like a weak defense of the utility of a lie, the genocidal examples of a German lying to the Gestapo about the location of Jews or of a Rwandan lying about her or his ethnicity to avoid being a victim of mass slaughter should serve as a more potent example. Frankfurt makes his points effectively without use of such examples, and he goes on to illuminate why lies can be so uncomfortable, even when they have some consequential utility.

Lies keep the hearer from some reality. The full truth of a situation is shrouded. That aspect of a lie is always negative, regardless of the lie’s consequential utility. The nature of a lie is entertaining a thought or an idea that is false, and this serves to explain why lies should be naturally less popular than truths (i.e. the nature of reality causes lies to be self-defeating).

“On Truth” is a short, reflective read that provides a good defense of the overall utility and vital nature of absolute truth while acknowledging the existence of various situations in which complete, raw honesty about truth is unknown, undesirable, or not of the most immediate beneficence. Truth has a self-evident nature which always makes falsity somewhat undesirable even if an untruth is useful. Frankfurt’s approach entertains the complex nature of truth while upholding truth’s integrity, and when discussing and deliberating what is likely the most important concept in life, such a balanced and rational approach is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

Shoe Dog

Do you ever wonder how giant, billion-dollar organizations are crafted? If so, Shoe Dog written by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, is for you. In some ways the book is what you might expect. At its center is a competitive and well-educated man willing to live in insecurity for the hope of a dream and the success of a product he believes in. But, this book has many surprises, and it does not read like a self-help book. It reads like a story with all of the complexities and surprises that one comes to expect from life.

The characters of this book are as colorful as the merchandise at a Nike store. Knight recalls in detail individuals crossing his path. He recounts the oddities within himself and others. He reveals opportunities seized through risk taking and being in the right place at the right time. He touches on the uncertain and transformative decades following the Second World War. He fondly remembers some of the sweetest moments of his life while acknowledging a few of the sour ones.

Knight also shares some great advice along the way. Although his memoir is rarely blatantly helpful, when he does share a life principle it’s worth it. Much like Nike’s slogan, Knight shares with his audience the simple but immensely valuable concepts of endurance and autonomy. These concepts of autonomy, endurance, and enjoyment give a glimpse of what it means to find successful, enjoyable work that is fulfilling. Knight believed in his product, had autonomy in his work, gave high levels of autonomy to many of his employees, and enjoyed the competitive process of producing the best shoes for the all athletes.

Having said that, Knight’s work did not come without its stressors. Knight talks of all of the luxurious relationships and trips that came with his work, but he also talks about law suits, public backlash for factory conditions, the financial instability of reinvesting profits back into the company, and the negative affects that a consuming career had on his family. Such a successful career and business did not come without its sacrifices.

Additionally, such a successful career did not come without special relationships and opportunities. As many successful people Knight had many breaks, and he seemed to be born into the right time for his successes. Knight’s track connections, post World War II Japan, and Knight’s parents were some of the reasons for his success. Having said that, Knight’s hard work, perseverance, passion, and risk taking is undeniably had a lot to do with his success as well.

The last chapter in the book is the best. After sharing his story and giving the reader sufficient context, Knight reflects on his life, partners, and business. Knight catches the readers up on the lives of the odd and amazing stories of the founders, he criticizes pessimism about the future of business and life in the United States, he illuminates some of the progress that Nike has made in addressing factory working conditions and other social issues, and he gives a list of regrets intermingled with part of the reasoning that motivated him to write Shoe Dog. For anyone interested in shoes and/or entrepreneurship, Shoe Dog may be a good book to pick up. For those not interested in those subjects, Shoe Dog is personable and relatable enough to entertain.