Last evening in downtown Montreal, as reported by The Canadian Press, the Hudson’s Bay Co. had a commemorative plaque removed from one of its buildings. The plaque was installed in 1957 and was supplied by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a non-profit organization dedicated to “honoring the memory of its Confederate ancestors.” The ancestor being honored was Jefferson Davis. The 1950’s was a more innocent decade.
No reasons were reportedly given for the actions taken by Hudson’s Bay Co. but it appears to have been a preemptive step in the wake of violence in Virginia this past week arising over the issue of another installation honoring Confederate ancestors, a statue of Robert E. Lee.
As described by NBC news in 2015, following the destruction of artifacts by ISIS at the Mosul Museum in Iraq there is an ugly tradition of trying to obliterate history:
Over the centuries, militant groups and radical regimes have targeted not just innocent lives but also historic and cultural artifacts preserved and revered by their victims.
Now clearly, this is not exactly in the same category as the actions taken by Hudson’s Bay Co. or even of the impetus behind the violence in Virginia. Radical regimes are not in play certainly, although some of the protesters of late could be labeled as militant groups.
There is a common principle however, that applies to all of this destruction. It expresses an evasion of the responsibility to think, favoring instead not to understand but to blank out disagreeable issues. It is the principle behind the actions of history revisionists and violent criminals alike. It is the motivation of supposedly mature university students who need “safe spaces.”
In the aforementioned reporting by NBC news, there appeared a quotation from Thomas Campbell, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, commenting on the Mosul Museum destruction.
This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding.
“. . . universal commitment . . ..? Not so much. But it is the mindless characteristic that succinctly captures what is going on with all of these actions, peaceful or violent. The actions are destructive. These are actions taken by people who do not or do not want to understand the past, or in some cases not even the present. Some of them just want to be safe, to not have to face any controversial ideas or even to defend their own values. The “go to” response is to wipe it out, or demand that others do it for you.
The underlying principle is nihilism. It is the view that nothing in your current culture or social system has anything to offer and it must be overthrown or destroyed.
Skepticism and doubt about what life has to offer is no solution. It leads to destruction, either deliberate or with nature taking its course for the failure to think and understand.
©Copyright 2017, Edward Podritske