An Open Letter to Everyone: Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater
I think a lot of our problems today come from the misconception of evil and how we get rid of it. Like flat earthers or young earth creationists. They’re not evil, and almost make people feel sorry for how dumb they are. We feel bad for them and want to help educate their perspectives rather than demonize their character.
Kind of like racists too. Or, the same approach should be applied to racists. We shouldn’t hate racists, but instead we should feel bad for them. It’s objectively a dumb idea to believe one person is superior to another based solely on the colour of their skin. But as dumb as it might be, even though their racism is to be condemned, it’s undeniable that some racists are still admirable and moral people. Look at people of history. Some virtuous and noble people held views that were bad. This doesn’t disqualify their striving for the highest ideal. They didn’t hold their views with the intent on doing evil. They just got it wrong about some things.
Think of some people today, those who genuinely care about goodness. Think of some respected philanthropists, politicians, intellectuals, celebrities or artists. Some hold opinions we might believe as morally wrong or evil, but we still acknowledge their virtues and goodness. They aren’t bad people just because of their single opinion on abortion, politics, or whether they eat meat or not. Yet you can still have a disagreement.
When we look to the past of human civilization, there have been many evils committed. We have a tendency to analyze these evils and ascribe their cause to something that may appear to be evil, but isn’t necessarily aimed at evil. Look at authoritarianism. Fascists, Nazis, and Stalinists were authoritarians. But so are those who call for martial law during times of chaos. So are those who drag a person from their home because the laws they’ve broken warrant prison time. Same with those who oppose me driving my car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Authoritarianism is the case in all those who in many situations say “you are not allowed to freely do something because it does not aim at the good.” In a fascist, we must recognize that their authoritarianism isn’t aimed at what was good. But the authoritarian is not necessarily aiming at what is evil. Nor is the pro-life, conservative, liberal, communist, meat eater, leftist, or anti-vaxxer aimed at what is evil.
If this is true, then in the same manner, the colonialist, racist, homophobe, and sexist, wasn’t necessarily aimed at evil either. Some of these people made necessary contributions to our conception of goodness, virtue, and the highest ideals a human life should strive for. Although Aristotle was a defender of imperialism, he also offered insightful teachings on ethics. Although MLK was seen as a communist threat, he undeniably stood for Justice and human dignity. Although Jesus was against divorce and remarrying, he offered great teachings on love. Although Gandhi so admirably opposed colonialism, for at least part of his life he was a racist. Although the American founding fathers owned slaves, they made great advances to our understanding of government and human liberty. Although Marx was a communist anti-Semite, he made great advances in our understanding of workers rights and labour laws.
Just because someone held a different moral view than we do, doesn’t mean they weren’t trying to aim at the good. Sometimes we lose sight of the good and focus on the shadow it casts instead.
Marx, Gandhi, and the founding Fathers wouldn’t agree on every moral issue, but they are all worthy of respect and admiration because the merits of their virtues demand praise. The good from these figures outweigh the bad.
Perhaps historical figures are the same way. Perhaps our historical figures are the same way.
Statues of our historical figures were erected to commemorate a higher light that is not always extinguished by their darkness. They should not be torn down, because that’s not why they were put up.
And even if we shouldn’t have statues and we should just tear them all down, then what are we building a monument to in their place? What values are we idolizing? What ideals are we striving towards that we publicly commemorate?
Without figures or archetypes to act as an exemplar for virtue, how are we to embody goodness? If we tear down our statues and despise our ancestors, then where are we to know virtue? How are we to know goodness? Are we to extinguish a torch from the past while thinking we are no longer in darkness?
If we are to identify the evils of our past, we must also identify the ideals of our future. From our past, we must take what was good, noble, and right, while discarding what was evil, ruinous, and devastating. To do this, we must extract that which is good if we are to destroy that which is evil.
We must understand that an actor will play both heroes and villains throughout their career. The heroic acts don’t make them less of a villain, just as the villainous acts don’t make them less of a hero.
Often the young revolutionaries fighting for goodness will grow into the corrupt elite whom the future generation will battle against in the name of progress. If we purge the villains from our past, we must first identify what made them heroes.
Destruction in the service of goodness will fail to yield goodness with destruction alone. For Ares cannot create or give life, he can only destroy. We must supplement our forces of destruction with forces of creation. If we are to destroy the statues of our past heroes, then we must erect monuments to the good they were meant to embody. To tear down evil, we must also create goodness. It’s time we ask ourselves which values and virtues we want to idealize. Without a light to guide steps, we walk in darkness.