There are few iron rules of History, the travails that we undergo in this Vale of Tears being too varied for many such rules. However one that I believe in is that a wave of iconoclasm is almost always a very bad sign for a society. My favorite living historian, Victor Davis Hanson agrees:
The new iconoclasm is almost as exclusively progressive in the West as it is reactionary in the contemporary Muslim world. But the common thread, past and present, East and West, to epidemics of name-changing, statue-smashing, and mural-erasing is political opportunism fueled by fear and careerist anxiety.
Certainly — in the age of #MeToo and heightened awareness of the lifelong damage to women from rape, sexual harassment, and asymmetrical sexual relationships fueled by an imbalance of power — no one is suggesting that thousands of local and state boulevards that were renamed Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1970s should now retransition, given recent disturbing revelations that King might have allowed a rape to occur in his presence, was a serial philanderer, and often, under today’s definitions, pressured sex from younger and more vulnerable females.
No one would dare suggest that feminist icon Margaret Sanger’s name be removed from awards, dinners, or monuments, given that by any modern standard she would be classified as a racist eugenicist. She saw abortion on demand, at least partly, as a way of limiting the growth of perceived nonwhite populations. The disproportionate number of African Americans aborted through the agency of Sanger’s legacy, Planned Parenthood, seems a logical consequence of her founding ideology.
In my hometown, I certainly have not demanded that the city council remove what I see as a somewhat offensive statue of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue. She is usually portrayed as a hideous clawed mother goddess, decked out in writhing serpents, with a grotesque necklace of dangling human hearts, skulls, and hands. She was an unforgiving goddess for whom tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and especially children, many of them indigenous peoples enslaved by the Aztecs, were sacrificed. Why honor such a monster?
In such a vein, one could argue that the San Diego State “Aztecs” glorify triumphalist imperialist mass murderers, even more than the supposedly offensively named Washington Redskins do. Immigrants from Oaxaca and southern Mexico are as likely to be descendants from Tlaxcala, which resisted the Aztec Empire, as they are descendants of the Aztecs themselves. So they could be the progeny of people targeted for extinction and human sacrifice by a neighboring fascist imperialist bully.
The truth is that once the statue-smasher and name-changer gets a free hand, we should expect no logic, no respite from zealotry and bigotry. He operates from emotion, not reason, and his currency is intimidation, not persuasion, consistency, and coherence — when no official is willing to just say “No!” Taking down a mural of George Washington makes about as much sense as erasing all the thousands of streets and statues named for Caesar Chavez, who at times operated hand in glove with a nightmarish Synanon cult to denigrate his own members (“Every time we look at them, they want more money,” Chavez said in 1977, complaining about farm workers. “Like pigs, you know. Here we’re slaving, and we’re starving and the g—–n workers don’t give a shit about anything.”)
The insanity that we are witnessing has little or nothing to do with icons that institutionalize disparities or impede social justice. Iconoclasm is about power — and the psychological lift that comes with exercising it.
Go here to read the rest. Great joy can be reaped from destruction and rubbing one’s enemies noses in the dust. That such joy comes at a high price to their societies, never bothers the iconoclasts, who are always a purely destructive agent in the lives of their civilizations.