It is easy to be critical of historic figures. Given that at each stage we are chipping away at our ignorance, we know a hell of a lot more than we did in the past. We have more information, we get exposed to more variety, we benefit from the mistakes of others. Jeffrey tweeted the other day that his favourite team building question is 'To what do you attribute any successes you've experienced?'. We like look back to our ancestors as a form of motivation. Without exceptions our ancestors have some pretty cringeworthy views on certain things. I think many of our successes are because of those cringes. Like the kind two year old who kicks a dog because they don't know yet that that is cruel. We make mistakes and we fix them. We get better.
We often put up statues to celebrate great individuals. Many of the heroes end up disappointing us. The thing is the way they disappoint us often isn't just them. The chance that the cringe doesn't reflect a deeper problem with lots of us in pretty slim. Hitler wasn't the only anti-semite. Verwoed wasn't the only racist. Almost any individual you put a statue up to is likely going to be looked at quite harshly in the light of history. But that nastiness was ours, and we have been shedding a lot of it. I like the idea of sculptures rather than statues. I also like the idea of sculptures or monuments representing ideas rather than individuals. A concept is easier to focus on than claiming that any person is complete and pure as snow. Norway now has a Sorry Monument to the many 'witches' who lost their lives in the hunts of the 17th and 18th history.
I am a big fan of series such as 'The Wire' and plays such as 'Wicked'. They start getting at some of the subtleties behind being good and bad. There is no Cinderella and the Wicked Step Sisters. Old Cindy was unlikely to be all good, and those poor 'ugly' sisters couldn't have had a good time of it in an anti-ugly world. Norway is widely recognised as one of the happiest places to live. I think part of this comes from recognising all the ups and downs that lead them there. Given that race has been shown to have no scientific basis and countries borders have randomly evolved over the very recent past, mistakes made anywhere are mistakes of our shared ancestors. The ups and downs that lead to Norway are also our ups and downs.
The ups and downs are messy. The ups and downs have made us better.