On Public Statuary

Although scientists like to flatter themselves, this is not an “age of science.” The use of reason to make sense of things has been in decline for a long time, and we compare rather poorly to the men of the Dark Ages, who could be quite handy with if/then propositions.

We believe what we want to believe. And depending upon what premisses we adopt, any belief can be reasonable. That is why it is so important to choose premisses wisely. They help one survive to adulthood.

In fact, this is something we share with the bonobos, which early explorers may have mistaken for headless men, according to another ping I have received. (Their heads can rest lower than their shoulders, giving the impression of faces in their hairy chests.)

The ability to reason, from sound premisses, may even be something we share with fish and houseflies. We differ from them, however, in being more self-conscious, and sometimes by taking time when coming to a decision. We are also, for all our desultory pace, more likely to come to an error, which only our narcissism could forgive.

Hence our belief in computer models.

. . .

As those who follow our media may know, we are passing through a year in which our archaeological remains are being diminished. Statues and monuments are all coming down, except perhaps those that commemorate “commies.”

But even some of those are being toppled from their plinths, as the modern university student tends to be not only vicious but – extremely – ignorant. A third ping advises me that, in at least America and Britain, more statues of abolitionists than of slavers have been desecrated or removed, in what has already been predicted as a “summer of love.”

Although a fan of public statuary, I am not too concerned. The sculpture in question is usually meretricious, and the subjects depicted were notorious bores. Perhaps the art connoisseurs among Black Lives Matter are clearing the spaces for more impressive works.

Verily, in my view, since even before the Enlightenment, our public art has been atrocious. It is not just the statues: the architecture also leaves much to be desired.

The reason for this is no mystery. We, of the Western Civ, have, in the course of overwriting our Christian heritage, changed our premisses. Where once our built environments reflected an endorsement of Christ and His Saints, we now celebrate, almost exclusively, unrelated secular human achievements.

And as any medieval man could tell you, these human achievements are very small. Under a cloudless night sky, we can begin to appreciate how small their efforts. The same can be said after they’ve been dead for only a few years.

By contrast, the medieval statuary, still clinging to cathedrals in protected locations, is strangely exhilarating. This is not just because it is older, although the patina helps. It is because the “uplift” rises above the squalid.

That squalid politicians like to raise monuments to themselves, and sometimes also to their mentors, I quite understand. To expect humility from any of them is also to build upon weak premisses.

They are trying to preserve images of themselves against worms and the ages, which is why they usually choose cast bronze. Other materials succumb to the elements faster; even marble, which can chip, and is too expensive. But wood will hardly serve the self-worshipper.

Perhaps, in extraterrestrial venues, the aliens have seen through this human mistake, of saluting the small over the large. They’ve had extra millions of years, after all. Perhaps all their sculpture is essentially religious, as ours was once.

On Public Statuary

“That squalid politicians like to raise monuments to themselves, and sometimes also to their mentors, I quite understand. To expect humility from any of them is also to build upon weak premisses.”