Always worthwhile examing the actual beliefs that underlie our political pronouncements. An excerpt from a long post:
Beroe: A hundred years ago, when everyone wanted to honor the Italians, it would have been galaxy-brained and annoying to object to Columbus Day. People would have accused you of just wanting an excuse for your anti-Italian bigotry. It’s not like it’s going to normalize the youth taking over the West Indies and enslaving the local population!
Adraste: Maybe those people would have been right! Maybe the point of holidays is to teach people lessons, and which holidays are good or bad depends on what lessons need to be taught. If the big conflict in society is about whether or not to accept Italians, and nobody is thinking about Native Americans either way, then maybe it’s correct to honor a famous Italian, so as to emphasize our support for Italians’ rights. And a hundred years later, when nobody worries about Italians anymore, but lots of people worry about Native Americans, then honoring an Italian who killed lots of Native Americans sends the wrong message, and so we deprecate the pro-Italian holiday in favor of a pro-Native-American one. In the very unlikely chance that, a hundred years from now, the descendants of Aztecs are powerful and privileged, but the descendants of their sacrificial victims are marginalized and there’s a debate about whether or not to accept them - then we should scrap or re-work Indigenous People’s Day to emphasize that we support the victims’ descendants. Until and unless that happens, why bother?
Beroe: Allow me to try a hostile rephrasing of your point. There is no such thing as genuine heroism worth celebrating, or traditions worth keeping - only raw power. Whenever we need a group to join the left-wing coalition, we’ll signal allegiance to them by celebrating their ancestors and demonizing their enemies, regardless of who was in the right. If we stop needing their votes, or they start voting conservative, we’ll demonize their ancestors and celebrate their enemies instead, again regardless of whether this involves active lionization of evil. Do you think that’s substantially different from what you’re saying?
Adraste: You changed “society is preventing pogroms against a marginalized group” to “left-wingers are cynically milking people for their votes”, so yes, I would say it is substantially different.
Bedell: As I have hinted at here before, an insistence that we not celebrate people, peoples, or movements that have done horrible things leads to celebrating nobody and no one. Which does not mean we cannot make distinctions, but I think Adraste is right here that those distinctions are always made according to the political and moral needs of the present. I don't think we are capable of a universal moral calculus that can meaningfully weigh the lives of people across thousands of years of time.