Public opinion – the ambient values held by any given society – constantly evolves and changes. While such things are hard to quantify in a multicultural, diverse nation, the attitudes of a given group of people will constantly alter over time. Thus, what is acceptable in one era might not be acceptable in another. The people revered in one era might be condemned in another.
There is a current trend in toppling the statues of people associated with racism and the slave trade. Of course, I find the notion that someone could be condemned to a life of servitude simply due to the colour of their skin as abhorrent as anyone else. Yet the problem with toppling such statues is that it clears the way for other statues to be toppled; statues of people ‘we’ may currently like. If defacing the statue of Churchill can be justified, what is to stop someone with the opposite worldview to ours justify defacing the statues of Gandhi or Mandela, on the other side of parliament Square? And who’s to say that, sometime in the future, evidence won’t emerge that won’t redeem Churchill or Rhodes or Colston?
The contemporary cultural space is a highly complex one: we live in a society with lots of competing, often contradictory viewpoints. By destroying monuments to people who were once revered, we promote one set of views over another, and assert modern values are more important than those of the past; one viewpoint tries to dominate the entire cultural landscape. Surely the irony of that is, in doing so, we become just as bigoted, authoritarian and intolerant as the people whose statues we topple.