Statues are not needed to remember history… so what?

There are numerous bad arguments for taking down historical statues and monuments. One of the dumbest, in my opinion, is the argument that statues are not necessary to remember or learn about history.

Here is an example of this argument which I recently saw on Facebook:

Another time, I saw a satirical post about building a statue of the coronavirus (think the illustration of a red virus particle that is used on the news as a generic representation of the virus) so that future generations would remember the pandemic.

I have never argued that the reason why statues are needed is because people wouldn’t be able to remember things without them, and I don’t think anyone else has argued this either. Comments like the above are, therefore, an example of the straw man fallacy.

These arguments are frustrating, because yes, it is true that statues are not necessary for people to remember history. Books, informational websites, databases, and other forms of written documentation are all adequate for this purpose. But that doesn’t mean that statues are not necessary. The importance of statues extends far beyond the fact that they help people to learn about the past.

For me personally, I have an imaginary world in which historical figures are the characters, and I spend my time picturing their interactions and adventures. Statues are a way in which the people I love are able to exist in the physical world and be a concrete part of my life. To argue that statues are unnecessary as long as there are other ways of remembering stuff, completely denies and invalidates my perspective.

I understand that my perspective on historical figures is unusual, and few (if any) people in the world share it. But even if my perspective is incomprehensible to you, and you think that it counts for nothing, there remains the fact that statues, quite simply, are art. Statues are outdoor sculptures. And just like any form of art, statues are valuable for their own sake. Any person who does not see inherent value in art has no soul.

Would the person who made this idiotic Facebook comment advocate that the Mona Lisa be painted over so that the canvas could be re-used? After all, as long as it is written down somewhere that this particular Italian noblewoman existed, a painting is unnecessary, right? Would this person advocate that art museums be razed and the land put to more constructive uses, such as a data center, for example? After all, a database listing facts about the works of art would accomplish the same thing as looking at the works of art themselves, right?

Statues are important not merely because they are learning tools or reminders of the past, but because they are beautiful, because they are works of art, because they represent people whom I love, because they honor people and ideas that deserve to be honored, and because they enable historical figures to live on, to list just a few reasons. Arguing that statues aren’t needed because people can learn about history without them denies all of these things. Without statues, people might still remember the past, but the present world would be stripped of all beauty, joy, meaning, and purpose, and therefore would not be worth living in. I don’t know about you, but personally, I think that having a world worth living in is kind of important.