Racists’ statues: five articles on the controversy

Months ago there was a big controversy about the felling of statues that honour racists. These are five of the best articles I have read on the subject.

Ross Douthat, in The New York Times:

Our civil religion, back when it had more true believers, sometimes treated departed presidents like saints. But our monuments and honorifics exist primarily to honor deeds, not to issue canonizations — to express gratitude for some specific act, to acknowledge some specific debt, to trace a line back to some worthwhile inheritance.

Thus when you enter their Washington, D.C., memorials, you’ll see Thomas Jefferson honored as the man who expressed the founding’s highest ideals and Abraham Lincoln as the president who made good on their promise. That the first was a hypocrite slave owner and the second a pragmatist who had to be pushed into liberating the slaves is certainly relevant to our assessment of their characters. But they remain the author of the Declaration of Independence and the savior of the union, and you can’t embrace either legacy, the union or “we hold these truths …” without acknowledging that these gifts came down through them.

To repudiate an honor or dismantle a memorial, then, makes moral sense only if you intend to repudiate the specific deeds that it memorializes.


But just as Jefferson’s memorial wasn’t built to celebrate his slaveholding, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs wasn’t named for Wilson to honor him for being a segregationist. It was named for him because he helped create precisely the institutions that the school exists to staff — our domestic administrative state and our global foreign policy apparatus — and because he was the presidential progenitor of the idealistic, interventionist worldview that has animated that foreign policy community ever since.


Or consider a different example, one raised by puckish conservatives in the last few weeks: The case of Yale University, named for a 17th-century merchant, official and dealer in slaves named Elihu Yale. What is honored and memorialized in the school’s name (and this is true of many schools) is exactly one deed from Yale’s often wicked and dishonest life — the donation of his money to the young college. The name “Yale” doesn’t honor old Elihu’s slaving; it simply pays the school’s debt to him, acknowledging that Yale owes part of its very existence to a rich man’s desire to see ill-gotten money put to better use.


But unless the endgame of New Haven’s removal of Columbus is the expropriation of white property (Yale’s property, I suppose, especially) and its redistribution to the Pequots and Mohegans, then a consistent rejection of Columbus’s legacy isn’t what my city is embracing. Instead, it’s just doing the same thing as Princeton: keeping the inheritance, but repudiating the benefactor. Keeping the gains, but making a big show of pronouncing them ill gotten.


Meanwhile, for now the ingratitude is being presented as a clear moral advance, and it is not. To enjoy an inheritance that comes from flawed men by pretending that it comes from nowhere, through nobody, is a betrayal of memory, not its rectification — an act of self-righteousness that may not bring the revolution, but does make our ruling class that much less fit to rule.

Mary Beard, in the Times Literary Supplement:

There is no one (or almost no one) who thinks that there are no exclusions at all for statues that belong in the public realm. There would, I imagine, be very little public debate about the taking down of a statue of Goebbels or Jimmy Savile. It is, however, rather like Free Speech. No one wants it to be completely free, but we disagree on where we draw the line.


The truth is that there is no such simple version of history, or for that matter of the present: people who do good also do bad (and vice versa) and our own heroes and heroines will in due course be found wanting (or worse) too. Maybe it is the act of heroizing that is the problem, not the inevitably flawed individuals themselves.


In the longue durée, statues offer different challenges to our view of history: they ask us to think about what separates us from the heroes of the past, how we can face them down (actually these guys are just lumps of stone), and how they remind us of our own fragility in the judgement of the future.


My view of course is that museums are a source of debate and discussion about the past and the present. But I strongly suspect that those who suggest that these statues should be moved there really think that museums are a useful dumping ground for old things you don’t want, but don’t feel you can actually throw away.

Julian Baggini, in the Times Literary Supplement:

But slippery slope arguments are themselves slippery and need to be treated with caution. They force us to take one of two extreme, polarized positions and do not allow anything more nuanced. When the slope is slippery, the only place to be is safely at the top or right down at the bottom. There is no in-between. In the case of statues it would mean leaving everything as it is or tearing down more than most people would think reasonable.

But that does not exhaust the options. The slope is not slippery, merely craggy. With care, statues can be placed at any number of places between the exalted heights and the ignominious bottom. To do this requires going beyond neat lines, with the pure on one side and the tainted on the other. Instead, we have to make judgements on a case-by-case basis, by asking ourselves some key questions.


Is the achievement for which they are being celebrated intimately or causally tied to their sins? Were they significantly worse than others of their time? How recent was the offence? These questions do not add up to a complete and rigorous set of tests. Issues are too complicated to be settled by any moral algorithm.


By any reasonable test, David Hume should be safe. (He’s not yet listed on toppletheracists.org.) Hume’s racism was no more than was sadly normal at the time and it had nothing to do with what made his philosophy great. Colston, however, should go. There are countless other cases where it is not so clear cut and there is a need for considered judgements. There is a kind of slope, in that there are gradations of guilt in the heroes of the past, and very few are entirely blameless. But it is not a slippery one unless we make it so by insisting there is nothing between the moral high ground and the abyss of iniquity.

Simon Schama, in the Financial Times:

Statues are not history; rather, its opposite. History is argument; statues brook none. The whole honour of history lies in its contrarian irrepressibility; its brief to puncture the pieties of power, should they belie the truth. Those horrified by the de-pedestalisations of recent days — the Black Lives Matter protests have led to the felling of statues from the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol to the brutal colonialist Leopold II in Belgian cities — claim that such acts “erase” history. But the contrary is true. It is more usually statues, lording it over civic space, which shut off debate through their invitation to reverence.


Let them disappear, then, but not into canals, ponds or rubbish dumps, since arbitrary acts of destruction shut down debate quite as much as uncritical reverence. Better, surely, to relocate them to museums where, properly curated, they can trigger genuine debate and historical education. One thing that the pandemic caesura has wrought is a confrontation with big historical matters: who are we as a nation, what we have been, and where we are going? If the Men in Stone (and they are overwhelmingly men) can deepen that understanding they will have served their purpose better than ever they did up on their pigeon-stained plinths.

Tyler Cowen, in Bloomberg (2007):

I can think of at least three practical reasons for erecting public statues. First, we may wish to create an incentive for future behavior, as we do with Nobel Prizes and Halls of Fame.


Statues and monuments also create focal points to help groups organize.


Third, statues and public monuments help drive tourism and establish the identities of regions.


The striking feature of these motivations is how much they are about the present and the future, not the past. So instead of obsessing over the worthies and unworthies of history, we would do better to consider which future causes statues are likely to support.


So if you’re considering the worthiness of a particular statue, here are three pointers: Pretend you’re from some very distant foreign country and view the dispute through that more objective lens. Second, focus on the future, and third, don’t be afraid to make some changes.

Estátuas de racistas: dois textos sobre a polêmica

Meses atrás tivemos a polêmica da derrubada de estátuas que homenageiam racistas. Estes são dois dos melhores textos brasileiros que li sobre o assunto.

Demétrio Magnoli, na Folha de S.Paulo:

Uma estátua erguida no passado não representa uma celebração presente de um personagem ou de uma ideologia, mas apenas a prova material de que, um dia, em outra época, isso foi celebrado.


A transferência das estátuas malditas para museus ou parques temáticos, retirando-as de seus contextos, tem efeito similar. Num caso, como no outro, trata-se de higienizar os lugares de circulação cotidiana, reservando o exercício da memória a uma elite de especialistas da memória.

Rhodes, o pecador, não está só. De Pedro, o Grande, a Thomas Jefferson, de Marx a Churchill, de Machado de Assis a Monteiro Lobato, ninguém passa no teste contemporâneo dos valores.

A lógica férrea do vandalismo do bem conduz a um programa de terra arrasada. O rastilho de fogueiras purificadoras nada poupará, a não ser as novas estátuas esculpidas pelos próprios vândalos do bem, que virão a ser derrubadas por seus futuros seguidores. O presente perpétuo —eis a perigosa ambição dessa seita de iconoclastas.


Quem tem o direito moral de suprimir os lugares da memória? Se concedermos esse direito aos vândalos do bem, como negá-lo a governos eleitos democraticamente?

Paulo Pachá e Thiago Krause, na Época:

As respostas encontradas nos jornais frequentemente têm sido negativas, argumentando que a derrubada de estátuas significaria a vitória do revisionismo por meio da tentativa de apagar a história e reescrever o passado, projeto supostamente autoritário e anacrônico, pois fundado em uma visão que julga o passado com os olhos de hoje.

O que esses argumentos ignoram são os fundamentos da própria historiografia, aqui entendida como a escrita da história baseada em metodologias e evidências aceitas pelos profissionais da área. Assim, a prática historiográfica é essencialmente revisionista: nós estamos sempre revisando nossos conhecimentos e interpretações sobre o passado. Essa revisão é determinada pelas relações sociais do presente, pois a sucessiva reescrita da história a partir do desenvolvimento de novas questões e interpretações está no cerne do trabalho dos historiadores.


Assim, a remoção dos monumentos também expressa uma transformação das relações e dos valores sociais. Erigir uma estátua é fazer história, derrubá-la também. Esses momentos são exatamente o contrário do apagamento, pois suscitam debates que geralmente permanecem adormecidos quando se discute o que a sociedade quer valorizar e comemorar.

Já a ideia de que seria anacrônico condenar personagens históricos erra em outra frente, pois ignora que havia outras moralidades possíveis na própria época em que essas figuras viviam. […] O espantalho do anacronismo frequentemente não passa de uma adoção irrefletida da perspectiva dominante que perpetua a negação da alteridade.


A constante reavaliação do passado nacional e a progressiva crítica de seus mitos é uma das marcas de uma democracia madura. O reconhecimento da inadequação de homenagens públicas realizadas no passado não significa apagamento, mas reparação de alguns dos muitos equívocos cometidos por nossos antepassados. […] O verdadeiro projeto de apagar a história é aquele que a vê como estática e pretende nos manter presos às visões superadas de uma historiografia laudatória dos heróis e mitos nacionais, que excluem e violentam a memória de diversos grupos sociais — em especial negros, indígenas e mulheres — reproduzindo no presente as desigualdades herdadas do passado.

Melhores colunas: atualização

A seleção Nota Bene de melhores colunas de análise e opinião do Brasil recebeu uma grande atualização.

Eis as novidades. Para ver a lista completa de alterações, clique aqui.

– Conrado Hübner Mendes (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Drauzio Varella (Drauzio Varella)
– Filipe Campante (Nexo)
– Marta Arretche (Nexo)
– Maria Hermínia Tavares (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Pedro Fernando Nery (O Estado de S. Paulo)
– Sérgio Praça (Exame)
– Solange Srour (Folha de S.Paulo)

Exclusões de “Magna cum laude”:
– Fabio Giambiagi (Valor Econômico)
– Fernando Limongi (Valor Econômico)
– Paulo Vinicius Coelho (UOL)

Exclusões de “Cum laude”:
– Antônio Gois (O Globo)
– Antonio Nucifora (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Celso Rocha de Barros (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Cepesp (Jota)
– Cláudia Collucci (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Cláudia Costin (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Cláudio Gonçalves Couto (Valor Econômico)
– Conrado Hübner Mendes (Época)
– Dalmo de Abreu Dallari (Jota)
– Eliane Brum (El País)
– Fernando Dantas (O Estado de S. Paulo)
– Fernando Henrique Cardoso (El País, O Globo)
– João Pereira Coutinho (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Lúcio de Castro (Sportlight)
– Mathias Alencastro (Folha de S.Paulo)
– Míriam Leitão (O Globo)
– Monica de Bolle (O Estado de S. Paulo, Época)
– Pedro Fernando Nery (Brasil, Economia e Governo)
– Renato Rodrigues (ESPN)
– Roberto Rodrigues (O Estado de S. Paulo)
– Ricardo Perrone (UOL)
– Sérgio Lazzarini (Veja)
– Sérgio Praça (Veja)
– Supra (Jota)
– Vinicius Torres Freire (Folha de S.Paulo)

Exclusão de “Traduções”:
– Paul Krugman (Exame, Folha de S.Paulo)

Fim das divisões “Magna cum laude”, “Cum laude” e “Traduções”.

Atualização do texto sob “Informações”.

Atualização de links.

Pedro Fernando Nery: promessas de Guilherme Boulos são ‘incumpríveis’

No Estadão:

Suas promessas são simpáticas, mas por enquanto são promessas incumpríveis.


Boulos promete que seu primeiro ato será instituir uma renda básica imediata – talvez de R$ 350. Mas nenhum prefeito pode fazer isso por simples decreto: esse aumento de gastos precisa ser autorizado por lei e passar pelo Legislativo.


A campanha admite não saber quanto custa a promessa do passe livre, que é importante para os desempregados. Os opositores de Boulos afirmam que o passe livre e a renda básica custarão cerca de R$ 25 bilhões por ano. Significaria achar orçamento na cidade para um valor próximo ao custo do Bolsa Família em todo o Brasil.


Soluções mais efetivas seriam uma reforma tributária e uma reforma previdenciária municipal. É possível aumentar o IPTU e o ITBI de forma progressiva, tributando mais os imóveis de maior de valor, e rever a tributação fixa do ISS (imposto sobre serviços) sobre autônomos. Não é justo que profissionais que ganhem milhões paguem o mesmo ISS do que os que ganham pouco.


A despesa na seguridade social dos servidores é de cerca de R$ 10 bilhões e crescente, em benefício de uma minoria. Uma transferência de renda que custa o equivalente a quase 2 milhões de rendas básicas. Boa parte desse dinheiro deve se concentrar em bairros mais ricos, não na periferia.

Não é justo que uma cidade em que 3 milhões dependeram do auxílio continue permitindo que servidores se aposentem em média ao redor dos 50 anos com os maiores salários de suas carreiras (que foram estáveis, aliás).


Boulos precisará escolher entre sua base de servidores e profissionais liberais ou a periferia da renda básica para realmente fazer diferença.

Bruno Carazza sobre a elite brasileira e o ITCMD

Bruno Carazza, no Valor Econômico:

Quando estudamos as causas do subdesenvolvimento das nações, as elites econômicas e políticas são frequentemente apontadas como responsáveis pela criação de mecanismos que levam à concentração de renda e de poder nas mãos de poucos, em detrimento de milhões. Mas na maioria das vezes as críticas ocorrem em bases genéricas, sem apontar quem são essas elites e tampouco quais engrenagens elas utilizam.

No caso específico do julgamento do ITCMD sobre as heranças, temos uma rara oportunidade de dar nome aos bois. No parágrafo anterior, onde está escrito “elite econômica”, segundo levantamento feito pelas repórteres do Valor Joice Bacelo, Beatriz Olivon e Adriana Cotias, estamos tratando dos herdeiros das famílias Safra, Depieri (laboratórios Aché), Steinbruch (CSN), Bellini (Marcopolo) e os já citados Diniz, entre outros.

Já no polo da “elite política” estão os onze ministros do Supremo Tribunal Federal, que pode ratificar mais esse episódio de concentração de renda (RE nº 851108). Aliás, o relator Dias Toffoli já votou em parte favorável à tese dos mais ricos – o processo foi suspenso por pedido de vista do ministro Alexandre de Moraes.


É bem verdade que nossa Constituição garante a qualquer pessoa recorrer ao Judiciário quando entender que seus direitos estão sendo lesados. Mas quando empresários bilionários se valem da Justiça para pagar menos impostos, eles perdem a legitimidade de reclamar do tamanho da carga tributária no Brasil e de suas distorções, pois eles são ampliados muitas vezes por privilégios criados em seu benefício.

Também não dá mais para admitir que a cúpula do Judiciário se valha de interpretações literais das normas para agravar um sistema de concentração de renda que se perpetua por décadas.

O caso da isenção da cobrança do ITCMD sobre a repatriação de recursos do exterior é mais um exemplo do mecanismo de concentração de renda brasileiro funcionando em toda a sua extensão.

VGDensetsu on the Gigaleak and video game preservation

This wonderful article by Dom Auffret (VGDensetsu) is full of interesting information – so much, in fact, that it is difficult to choose what to highlight.

Here is one sad bit:

At Square Enix, on the other hand, some files could not be saved in time and some games’ source codes were lost. In addition to the Mana series previously mentioned, we know that the source code of the PlayStation version of Final Fantasy VIII has disappeared, forcing the developers of the HD version to fall back on the code of the PC version whose music is slightly different. Same with the first episode of Kingdom Hearts; the developers of the 1.5 HD Remix version had to analyze in depth a commercial copy and recreate many assets. An example that echoes the story a developer posted in 2010 in which he explained that, as part of a port of various Midway arcade games, the editor in charge of the project was unable to get his hands on the source code of Spy Hunter, so he had to download the game’s ROM in order to extract the graphics via MAME and retrieve the sound files from a fan site, among other things.

I rarely play video games nowadays, but I enjoy reading about it once in a while – especially on history.

Facebook censors Nicholas White video about chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine

A few weeks ago, I published a video by renowned scientist Nicholas White on the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19.

Bizarrely, it was censored by Facebook.

Brazilian scientist Claudia Paiva wrote a post with a link to the video. Hours later, it was removed. Here’s Facebook’s explanation:

Your post goes against our Community Standards on misinformation that could cause physical harm

No one else can see your post.

We encourage free expression, but don’t allow false information about COVID-19 that could contribute to physical harm.

This is absurd. White says we do not know whether chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine work against COVID-19 and does not advocate their use in treatments. Why the censorship?

A ridiculous and unjustifiable decision from Facebook.

Facebook censura vídeo de Nicholas White sobre cloroquina e hidroxicloroquina

Há algumas semanas, publiquei um vídeo do renomado cientista Nicholas White sobre o uso de cloroquina e hidroxicloroquina contra a COVID-19.

Bizarramente, ele foi censurado pelo Facebook.

Claudia Paiva, professora da UFRJ, fez um post com link para o vídeo. Horas depois, ele foi removido. Eis a explicação do Facebook:

Sua publicação vai contra os nossos Padrões da Comunidade sobre desinformação que pode causar dano físico

Ninguém mais pode ver a sua publicação.

Incentivamos a liberdade de expressão, mas não permitimos informações falsas sobre a COVID-19 que possam levar à agressão física.

Isso é um absurdo. White diz que não sabemos se cloroquina e hidroxicloroquina funcionam contra a COVID-19 e não defende o seu uso em tratamentos. Por que a censura?

Decisão ridícula e injustificável do Facebook.

A letter on Emmanuel Farhi’s death

This was written by a childhood friend of Emmanuel Farhi. As Twitter user @BiasedStats notes, the third paragraph makes it worth sharing.

(Below the line, with no indentation.)

As most of you may have now heard, Emmanuel Farhi died by his own hand last week. He was a childhood friend of mine and even if we had been estranged for a long time, I feel this sad news compels or at least allows me to write this message. By all possible measures, Emmanuel was the gold standard of the profession: full professor at Harvard Economics Department, recipient of countless awards, esteemed colleague, coauthor and advisor.

I am not aware of the specifics of his personal situation. Of course, life can be difficult on many aspects other than work. However, in our profession arguably more than in others, professional and personal levels are quite often intertwined. According to the numerous reactions to his passing, Emmanuel counted many friends in the profession, who now refer to his brilliance (“true scholar”, “shooting star”, “super-human”, “best economist of his generation”, etc.). I believe this kind of tributes, however well intentioned, may also be problematic.

In Emmanuel’s case, such awe might have isolated him. In my case, I know that I forbade myself to get in touch with him as much as I could/should have because I did not feel entitled to do so. This kind of feeling is nurtured by the very hierarchical aspect of economic research, which, true enough, is not specific to economics, but is compounded by the reflective nature of our field, where we have a tendency to analyze our daily actions with economic metaphors and, among other examples, take a special interest in the determinants and the measure of individual and group productivity, as well as the structure of careers, using the example of academics.

The challenge we face is to create and maintain an ambitious and stimulating environment without losing sight of what makes academic life so great: collaborative work and a sense of collective, inclusive endeavor. This is all the more important for the newcomers, especially PhD students, who may struggle to adjust to new – and questionable – professional norms and are quite susceptible to mental distress, as discussed in this recent paper. This is also a crucial issue for the months (hopefully, not years) to come, when sanitary restrictions will limit actual human interactions and the generalization of online operations may increase exposure to global competition in possibly detrimental ways. Let us discuss about all this.

Nicholas White on the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for prevention of COVID-19

Nicholas White has been one of the few lucid, balanced voices on the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in treatment against COVID-19.

He is co-principal investigator of COPCOV, a randomised, placebo-controlled prophylaxis study to determine whether those drugs prevent the novel coronavirus disease in the healthcare setting.

In this video, recorded in July 2020, he says that we still don’t know if chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine work and that it’s been hard to find out because the politicisation has been interfering with the conduct of the studies.

[UPDATE – 11 August] Read the full transcript below the line.
Continue lendo “Nicholas White on the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for prevention of COVID-19”