Dubuque: A monumental decision: on ballparks and civic memory

From Patrick Dubuque at Baseball Prospectus on September 6, 2017:

It’s not often that you have a philosophical question that hasn’t been beaten to death; what with science and astronomy and politics getting their own fields, philosophy doesn’t have much ground left to cover anymore. But there’s a topic that’s been dogging me for a long time now, never pressing enough to answer, but always around. The question: are monuments ethical?

By monuments, I don’t mean the ones that have been in the news lately, the statues of non-Americans that some Americans feel protective of. I mean monuments in the grander sense: the colossal civic projects, forged by mystical inspiration or whips or both, to create a lasting thing, a representation of the people who lived there. The Pyramids and the Taj Mahal, or even on a local level, the St. Louis Arch and the Golden Gate Bridge are iconic constructions that inspire and memorialize, the last connections to the obelisks of an ancient age that spurred mankind toward revelation.

Monument-building has slowed down in the modern age, however, mostly because fewer people are getting whipped to build things. What we generally consider the wonders of the world are a product of despotism or, in the best of scenarios, the benefaction only possible through extreme wealth; they are not democratic things. In democracies, when we’re about to gild the ceilings of our cathedrals and throw fortunes into construction, there are people to remind us that there are folks down the street who are starving. Or at least that we could build a mass transit system for them to get to the cathedral.

Monuments are tricky things because they create a shared good, both in the tangible present and the intangible future. The Space Needle doesn’t really do anything, per se, except attract some tourism funds from people who like to eat from a height while rotating slowly. But it’s a permanent feature of the Seattle skyline, a source of civic individuality at a time when that’s difficult to find. But can they be justified when people are hungry and homeless? It’s not an easy question to answer, but there’s an easy follow-up while we mull: what about our modern cathedrals, the stadiums?

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=32646

Originally published: September 7, 2017. Last Updated: September 7, 2017.