There once was a time in human history when monuments stood for something. They used to be erected to celebrate triumphs and achievements. Sometimes, they were built to commemorate national losses and tragedies.

I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada – a city that has somehow made it to the top of so many “livability” ratings. When I look around me today, I see dozens of new installations (I dare not call them sculptures or monuments) that celebrate nothingness. We have sculptures of giant birds, laughing freaks, marble bricks, unidentifiable silver shapes, a solar bike tree (whatever the hell that means), a swarm of walking feet, a giant dried-up head, even a statue of Lenin and Mao, of all people.

Taxpayers’ money should never be used to fund art, regardless of its merits. It does not matter whether the government does it through direct grants or by forcing developers to install sculptures in front of their new buildings through the mechanism of permits. Either way, the result is equally unjust and immoral.

But even apart from the issue of funding, what message are these countless piles of talentless junk supposed to convey? Some would say that this is pure art for the sake of art. I disagree.

The abundance of this publicly displayed garbage and – more importantly – the tolerance and quiet approval that it receives from the people upon whom (and at whose expense) the installations are being imposed, closely follows the formula of Elsworth Toohey in Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead: you cannot convince people that something good is bad. To achieve the same result, you should instead convince people that something bad is just as good – and then nothing is going to matter anymore.

Not only do these examples of “modern art” devalue the scarce examples of real art around us, they actively promote the anti-achievement agenda, so dear to the heart of so many supporters of political correctness. It is precisely this agenda that brought to life the “everybody gets a trophy” approach where competition and its corollary, inequality of results, is painted as something evil.

When was the last time you saw a new monument erected to celebrate a person who had actually achieved something? A monument that would make your kids ask what the person had done to deserve a monument in his honour? A monument that would motivate people to work hard to achieve some memorable results? A monument that is neither glorification of human suffering nor a nonsensical abstraction? 

With regret, I have to answer this question, “not in a long time”.

Aboriginal totems may be great tourist attractions. Nonsensical statues may occasionally draw a smile. But seriously, how come there are no statues of Glenn Gould in British Columbia? He surely had done more for the arts than all totem builders combined! As I was digging for names of famous Canadians, I stumbled across an extensive list. Among that list are dozens of names whose achievements I knew pretty well but who I did not know were Canadians.

I admit, I am a new immigrant to Canada, and I had not been brought up hearing some of these names during family dinners or school classes. I patiently sought for signs of the nation’s pride in individual achievements of its former or current citizens. And what do I see – giant birds and Lenin!

But this article is not really about Vancouver. It is not really about monuments either.

Its goal is to highlight yet another way individualism is being gradually and purposefully erased.

In the words of Ayn Rand, “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

Forcing people to sacrifice their personal interests and freedoms for some undecipherable common good is nothing but an attempt to kill that which separates man from animals – reason-based individual achievement, to kick man back into caves.

Next time you see an apparently meaningless pileup of materials in the centre of your city, do not limit your critique to its artistic merits or lack thereof. Identify the real problem with it.

See it for what it really is – a monument to our own devolution.1