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  • Writer's pictureTomislav S. Šola

Both truth and virtue should be served

Back in 2008, I took this slide to Girona, Spain for the lecture where I was trying to assist fellow professionals in defining what museums are there for. Like usually, the explanation note is lost. But, coming across this slide, I felt tempted to share its surprise. I knew from my students since the early 90s when the slide was conceived that at one moment the audience felt some personal, negative exaggeration in the claim that the makers and participants of history should also be described in their negative features. So there is a list of attributes describing the dark side of human nature. Incidentally, I love Johnathan Swift. In the fourth part of Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver makes his way to the land of the Houyhnhnms — intelligent horses “, who govern their society with strict order and reason”. Their island is also the home of Yahoos, the savage humans, - animals governed by emotion and instinct. I tried to list all the negative attributes that Swift used to describe them in that chapter: they are exactly those listed in this slide, so not mine at all, but his.

Back to museums, I thought it was appropriate to use Swift’s derogatory vision of human nature as an effective call to make museums an effective democratic tool. In a modern Western society torn apart by the non-culture of mere lying, - caring for the truth in the post-fact society in all senses, or as far as depicting human nature in its entirety is a powerful mission. The more museums become realistic, objective and reliable, no matter if they need to be occasionally provocative, they will be likely to become or remain the rare places where reality will stay real and where we can feel safe from illusionist manipulation and deceit. Museums should have better grasped their essential role of wise, reliable refuges of the increasingly suffering mankind. Since 1996 the world has been drawn into danger of total destruction and all public institutions may logically feel that either they failed their mission or became part of the problem.


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