The Removal of Prospector Pete and the Inclination of Flat Ontologies Towards Historical Erasure

Prospector Pete was, until 1970, a widely beloved mascot for California State University, Long Beach (CSU), styled after the gritty and headstrong frontiersmen of the American settler-era. The iconic Prospector Pete statue was born out of the comments of former CSU President and founder Pete Peterson who once stated that the school had “struck the gold of education.” A cursory viewing of either the heroic Forty-Niner Prospector statue that sits upon the campus or the cartoonish Prospector Pete Mascot, reveals a fond remembrance for the past that is equal parts solemn and jovial and wholly emblematic of the American spirit. Not everyone, however, sees things this way.

Since the 1970s tensions have roiled at CSU over whether or not the statue was appropriate. Advocates for removing the statue often argued that it represented violence done against the indigenous populations by the settlers. According to reports from NBC4 the Campus was founded on land which formerly belonged to the Tongva Tribe. This – coupled with rising racial tensions in the country after the Obama Administration and the continued nation-wide debate over the proper placement of historical personalities, only served as fuel to accelerate tensions.

Anthony Brennan – a former CSU student and the man who was the inspiration for the Prospector Pete Statue – said in 2017 that he was in favor of CSU removing the cartoon-version of the character, but was absolutely opposed to their removal of the statue, noting:

“It eventually became the image for the college. It was on letterhead, everything. It became a substantial part of the college’s identity.” – A. Brennan

Tensions surrounding the statue were exacerbated in 2018 when CSU’s president, published a public statement on Prospector Pete through the official Cal State website which read as follows:

“We have evolved from Prospector Pete. We are more than one mascot. We are the Beach. A model of diversity, success and relevance. We are champions. We are informed by our past and prepared to face the future together.

Therefore, the university will officially “retire” the Prospector Pete mascot.”

However, we want to recognize and preserve our history. To honor our alumni we will be relocating the statue to an area on campus dedicated to our alumni.

— CSU, 2018.

The reasons for this push for removal can be found in a 2017 student-drafted CSU resolution which states the following:

“Prospectors in California perpetuated colonization, white supremacy, racism and exclusion ideals not only against indigenous American communities, but also women, people of color and non-Protestant communities.”

This is somewhat akin to pulling Batman movies from stores by declaring that they perpetuated vigilante violence, given that Prospector Pete was not a real prospector but a fictional character. Further, even if Prospector Pete would have been a real prospector to indict him for merely being such is a profoundly bizarre over-generalization.

Thankfully, for those that are concerned about historical preservation, the statue will not be destroyed but will rather be, as President Conoley stated, “retired.” CSU Professor Craig Stone supported the colleges move, stating that such a statue might bring up “historical trauma” which could be alienating. This is a common ideological vector for the contemporary academic-milieu but one which any person or peoples, anywhere, can say about pretty much anything, given that almost all peoples have experienced trauma which made its mark upon the historical record. For instance, white Americans could constantly bring up the religious persecution they faced before escaping British theocratic rule every time they saw some pertinent British monument. They could do this but they by and large do not, because there is nothing to be gained from it as such eventualities are no longer pressing political realities.

The removal and relocation of The Forty-Niner Prospector statue is merely one case in a long line of attempted statue removals in US history. For instance, in the 90s, then-political candidate Lyndon Larouche vigorous campaigned alongside James L. Bevel and Anton Chaitkin for the take-down of the Albert Pike statue in Washington, DC. Albert Pike was a American Confederate general, Masonic leader and one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan, as a consequence Larouche and his associates argued that the statue was unrepresentative of what America had become and should thus be removed. During this time, The Washington Post took aim at the statue as well, with the style section writer and opponent of ‘political correctness,’ Michael Farquhar, arguing that the Pike statue was an “embarrassment” that should “come on down.”

In 2015, numerous municipalities campaigned for the removal of various public-property statues commemorating members of the Confederate States of America. August 2017, this trend had created such a tinderbox of antagonism that it lead to the riots of the Charlottesville rallies in Virginia where public officials conspired to allow ANTIFA agitators to attack rally-goers without police intervention. Proponents of the Confederate statue removal or destruction efforts declared that the artifacts were beacons of “white supremacy” and “slavery” whilst opponents to the removal campaigns argued that the statues were a important part of the history of America and a integral part of its cultural heritage. The mythos of the intrinsic evil of the Confederacy and the civil-war era South more generally, served to sway much the undecided public. Even the American Historical Association (AHA) favored the anti-historical campaign, declaring, in a 2017 public statement:

History comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts. To remove a monument, or to change the name of a school or street, is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history. A monument is not history itself; a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community’s public spaces… To remove such monuments is neither to “change” history nor “erase” it.

— AHA, 2017.

If this were the case then surely the AHA would merely shrug at the ISIL-led decimation of historical sites all throughout Iraq, Syria and Libya. After all, ISIL’s Kata’ib Taswiyya weren’t “erasing” or “changing” history, they were merely altering or calling attention to a previous interpretation of history! Clearly, the AHA is talking out its hat. Furthermore, their opinion is decidedly not that held by the American majority and in a Republic (it bears noting that the USA is a republic not a democracy) that should count for something. For example, a NPR-PBS-Marist research poll conducted in August, 2017 found that most Americans (62 %) did not want the statues removed and in fact wanted them to stay in place to “honor” the Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle. Only 27% wanted the statues to be removed. An August 2017 HuffPo-YouGov poll (4.2% margin of error) showed very similar results, with 49% opposed to statue removal. Different results were garnered via a small 2017 Pack Poll by changing the demographic to democrat students, wherein, of those Democrats questioned, 78% approved of Confederate statue removal, with only 9% democrat opposition; republicans of those students surveys polled almost entirely in the opposite direction with 71% opposed to Confederate statue removal and only 14% in favor. The Pack Poll’s focus on party ideology is quite pertinent in understanding the opposition to historical monuments throughout America given the Democratic party’s slide towards leftist progressivism and its instantiation of what can be for the sake of brevity called “anti-institutional oppressionism” (AIO) whereby a immaterial specter of white racial animus hangs about every state and federal cornice like a great and weighty albatross and must be judiciously girded against, attack and ultimately, destroyed. Often, specific instances of this supposed oppression are not given and it is simply asserted as a brute fact that neo-nazis and – as CSU alleges – “white supremacists” are hiding under every bush and round every corner. Hence the focus on “inclusivity” and “diversity” as is witnessed by the popular progressive slogan, “Diversity is our strength.” A slogan which was widely deployed during the campaign against the confederate memorials and one which has also been heard shouted on the campus of CSU as is witnessed by their Office For Equity And Diversity which states on their web-page: 

Protected statuses include: Age, Disability, Gender, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Genetic Information, Marital Status, Medical Condition, Nationality, Race or Ethnicity, Religion, Sexual Orientation, and Veteran or Military Status 

We would contend that it is this ideological move towards diversity — not any actual historical incidents — which lies at the base of the anti-historical campaigns in the USA, including the removal of Prospector Pete.

It is pertinent here to note how often the notion of “inclusivity” and “diversity” are utilized to perpetuate precisely the opposite – exclusion (of, for instance, statues or remembrance of certain historical instances) and homogeneity (ie. if you not sufficiently degredational towards certain historical figures you must be a bad person). This is not to say that exclusion and homogeneity are always bad, nor is it to say as much concerning diversity and inclusion. The principal question should always be: What specifically is being included or excluded and why? What is being homogenized or diversified, how and why? Such questions go by the way-side when on adopts a flat ontology as pertains to the aforementioned conceptions. For example, if one holds, as their highest standard, diversity and inclusivity then one must (if sufficiently dedicated to one’s own ideology) begin including individuals who are demonstrably harmful to their social unit (such as violent criminals or wrathful demagogues) and diversifying homogeneous units regardless of the consequence (i.e. firing productive and amiable employees simply because they did not meet certain ideological check-marks). In this vein, if one holds to homogeneity and exclusion as the highest standard, the problem is much the same, only reversed; wherein, productive and loyal individuals must be pushed aside and constructive diversification (such as of thought) must be hobbled. This is precisely what Americans have seen as regarding the anti-historical campaigns of leftists, progressives and neoliberals, which, as opposed to being a campaign of beatific diversity, is, in truth, really one of cultural hegemony.

Any nation which forgets its history forgets also itself.

This article was originally published on LogosLogistics