Discourse

Park bench dedicated to Swedish botanist Carl von Linné is 'racist' say Oslo politicians

(Photo: Truong Vu Pham/NHM) Will the next demand be to leave these great thinkers and scientists out of our curricula and public spheres altogether, for fear of upsetting people?
Kathrine Jebsen Moore
Kathrine Jebsen Moore Edinburgh, UK

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A bench bearing the name of one of the most famous botanists in history, Carl von Linné, should be removed because it makes the atmosphere in the Botanical Garden in Oslo "unsafe" due to the Swede's links to racism, Khrono reports.

The demand to remove the bench was proposed by the Socialist party and the communist party and backed by a majority of representatives in the local borough council of Old Oslo. The motion was opposed by the Conservatives, the right-leaning Progress Party and the centrist Venstre party.

"What few people know is that Linné is highlighted as the father of modern racism," SV, the socialist party, writes in its motion. "He represents in many ways the start of biological racism, a shift where people were no longer classified according to their religion, but according to anatomy, physiology and biology. International racism research highlights him as a considerable racist ideologue in history, who legitimised both colonialism and slavery.

"By dividing people into four race- and colour categories (white, red, yellow, black) and by assigning these categories certain traits, Linné contributed to the establishment of a human hierarchy where white people were at the top and black people were at the bottom… There are people living in the vicinity of the Botanical Garden who find it hard that Linné is being celebrated in our part of the city," the proposal reads. The bench is "very problematic," SV adds.

Carl von Linné, born as Carl Linneaeus in 1707, was one of the most acclaimed scientists in Europe at his time of death in 1778. Accredited with formalizing a system of naming organisms called binomial nomenclature, a two-term naming system which assigns a generic name and a specific name to living organisms, as in homo sapiens, is also known as the "father of modern taxonomy."

He has a flower, the Linnéa flower, named after him, and the woman's name Linnea was the most popular name given to girls in 2008 according to Statistics Norway.  His Wikiepedia entry states: "The Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau sent him the message: 'Tell him I know no greater man on earth.' Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: 'With the exception of Shakespeare and Spinoza, I know no one among the no longer living who has influenced me more strongly.' Swedish author August Strindberg wrote: 'Linnaeus was in reality a poet who happened to become a naturalist.' Linnaeus has been called Princeps botanicorum (Prince of Botanists)."

While Linné did indeed categorise people according to their skin colour and origins, he was by no means alone in thinking along these simplified lines. And his contemporaries are also subjected to posthumous cancellation. Just last week, David Hume, a contemporary of Linné and a celebrated Scottish enlightenment philosopher, had his name removed from a tower at Edinburgh University because he failed to live up to the values of 2020. While it is right to acknowledge their antiquated ideas on race, by removing their names from monuments, we forget that they were not put there in the first place because of their flaws, but because of their immense contributions to humanity.

And where do we draw the line? Will the next demand be to leave these great thinkers and scientists out of our curricula and public spheres altogether, for fear of upsetting people who, we are constantly told, are made to feel "unsafe" because words now have the power to pose a real danger to them?

Norway has, until now, escaped the worst examples of the woke culture wars. Calls for the removal of a Churchill statue earlier this year were firmly opposed. It will be a telling moment how the University of Oslo, which owns the Botanical Garden, responds to the demand from the local politicians.

When the bench – which has Linné's name discreetly engraved at the rear – was installed back in 2014, there were no protests. The bench offers a beautiful view over the park's "systematic garden." If the bench is removed, it's testament to the lunacy of a cultural revolution that has no regard for creating or building, but instead wishes to tear down everything that is beautiful and functional, and the cowardice of those who allow it to happen.  

Perhaps the only reliable benefit of activism is the feeling of righteousness it offers its participants. "I don’t trust the activist ethos at all," Jordan Peterson has remarked. "Everything about it is superficial and trendy and too easy, and it externalizes the blame—the evil is always elsewhere."

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