artwork vandalism and our response to it

Like many people, my immediate reaction to hearing that a unique painting has been damaged by activists is frustration.

But let me stop for a moment and think seriously about this.

Those activists knew, when they decided to perform an act of vandalism, that it would anger many people, including potential allies. Are they irrational?

I don’t think so. I mean, they are right about climate change, and that’s the only other thing I know about them.

Suppose I extend them some credit, and interpret this as an invitation to ask myself: why, specifically, does this vandalism upset me?

An immediate answer is: “because this object was unique, or rare, or valuable, or beautiful, and it is now damaged!”

All those things might be true, and together, that seems like good reason to be angry. With this as my moral justification for outrage, do they also apply to other topics?

Plastic, petroleum, and chemical waste are building up in the world’s oceans. Carbon emissions can render majestic city skylines invisible under a dark smog. Natural environments are being flattened to make space for parking lots.

These things are also unique, or rare, or valuable, or beautiful.

The actions of selfish large-polluters (mega-corporations, governments, the ultra-rich) are causing far greater damage than an individual act of vandalism ever could. Am I as upset about those actions as I am about paintings? Why (or why not)?

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