Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Emperor's New Clothes: the heritage cult ― 2. Indoctrination

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes 1746-1828
Que pico de Oro! (What a golden beak!)
Aquatint. Plate 53 of Los Caprichos,  1799
The Goya aquatint to the right has become quite an icon for me and this is the second time I have used it in a blog post. Goya allowed for multiple interpretations in his description of the plate saying:
"This looks a bit like an academic meeting. Perhaps the parrot is speaking about medicine? However, don’t believe a word he says. There is many a doctor who has a ‘golden beak’ when he is talking, but when he comes to prescriptions, he’s a Herod; he can ramble on about pains, but can’t cure them: he makes fools of sick people and fills the cemeteries with skulls."
In this series, I will examine a number of topics that form a "constellation" around the term archaeology. So, before we go any further we should define archaeology. Its root is the Greek αρχαιολογία, which meant "ancient history" and while the Greek word accurately defines ancient history as history is text, it does not serve us so well when dragged into English. The definitions of archaeology vary considerably, and part of this vagueness is due to various sorts of indoctrination that have entered the subject. I would say, simply, that it is the study of the past through its non-historical physical remains. I have to add that criterion because a text on history was, technically, a physical object before the invention of computers. Nowadays, any text can also be electronic. Archaeology is a relatively modern discipline. If you Google archaeology definition, and then click on the arrow to expand the definition, you will see an n-gram showing its usage (click on the graphic to get a more detailed view). you will see that, in 1800 the usage was zero and it started to creep upwards in about 1840 (the time of Sir John Evans who incorporated numismatic and geological methods with a leaning towards Darwinism). The incline becomes steeper in about 1940 but has started on a decline since about 2000. Allowing for an appropriate amount of cultural lag, this decline might well be attributed to the popularity of the World Wide Web and its social media, but there are other reasons too.

Some years ago, my wife and I attended a Calgary Coin Club meeting in which an archaeologist (Michelle Mann) was giving a talk on Celtic coin iconography. Upon entering the room, we had no problem in identifying the speaker. She was female, in her twenties, blonde and smartly dressed. The audience, on the other hand, was mostly male. middle aged and somewhat rumpled. I am not a member of the coin club, and I was skeptical about how an archaeologist would handle a topic dear to my heart, but she did an excellent job of it. I was quite surprised. After the meeting, she described to us an archaeological dig that she had attended in Tuscany where quite a number of Etruscan bucchero ware pots had been excavated. As the local museum stores were full of the stuff (it is very common), it was decided that the only pots that should retained were those that bore decoration. The rest of the excavated pots, she said, were smashed with hammers "to prevent them falling into the hands of collectors".

This is an almost text-book example of Jungian enantiodromia. Another, even more tragic, example is seen in a fairly recent type of murder in which a man loses his job and then murders his family as he feels he can no longer take care of them. In that example, it is necessary for the man to feel strongly that he is the head of his family and totally responsible for their well-being. What he achieves, of course is the destruction of something that he feels is his duty to protect.

Although archaeology is about the study of the past through its material remains, a very small percentage of archaeologists have taken, as their raison d'être, what they see as the preservation  of the past. Using the WWW and social media, they try to indoctrinate the public that, as archaeologists, they are the custodians for this past. The idea has a number of philosophical problems attached to it. By definition, the past is already over so that the preservation of this past would seem to be an attempt to negate it. Psychologically, there is an element of enantiodromia in this attitude. If we, strictly, study the patterns of the past we see that the old becomes transformed into the new through destruction, transformation and adaptation. Stones that were once part of houses before the Scottish Highland Clearances were often used to build fences to contain the sheep.

We can extend this to the idea of a culture, which will have tendency to change in order to meet the demands of new situations unless some form of authoritarianism forces it to remain static. Such forces, in the main, are mostly religious, political, or a combination of the two. More democratic societies allow cultures to freely express themselves, and their containing nations allow for various forms of multiculturalism to be part of their national identity. In Canada, we talk of a cultural mosaic, and the U.S. they speak of the "melting pot". Both are quite accurate: whatever, in this area, starts as a mosaic transforms itself over years to be a melting pot as the cultures start to communicate and mingle. If authoritarianism enters the picture, the society remains static for some time, and then, usually in a black swan event flips to its enantiodromic opposite. In any battle between conservation and adaptation in nature, adaptation either wins or the previously conserved state becomes extinct. however, the process is always somewhat messy and, for humans at least, the exact results are unpredictable. After the fact, of course, we can all see how it went "pear-shaped".

Different creatures act in different ways and evolve thusly. They might gradually change their forms to meet the demands of change, like Darwin's finches, or they might suddenly embark on (for them as individuals) some sort of sudden action as when a herd of caribou becomes decimated by a wolf pack, a segment of that herd will migrate and join another herd. The latter example is a problem for the wolves as their food source is diminished and this results in a lower number of wolves in the area. The advantage to the caribou species is that their genetic material becomes mixed and thus the species becomes stronger. It is an evolutionary balancing act that has existed far longer than there have been humans around to observe it. Yet some humans take it upon themselves to cull wolf populations when their populations have reached a high point in this cycle. Different species regulate their numbers in different ways. With the African wild dog, an alpha female will kill the pups of a rival. If there is a volition at play, it is for her to maintain her power, but really, it is evolutionary adaptation that has developed over many thousands of years. Without it, some other mechanism would then start to emerge, perhaps in a similar way to the wolf/caribou cycle.

While it is impossible to know if or when the human species will become extinct, human societies and cultures become extinct all the time, and it is never expected. Jared Diamond discusses a number of such societies in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. As we have, as individuals, a very high degree of volition, we also have an opportunity to devise ways to enhance the potential of our survival. Of course, nature will always have the last word and that could include a large comet or asteroid slamming into the earth causing an extinction event.

Sometimes, volition can have no effect whatsoever. Cheetahs are in a precarious position, in part, because they have evolved to lack much genetic variability and pretty well all African top predators are in danger because of various environmental issues such as the loss of viable habitats and even dead zones in the oceans leading to a greater human reliance on bushmeat. Efforts to rectify the situation through force, without attending to its root causes can have only a very limited effect, and its long-term efficacy might be questioned. Again, this is nature at work. If your local seas become too high and start to engulf the land, then you will likely build dykes or sea walls to contain it. However, this can also have a disastrous effect on people living in another part of the coastline. One is reminded of Cnut's demonstration about commanding the sea.

Cnut's lesson seems to have been missed by a few of these "protectionist" archaeologists who advocate draconian methods "to preserve the past" and are either unwilling or unable to see the larger picture or to adapt to changing times and economies. While evolution will undoubtedly select them out, such selection, as I said is a messy business and often has a negative outcome. Perhaps the decline of archaeology indicated in the n-gram is partly caused by this effect.

In the "genome" of the "cultural heritage" cult, the root "survive" command is expressed by UNESCO declarations. The founding of UNESCO was not long after the 1940 peak in the n-gram and of course this was also the time of the second world war in which we saw such dramatic "solutions" as genocide and the invention of the atomic bomb. It was a time when, as Jung noted, the collective consciousness had become dominant and with tragic consequences. It did not end with the allied victory either, certain patterns survived  and were embodied into the foundation of UNESCO. If you have never read Julian Huxley's foundation speech of UNESCO, of 1946 then you are in for a shock.

Julian Huxley was a proponent of eugenics. That such a thing was promoted so soon after the war almost defies the imagination. As an evolutionary biologist, he seems to have thought it possible to remove the "natural" from natural selection. To say that I am not a fan of eugenics would be an understatement, as (with a friend) started the ball rolling to overturn the Alberta eugenics laws by placing a few well-chosen words in Peter Lougheed's ear. and as I have discussed in that same series, I am in agreement with the cultural frames approach in anthropology as opposed to any ethnic and nationalistic interpretations of culture. Furthermore, I agree with Aaron Lynch's ideas about the damage to original thought by any unification of education.

It would seem that UNESCO is based upon very outmoded ideas about evolution, culture and education, and that, over the years, very little variability has entered its "genome". I doubt that it will change, and some governments have certainly been using its cultural property conventions for their own nefarious motives -- for example, in all of the recent US Memoranda of Understanding about "cultural property" the partnering countries have been causing problems for the U.S. Monsanto Corporation (who seem to be promoting various extinctions through GMO's). However, as the details of the quid pro quo's are kept secret from the American people, we cannot be absolutely sure.

But, while strongly related to my previous series, this series is mainly about the cult aspects of "Cultural Heritage" and its mind control methods, so tomorrow I will discuss the rhetoric of this indoctrination and its resulting memes.

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