Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part fifteen: the dark side of archaeology

Big Brother

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." George Orwell, 1984
Up to this point, I have been discussing some of the pitfalls that might be encountered by the archaeologist searching for an objective interpretation of archaeological evidence. We have all heard of Churchill's quote, "History is written by the victors", but that history begins to be written even before the first shot is fired. Wars need public support and politicians know that it is easy to to shift feelings of patriotism toward feelings of nationalism. This is so successful that I think that most people today might be confused about the differences between patriotism and nationalism. Orwell clarifies the problem:
"By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality. ... Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also — since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself — unshakeably certain of being in the right."
In an Artnet news report about the recently excavated tomb at Amphipolis connected with Alexander the Great, it is said "that the discovery has engendered great Greek patriotism and pride in the austerity-hit country." Compare this with a statement from I. Rizos Neroulos, the president of the Athens Archaeological Society in 1841 (Yannis Hamilakis, The Nation and its Ruins, Oxford, 2007, p. 112):
"And a battle in Chaironeia took place, in which Philip won, destroying the Hellenic freedom. But Philip committed something even more disastrous, he fathered Alexander!"
So how did Alexander become a national hero today when 174 years ago, he was the person that brought an end to the "small government" democratic city-states of Greece? Through nationalist machinations, of course.

In his foundation speech for UNESCO (1946), Julian Huxley says of eugenics:
"Still another and quite different type of borderline subject is that of eugenics. It has been on the borderline between the scientific and the unscientific, constantly in danger of becoming a pseudoscience based on preconceived political ideas or on assumptions of racial or class superiority and inferiority. It is, however, essential that eugenics should be brought entirely within the borders of science, for, as already indicated, in the not very remote future the problem of improving the average quality of human beings is likely to become urgent; and this can only be accomplished by applying the findings of a truly scientific eugenics."
 I dare say that there were more than just a few people critical of eugenics in 1946.

Huxley goes on to say:
"The moral for Unesco is clear. The task laid upon it of promoting peace and security can never be wholly realised through the means assigned to it —education, science and culture. It must envisage some form of world political unity, whether through a single world government or otherwise, as the only certain means for avoiding war."

Today, we see "repatriated" antiquities (according to various UNESCO declarations) going on display much like the spoils of war were displayed by returning Roman generals. Orwell, according to Anthony Burgess, originally wanted to title the book "1948"

For more information, see my reviews of The Nation and its Ruins and Archaeology under Dictatorship.

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