Monday, 12 September 2016

The "cultural heritage" group neurosis 19: GroupThink analysis and examples (viii)

Odd man out. Photo: Martin Addison
For the GroupThink chart, see section (i) in 31st August post

Box C3: Uniformity Pressures

a) Self-censorship.
b) Direct pressure.
c) Mindguards.

The solitary cormorant sits on a post with a chain connected to something. The gulls sit on posts with chains that go nowhere; the only thing connecting them is their sameness. They are interchangeable. I remember being fascinated by a solitary cormorant among all the gulls when I was small boy looking out from the top of a cliff on the south coast of England. It even appears in my novel. Perhaps it became my spirit-animal. Mind you, a cable is much stronger than a chain when it comes to reasoning.

Uniformity pressures connect cultural heritage protectionists and not only are their products generic, but the same words and phrases appear again and again. They are often weasel words, too; having no real meaning in their application, they cannot be refuted. This sort of thing comes out of, common, archaeological writing: words like status; display; trade; and ritual; terms that can be used whenever anyone cannot really analyse something. The dullness of uniformity feeds back to the culture as well: fixing it motionless in a bygone era where, as an encapsulated idea, it serves only the politician as an exemplar for often only self-serving motives. When cultures cannot change and borrow from each other, they become extinct.

a) Self-censorship.

I remember being told about a lecture given about Celtic iconography where the speaker felt obliged to use the term "European Iron Age" instead of Celtic. It was obviously a painful thing for that speaker, partially, as its generality made it meaningless. Greece, too, was part of the European Iron Age. The Celts had no Muses and the Greeks no Morrigan. The use of iron never changed the spirit: It was matter, not mind. Without self-censorship, one could go against the group and might never again be invited to lecture in its halls.

b) Direct pressure.

I ran into Euan MacKie at the 1999 Bournemouth meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists where I was scheduled to give a talk and I asked him about his, then, recent difficulties in having one of his papers rejected by the Prehistoric Society. It was done so not because there was anything wrong with its data, but because it was on Archaeoastronomy and they didn't believe in that. I told him that it might be interesting to hear them explain the roof-box at Newgrange without any reference to that subject. It's not so much that they never mentioned archaeoastronomy, its just that they only published things that were critical of its findings. A bit like the AIA never publishing a post 1970 antiquity that is in a private collection unless the paper is to warn against looting. At least, with the National Enquirer, you know (or should do) that its content is nonsense.

c) Mindguards.

These are the self-appointed members of the group who protect the group from any ideas that might be contrary to its dictates. I often criticize collectors or dealers who lump all archaeologist together based on the utterances of such people, but whenever I give examples of bad or mediocre archaeology, any of these mindguards who do mention what I have said attempt to convince their followers that I am against archaeology and/or archaeologists in general. Actually, I hold a few archaeologists in very high regard, just as I hold a few collectors and dealers in very high regard. At the top of any subject of interest there are only a few who add a lot to our understanding, but it takes a very large pool to create that few and if you limit its numbers, you will diminish understanding. You mostly find mindguards in the blogosphere. They never  provide anything original and they are interchangeable, differing only in the style of their rhetoric.

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Hi John:

    Well done; you have hit the nail on the head - again.

    In the thirty or so years that I have been fighting to express the rights of detectorists I have had the pleasure of meeting some real nice guys in archaeology in the course of negotiations - nearly always, these chaps were those do the real work as opposed to the bone idle political pontificators.

    Almost to a man (and woman) they were possessed of a high level of common sense and had the ability to recognize the status quo. One or two were like me (in my 'yoof') Second Row Forwards. We are firm friends.

    Mercifully, the psychos and fruitcakes on the fringe of archaeology and are seen for what they are. Here in the UK one ageing 'fruitcake' (a spiteful piece of work) attracts assorted poets, bleeding heart liberals, writers who claim to be on the edge (whatever that means), and other assorted lost soul preachers looking for a religion like flies to a turd. They deserve one another! Their naivety astounds.

    Whatever else happens, these people must never be allowed to influence, or be left in control of the common heritage.


    (Treasure Hunter and Private Collector)

    1. Hi John,

      I think the days of the crazies are numbered: they have run out of steam, have nothing new to say, are posting less, are starting to bore the press and public and most of their "priceless cultural property" has turned out to be tourist fakes (which most of them didn't recognize, anyway).