Friday, 2 September 2016

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

For the GroupThink chart, see section (i) in Wednesday's post.

Boxes B1: Structural faults and B2: Provocative context, cont'd.

Any classification parameter is subjective and several identifiable groups are involved in the subject of restrictions of cultural property. Those of them who believe that the world's "cultural heritage" belongs to the collective, but not individual "everyone" include some archaeologists, politicians, legal professionals, journalists, all UNESCO people and all of these groups followers and supporters. The motives of each can be different as can the relationships between analytical thought and the transmission of unthinking memes. In this series, though, archaeological objects are emphasized and thus the core group consists of some archaeologists or those who quote them. Not every archaeologist is a member of this group although the group always takes criticisms as being against archaeology, itself, and not their subset. This is merely a PR trick. Sometimes, they label themselves as "Cultural heritage conservationists", and less often, "Cultural heritage preservationists". Neither term is accurate, as conservationists are mostly people who restore objects and/or prevent future decay, or people who protect things or creatures from destruction (such as by development) or danger of extinction, and preservationists are mostly people who protect ideas or interests (such as barber shop quartets, or jazz). There is an adoption of terminology, again, for PR purposes. As I am mostly dealing with archaeological objects (using archaeology in its broadest sense of objects from the distant past and not just as objects from an archaeological site),

I think that the least inflammatory term for this group would be private collection critics. It is commonplace to use the term "anti-collecting" but that actually refers to it in its instrumental sense: if you make restrictions too severe, it will collapse the market as there is only a very small percentage of archaeological objects where you can track the chain of ownership earlier than 1970. Most archaeological objects are not listed with the names of former owners unless they are from an important collection and the name of that collector adds to their value and considerations of the objects worthiness. Many archaeological objects are sold as bulk lots with little description at all, and before the internet and digital cameras, most were not even illustrated in sales catalogues as the expense of doing so was often greater than the profit on their sale.  So the term anti-collecting can be refuted by "we are not against private collecting, and are just demanding due diligence. again, this is a PR trick as, in reality, due diligence is reckoned by the degree of expense in comparison to the value of the object or project. No judge would expect a thousand dollars or a months work be devoted to something worth $500.

When I was in business, I turned down projects from large companies when they were contracting them out because they did not want to run the risk of legal liability. One such project was editorial work on a railway's maintenance manuals. They did not want us to rewrite them to make them efficient, they just wanted us to "tidy them up a bit". I did produce a series of dam repair diagrams, though, but I did not change the company design and just made them more legible. One engineer told me that one of my diagrams was wrong, so I showed him the original and he realized that it was just so badly drawn in the original that the mistake was not obvious. Another engineer criticized my digital emergency evacuation maps because they were "artistic" and to his mind, that meant inaccurate. He changed his mind when I showed him with a transparent overlay of a government map that the maps were accurate to a single pixel (and these were very large files printed at the equivalent of 300 dpi). We had one employee whose main job was to proof-read the maps: a young Vietnamese man, Tan, with the most amazing visual acuity and spacial perception I have ever encountered. When my assistant, Natasha, received one of her first maps for correction she looked at her mistakes and was about ready to fall on her sword until my wife showed her one of my maps where Tan had just finished circling my mistakes! These maps, by the way, were very expensive as you can well imagine. Diligence does not come cheap. I think that some private collection critics live in a magical world where things can just happen at no cost. Being against any sort of commercialism, and having no experience in business, they are poorly qualified to pontificate about such matters. Thankfully, they do not have to keep society running.

We can see that the features listed in Box B2 are mostly inapplicable to private collection critics as their statements are mostly a matter of belief or are received as memes and no real analysis is even taking place. what we have instead is actually religious faith without the benefit of metaphor use. In other words, a materialistic and historicism-dependent religion akin to religious fundamentalism. When such people refer to ISIS, it is the destruction and theft of objects that upset them most, and not the loss of life and livelihood that has created the large numbers of refugees, Thus, subsistence (or survival) looting is downplayed because in that scenario, and by their own emphasis, collectors are contributing to refugee survival. Thus there might be some private feeling about B2: Moral Dilemmas, but the evidence is not apparent. More apparent is B2: Low self esteem due to recent failures because of the realization that many "looted" antiquities are really tourist fakes. This has resulted in a lessening of coverage about the market of smuggled antiquities in recent months. The greatest religious animosity you see is between fundamentalist religious groups and they not only inflame hostility, but from a quantum intelligence perspective are the actual cause of it. Two objects that are of like charge will repel each other. The advantage in this case, goes to ISIS as they are intentional terrorists. Conflict and opposition are their means to other ends. B2: Excessive complexity, seems not to be represented at all. this is because of the prevalence of memes which are passed on with little variation.

A dominant meme which everyone who looks into these matters encounters is "disappear into private collections". I used the following Google search terms to discover the number of instances but restricted it to where "archaeology" was a component to reduce such things as paintings, manuscripts and so on:
archaeology "disappear into private collections"
It got 647 hits and the first one, I am pleased to see, is my own criticism of the term. Changing "disappear" into "vanish" received only 141 results. There can be many different ways to word the meme: changing "disappear" into "disappeared" got 594. and I was surprised to see that "disappearing" got the most at 885. without the Boolean expression of quotation marks but including "disappear*" the results in a staggering 6,600,000 results but by the tenth page, other topics start to enter the results. I decided to check the internet results against a Google Books ngram and found that using the term "disappearing" got no results at all so I just used "disappear":

You will notice that the majority of instances are after the 1970 UNESCO convention and the only much earlier peak (I did not include) was around 1920 and its results were about paintings. For my next experiment, I chose to emphasize how minor the terms really are in comparison with "Collection of Miss". I picked this because important collections of unmarried women are really in the minority and I wanted the other terms to show up as well. I also extended the search back to 1900. Here is the result:

It seems that things disappear into private collections far less than they are said to do, because all of these authors used various records of the things in question: auction records; museums collections of former private collections and so forth. I suspect that where things have disappeared most often are within the archaeological storage facilities that Raimund Karl speaks about in his paper Every sherd is sacred: Compulsive Hoarding in Archaeology, which in part, inspired this series.

Have a revelatory weekend and a pleasant Labour day (if you celebrate such) and I'll be back with more on Tuesday.

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