Friday, 9 September 2016

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

Salem witch trial
For the GroupThink chart, see section (i) in 31st August post

Box C2: Symptoms of GroupThink

a) Collective rationalization.
b) Stereotypes of outgroups.

The classic example of GroupThink is the Salem witch trials and "witch hunt" has become a common phrase in describing examples of collective rationalization combined with the stereotyping of outgroups. You can find many associations between the Salem witch trials and GroupThink on the web, a good example being The Salem Witch Trials GroupThink at its worst which is on a blog run by three social psychologists.

We cannot say that such things are over, and today, ISIS is doing the same thing within a different cultural setting. In fact, condemnations of the actions of ISIS restricted to the destruction of cultural monuments and the alleged income from selling antiquities and coins is being used to fuel another GroupThink movement populated mainly by archaeologists but including supporters from other professions which uses "cultural heritage" as its theme by which to condemn collectors, metal detectorists and dealers. Of course, the latter group are not executing anyone and their methods include misinformation and sweeping generalities; cyber-bullying through blogs and social media like Twitter and Facebook; complaining about their perceived enemies to their employers and the professional/cultural organizations to which they belong and so on. Some of their victims try to do the same thing back to them, but most come to realize that ignoring them completely is the best strategy. As the internet saying goes: "Do not feed the trolls".

When I was doing voluntary work in cult awareness in the early seventies, a common practice in Scientology was to steal books and documents criticizing Scientology from public and university libraries; to gather any useful information on politicians that could be used to threaten them should they condemn Scientology. The most publicized case concerning the harassment of anyone criticizing Scientology was what was done to Paulette Cooper.

Collective rationalization and stereotyping outgroups forms a feedback loop which pushes the group to ever-increasing escalation in their methods. While we think that Salem was totally evil, to the minds of those people who were executing suspected witches, killing was justified because of the greater evil they saw as the devil. This justification is very common in GroupThink to this day, as it is in a lot of violent criminal behavior. Sometimes, perpetrators of such behavior even become paranoid and imagine they are being hunted down.

Another justification is frequently seen among more "moderate" critics of collectors, detectorists, and dealers where they do not engage in crazy behavior themselves, but provide non-critical links on their blogs and web sites to those who do engage in such. One blogger I know of  removes excerpts from hate blogs when they are too extreme and replaces such with another excerpt which is less obviously hate-mongering. After a while, though, this selective quotation becomes obvious to most.

At its most innocuous level, the public, itself, is sometimes stereotyped by archaeologists:

"Most individuals in the general public find it extremely difficult to develop their ideas about an alternative past in relation to the data from the past. They are excited by Von Daniken and films such as One Million Years B.C. and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they develop their personal views about what the past must have been like, but they are kept at a distance from archaeological artifacts by glass cases, systems analyses and the jargon of social theory. When they do manage to gain some access to an immediately experienced past, they are often directly confronted by the archaeological establishment, or else their views are studiously ignored."
Ian Hodder, Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.163.
It is ironic indeed, that later, Harrison Ford, the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark and other "Indiana Jones" movies was elected to the board of the Archaeological Institute of America, one of the two main American archaeological associations which, in their journals, forbid the publication of any ancient object that violates this regulation:

"Refuse to participate in the trade in undocumented antiquities and refrain from activities that give sanction, directly or indirectly, to that trade, and to the valuation of such artifacts through authentication, acquisition, publication, or exhibition. Undocumented antiquities are those that are not documented as belonging to a public or private collection before December 30, 1970, when the AIA Council endorsed the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property"

unless that object is being used to condemn the practice of archaeological looting. So much for objective artifact classification in those journals. You will never see, for example, a classificatory paper on British Celtic coins or antiquities in their publications because a vast number of such objects have been found and recorded by metal detectorists and this activity started in the early seventies. Of course, the India Jones movie plots are all set prior to 1970 so they can be sanctioned.

Hodder's quote separates knowing archaeologists from a public who believes that aliens from outer space built the pyramids and so forth. In actual fact, a large segment of the public, knows quite a lot about archaeological sites and antiquities and laughs at the lack of understanding they often see in archaeological journals and reports on archaeological sites in the press. The idea that a young person armed only with a Ph.D is automatically an expert and that a private collector after decades of experience resulting in a standard work on the subject is a "pseudoarchaeologist" who can be lumped with von Däniken is very bizarre. If you read the linked Wikipedia article on pseudoarchaeology and have been paying attention to this blog series and its linked papers, you will see that much of what is blamed on so-called "pseudoarchaeology" is practiced by academic and professional archaeology, itself. For example, the religious nature of archaeological practices as with Raimund Karl's Every Sherd is Sacred, and most certainly archaeology's political influences. Fortunately, Cornelius Holtorf is quoted at the end to inject a little sanity.

I do have a book planned on the explanation of the freakier aspects of fringe archaeology in modern times and it will include an analysis of Barry Fell's strange theories and why a Harvard professor of invertebrate zoology would suddenly part company with scientific practices. All I can say about it now is that that many who believe that the remedy is more education are actually the main cause of it.

I will continue on Monday. Have a cult-free weekend.

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Hi John:
    Hmmm, thought provoking indeed. There's another problem in that while the rank-and-file archaeologists who do the real work as opposed to the 'pontificators', fringe archaeology of the kind that's bound up in extreme Leftist dogma, seems to attract those suffering with psychological problems.

    The internet allows them the safety to vent their spleens in the most insulting and vitriolic manner, one which they wouldn't dare say to their 'victims' face-to-face. I know one (as I suspect you do) who is gives the impression (to me at least) of being completely of his trolley; a coin short of a hoard.

    'Do not feed the trolls' is excellent advice.


    John Howland
    UK (Treasure Hunter & Collector)

    1. Hi John,

      The best archaeologists are often too busy with the real work and some of them have stopped taking part in online discussions because of the proliferation of messages from those with "cultist" and various "anti-" attitudes. Vincent Megaw, for example, stopped joining in discussions and just discusses in things in private emails now. I can understand his point -- he prefers to be involved with new ideas about his specialties. The loss to everyone is that they miss out on reading anything from him apart from what is in his books, papers and private discussions with them, personally. Thus some of the process of creating those books and papers is lost to view to most people. I wonder if the cultists of various stripes are pleased about that?