Tuesday, August 20, 2013

If the shoe fits wear it

In a recent archaeo-blogger post by Paul Barford, cultural property nationalist Nigel Swift wrote:

 The level and vehemence and frequency of attacks on your character (and to a lesser extent mine) is of course astonishing but also instructive. Suggestions that we are motivated by failure, jealousy, loneliness, stupidity, malice, communism, fascism, psychological disorders, snobbery and much else are rife and aren't confined to the unthinking and uneducated or to the public arena. They are of course the non-criminal version of the physical threats we have both been subjected to and are designed to discredit what we say, not us.

Oh my, archaeobloggers are now the persecuted of our time! Too bad it's not the '60s, they would have a really rabid audience to advance their case and bemoan their plight.  In truth, they receive far less in that arena than they dish out and it certainly does not further their cause to plead injustice - even if it does provide a certain levity.  It does, also, make one wonder how supposed intellectuals can be so thin-skinned when they are the masters of the art they condemn.  I personally have been on the receiving end of plenty and in one wretched outburst Paul Barford even laid ridicule on my wife and her business, who has no connection whatever to the cultural property issues he is so livid about.  He has repeatedly denigrated the place we choose to live and my own credentials.  How humanist is that?

Personally I can stand it – indeed if I couldn't I'd have given up many years ago – for a particular reason: in all those years I've never been abused, insulted or threatened by anyone that didn't have a vested interest in things that I say should change. I think that's true in your own case as well, whether it's collectors, dealers, suppliers, consumers or the officials and academics who have built careers on them all. I hear not a word against us from the only important people, the superior stakeholders who have a cultural interest and no other. 

What an odd statement for an academic in the PC era.  "The only important people"?  Is that the view of those who would educate the next generation?  It has a very familiar ring to it - sort of an echo from the mid 20th century.  Of course people respond to issues they have a vested interest in!  Would they do better to prattle about things that have no meaning to them?  In the obviously shallow mind of Mr. Swift (a PhD? - - maybe, but who cares?) "vested interest" means commercial interest.  That is not only inaccurate, it is hugely insulting to millions of people in general, and tens of thousands of independent scholars, but how would a person like Mr. Swift or Mr. Barford begin to understand that?  How could they possibly understand that many people fervently believe in study of the past and the advancement of culture without the institutional "guidance" and "moral compass" that Swift and Barford have hitched their particular star to?

In addition, you'll know very well that on those occasions when the insulters attempt to address what we say about the need for change, the justifications offered for the status quo are visibly weak and don't stand up. Consequently they are often buttressed with untruths, signalling an understanding that buttresses are needed. I'm so glad I'm on “our” side, it's so much easier to stand up for what you truly believe – and indeed for what simply can't be denied: collectors ARE the real looters and an activity in Britain that involves millions of artefacts being annexed without a word SHOULD be regulated. Which of our critics doesn't know that, secretly? Almost none, in my view - how could they not - yet they oppose both propositions despite the fact that both are self-evidently in the public interest.

 Well, frankly, many people throughout the world are equally glad that Mr. Swift is on "the other" side.  God forbid one should be subjected to such mindless ideological balderdash from a friend and colleague.   The "status quo" mentioned above so flippantly is actually a 600-year-old tradition with far more achievements in the science of Numismatics than any academic institution ever dreamed of.  Is it not just a bit arrogant to suggest that everyone for 600 years has gotten it wrong?

Looked at like that, whenever we're accused of being motivated by failure, jealousy, loneliness, stupidity, malice, communism, fascism, psychological disorders and snobbery it is not us who are being attacked but the public and the public interest".

Dream on Mr. Swift.  If the shoe fits wear it and don't think for a second that public reticence to debate with fools is a sign of acquiescence.


heritageaction said...

Mr Sayles, I've just posted this reply to your remarks on Paul Barford's blog....

This was revealing:
“How could they possibly understand that many people fervently believe in study of the past and the advancement of culture without the institutional "guidance" and "moral compass" ”

Now why would he resent a moral compass?

I've stood and watched activity where there was no moral compass. I bet Mr Sayles hasn't. Hundreds of people digging stuff on the edge of a major Roman site, legally, not recording most of their finds but taking them to a dealer with a stall at the side of the field. Many of the items will have ended up with dealers in the States, sans context, and they will have been made available to those “many people” who want to study the past legally but “without a moral compass”. Or maybe it isn't “many people”. Maybe most people would like to follow a moral compass but their dealer tells them the goods are legal and forgets to mention they are also immoral. Eh Mr Sayles? Are dealers the real immoral diggers? Of course you are, and you do it for money, hence your discomfort and anger.

I was struck that you started your article by telling your customers I was a “cultural property nationalist”. What tosh. If you want to discredit me why not call me what I am - “an advocate for the use of a moral compass" if, as you say, many people fervently believe that's a bad thing. Well I think we know the answer. “No moral compass” is a lot less appealing to your customers than you would have people believe. It's you that's the enthusiast. If only you sourced your supplies morally and showed proof that you had I think they'd be pleased. So why are you insulting them by implying otherwise?

Cultural Property Observer said...

And Messrs. Barford and Swift should stop pretending that the archaeological community has "no vested interests" in the issue. They have every vested interest in parroting the line of the cultural bureacracies that hand out excavation permits that are essential for archaeologists to pursue their careers. And let's not forget some of these cultural bureaucracies are part of corrupt and authoritarian governments.

As for Mr. Barford, I'd like to hear more about his translation work on behalf of UNESCO and any other funding he might receive from archaeological groups. I'm sure he's sincere in his views, but in light of his rants he should be more transparent on this issue.

Wayne G. Sayles said...

Heritageaction (Nigel Swift) has perfectly illustrated in his comment above exactly why there is little to no effective dialogue in these matters. He quotes my words:

"How could they possibly understand that many people fervently believe in study of the past and the advancement of culture without the institutional "guidance" and "moral compass" and then misconveys the entire point by truncating the sentence. The remainder of that sentence is: "...that Swift and Barford have hitched their particular star to?

This sort of twisted distortion is so very typical of the ilk that Barford and Swift evolve from. Everyone has a moral compass and no two are identical. However, the compass that cultural property nationalists use to guide them through life is far different than that which most people in free societies use as a general guide. Messrs Swift and Barford, protestations and denials aside, are by standard definition cultural property nationalists. They have a right to their own moral compass, but they do not have a right to judge the moral compass of others, nor to expect that the compass of their particular institution is superior to any other.

What we all do have is a right to expect in law abiding societies that everyone will follow legitimately established law. When Mr. Swift stood and watched the scene he describes, he applied his moral standard to those he observed. That is an irrelevant act. He has only the right to weigh the act as legal or illegal and to then react as the law allows. When he challenges my moral compass, he is simply making a fool of himself (again) because he knows nothing at all about my morality.

My moral compass tells me that society is built on and controlled by law. Today, in the country that I live in, there are laws that deal with ownership and transfer of ownership of property, including cultural property. Every citizen of this country is obligated to follow those laws. Some do not, and they should be held to account. Some within the government itself do not, and they too should be held to account. I publicly advocate that position.

Mr. Swift assumes that I harbor some sort of "discomfort and anger" as a coin dealer with a vested interest. Actually, a better word would be "disappointment". I must admit that the respect I once had for archaeology as a discipline has faded in the aftermath of the blitz against private ownership and independent scholarship that emminates these days from supposed intellectuals. My moral compass tells me it is a sad day for society.

stoutstandards said...

I am by no means an ancient coin collector, but I am a collector of sorts, and have been regularly attacked by Mr. Swift and Mr. Barford. You see it doesn’t matter what you do or enjoy. If it doesn’t fit into their very narrow world it’s wrong.

I actually feel sorry for both these individuals. Given the number of daily blog posts, they must lead very lonely lives. Fortunately they have each other to lean on, thus allowing for at least “one” reply to their rants.

Interesting too that the British Museum has accurately labeled them “trolls” and the rest of the archaeological community wants nothing at all to do with them.