Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Blairing errors in ivory tower arguments?

New Zealander oriental antiquities collector Kenneth Blair reckons I've got it all wrong about the significance of the ivory ban, so wrong in fact he has cross posted this information not only on the ancient artifacts Forum, but also (for reasons that are beyond me) to the antiquitists' plodding happy-slapping Unidroit-L. Well, Mr Blair obviously has not read what I wrote nor thought too deeply about it, so I'm not really too bothered to discuss it with him in detail. If you read what he wrote, its the same old mantras, the same old personal comments rustled up in defence of a bunch of attitudes which are increasingly obviously becoming indefensible.
It's odd isn't it that the antiquities trade is said some of the time by collectors and dealers to act like any other supply and demand market... until that is supply and demand arguments are used to criticise it. Then we are told that of course we "simply do not understand" how this mysterious market works, it's not like a normal supply and demand market. Well, there certainly is a LOT of secrecy about and this lack of transparency hinders determining its workings - but the areas that dealers and collectors keep most quiet about are of course rather telling in themselves, I think in reality most observers have a pretty good idea what it is they are trying to hide and trying to deny. The parallel with the trade in illicit and mis-provenenced ivory is too close for comfort I guess.
The point is that ebay's ivory ban IS in response to a demand. The demand from decent conservation minded and concerned people that, in order that its reputation is not further tarnished, eBay do something about the way it is currently apparently being used to disseminate misprovenanced ivory goods which has the potential of being used as a cover for the sale of illicitly-obtained material. Despite the ban, nobody is in any doubt that some nasty, thoughtless and self-centred people will still continue to buy and sell their sliced up bits of freshly slaughtered elephant, but not on ebay alongside decent people. There will be less ambiguity about who they are and precisely what they are doing. EBay realises that decent normal folk will not want want to mix with them, and do not want the reputation of a place where "elephant killing by keystrokes" happens. Perhaps it is time for them to likewise sort out some of the other controversial areas such as their involvement in the trade in poorly-provenanced and fake antiquities which also heavily tarnishes its corporate reputation.
Vignette: taotie mask from the type of Chinese bronze terribly popular with collectors.


Kenneth said...

Hi Paul,
Nice pun but it is a shame your can't work intellectual honesty in with the comedy.
Considering you PMed me yesterday about how terrible any cross posting of you is, to which I replied you need to be consistent as this was behaviour I borrowed from you, this post here is enough to make me guffaw out loud.
I have nothing to hide. This is the world-wide web, but I would appreciate if you at least post a link to the comments in context....like an academic should!
While you seem to suggest collectors comments about the market are inconsistent I can only agree (since other comments are not something I take responsibility for) but I find it irrelevant that you seek to connect me to them.
Your standard response it to simply bellow over any discussion and not even respond in a pointed or meaningful manner.
This is the essence of my criticism of your tunnel vision.
In fact I don't see why you mention me at all, since you do not deal with anything I said.
Intellectually lazy and your protestations are seen to be hypocritical.
Since your monologue does not have place for details or discussion I should simplify this by a metaphor:
My suggestion is your paradigm is incomplete and far from holistic.
There is more to do than wag fingers at people.
The start of a chain is just as important and the end of the chain.

You have my permission to post my post & points.
I for one do not consider you competent at paraphrasing any argument responsibly.


Kenneth said...

Let's hope that since you complained to me about Dave Welsh moderating your posts that you have the backbone to allow me mine from the day previous.

Here is the post Paul named me on his blog over.
I might pay to have it for persusal.

From: Kenneth Blair

Sent: Tuesday, 28 October 2008 12:03 p.m.

To: 'Ancientartifacts@yahoogroups.com'

Cc: 'Unidroit-L@yahoogroups.com'

Subject: Re: antiques7collectibles

Posted by: "Rlcirulli1@aol.com" Rlcirulli1@aol.com :

"Paul is absolutely right.

By banning the sale of ivory, you cut down the

demand. There is no reason for a dealer to pay a poacher for something he can't sell."

Banning sale does complicate a market but it is speculative to what extent it removes pre-existing demand.

It could in fact lead to better prices for middle-men, and demand is a tricky thing to elimate by legal means.

High praise indeed but Paul is at his very best moments is only partially right.

History shows us that banning sales does not destroy demand. The problem is that Paul refutes people who point at other parts of the antiquties trade problem and he just harps on like a stuck record about the purchasers.

This is not holistic, nor a universal truth for a solution. An easy answer, but not an answer in the full sense.

Prohibition works? That is tenuous philosophy when gauged through the lens of law enforcement.

If people seek to use economic truths to topple a market then it pays to grasp the supply-demand model.

If you ban the purchase of an item (be it alchohol or drugs or ivory or artefacts) you do not by default lower demand.

Even if there are less purchases, which may be correct, black market and underground supplies charge higher prices to a smaller pool of buyers. Lower supply=higher price in economic theory so it is hard to destroy a market by driving it underground.

Why is something like marijuana greatly profitable, considering it literally grows like a 'weed'. How was a glass of beer something that made a fortune for people who sold them during 1920's prohibition?

There will still be buyers and there will still be trade. If it is driven undergound or becomes more risky then it may just mean prices rise instead of drop. Looters will still supply. Sites are destroyed by various means. Objects even have scrap value.

Regulation always works better than basic illegality. Better to control a market than drive it beyond control.

This is not just about mum and dad collectors who will buy something else for Xmas if e-bay wont sell but the big fish. The people on this forum are mainly the tip-of-the-iceberg sorts. We discuss pretty low-end stuff here, truth be told.

I am talking about pieces that I know pass through the USA that are museum quality, first class relics, and they are sold to people who do not grace internet forums or slum it with insects like us. People who turn up and buy a single item for $100,000 cash and then disapear. This is real stuff & now and then I hear of an item or see a picture of one. It makes me sad but I doubt that such buyers will ever be stopped since they have pipelines direct to the source (and the original source government I bet).

The channels will not be destroyed just by treating this like an ivory trade. You may affect it, but will it be for better or will it be for worse?

Time to think a little more about all parts of the chain here.

Paul Barford wrote> ..."I think we all understand it, its the people who buy the ivory who put the

money in the pockets of the dealers who finance the poachers that are responsible. "

Typical cock-eyed stuff like I have come to expect. You made a (flawed) comparison to the ivory trade long ago.

You must loath the majority of the people on this list.

The odd thing is that you also vilify dealers, so who exactly do you hold responsible on Monday as opposed to Sunday?

The dealer who profits? The buyer who covets? The looter who pillages? The situation that leads the looter to do this? The laws that allow the buyer/seller to conduct business? The ethics at work here? The economic realities at work here?

The answer is all of the above.

Somebody like yourself is never going to be able to really make an impact on the situation by harping on at a forum like this when you seem to seldom grasp the totality of the situation and instead just wag your finger at people whenever the oppurtunity arises. You show no understanding of the mentality of the erudite people I know who collect. I doubt you touch too many hearts with your mix of criticism & sarcasm.

Your simplifications to not seem to consider how much 'context' {as in "artefact robbed from context.."} could be preserved in any case. Not every artefact comes from a secret expedition to an isolated spot.

You could not always preserve scientific information or preserve contextual evidence for artefacts even if each of the start-end factors above could be controlled. There is still destruction through modern construction and simple neglect.

The best that can be done is tinkering with aspects unless there is a real paradigm shift. The various forms of destruction will never be stopped entirely and it is best for artefacts to pass around in the open.

If you weren't so cock-eyed to be beyond reason it could be said that some parts of collecting preserve objects from those situation where context or sites will not be preserved. Not all sale, and not all contextual-less sale is then 'destruction". Think on this before knee-jerking a reply. Yes, active looting occurs but other destruction occurs as a consequence of the modern world.

Some proportion of objects in private collections would include salvalged objects that come from situations that would never recieve academic scrutiny (the huge number of unpublished or unproveanced artefacts from historic excavation has already be well lamented by Sophia Karin-Psarras in her papers on peripheral cultures in China. Material already exceeds resources availible). Museums are not interested in hoarding every common ancient coin or ceramic, nor could they even if they wished to.

Other proportions of artefacts come from objects that have been out of the soil for centuries...being that famous collections can be traced back centuries and wood-cuts show Ming scholars comparing bronzes. Catologues from 1,000 years previous show us there will be numerous items circulating that have passed through generations yet have no provenance. Even a centuries old text describes a scholar bringing a bronze object (of a type I have) to a friend and them marvelling and discussing it. Collecting from the ancient world has a long and fashionable tradition.

Paul, yeah, go on an say "the buyer is the responsible person" for anything negative & retain any self-percieved virture for yourself. Regulation of the start point of the process is more constructive than repression of the end point.

Your lack of knowledge of regional peculiarities and global complexties does not lead me to believe you are a person who is any way fit to alter the present situation.

Your niche is simply splitting antiqitarians into 2 camps and dumbing things down into meaningless mantras.

Kenneth said...

When I talk of a more holistic approach compared to 'dumbing it down' lets play with the present analogy further.
This was why I discussed the ivory trade, as an analogy only.
OK, so lets compare two lines of reasoning over cause & effect with ivory as the loose analogy for antiquities.
This might help explain why I do not think Paul's approach is so effective in terms of conservation as he might think.
Remember (for the benefit of the dim-witted) this is an analogy for holisitic vs. selective approach, not a suggestion the threats are identical!

i.e Elephant numbers are declining. The reasons are several.
People chop down the forest habitat & burn the grasslands as human pressures encroach.
Elephants tusks are also actively poached within wild areas for profit, leading to killing. With pressure on habitat in other areas elephants raid crops in turn so there is competition for space. The chances that encounters will happen becomes less & less.
All these factors threaten the future of the elephant.

Holistic solution:
Accept that change is inevitable due to the modern world.
Establish land reserves, control elephant numbers where they conflict with human communities, relocate some animals. Preserve other in zoos when their future is not secure. Make the hard decision to cull in other areas.
Provide economic alternatives for communities that do have poachers.
Educate people about the threat to elephants and their cultural importance.
Prohibit or monitor the export of ivory from source countries.
Develop eco-tourism as a means of supporting communities so that farmers might value the elephants instead of resent them (alternative profit). Work on the hearts and the wallets of humans. Protect the environment in critical areas but accept losses must occur in others.

Note: None of this requires simple criminalisation of ownership of ivory outside source areas, but may require monitoring or registration of sales in those external countries. This is only one part of the solution, and not the greater part.

In comparison an ineffective way to affect change from afar would be simply shouting "stop the ivory trade" {if ivory buyers were perceived solely & wholly responsible for the situation of declining of elephant numbers}.
By repeating this, and only this, a rally of concerned people might somehow feel that they are preserving the far-off elephant population from decline.
While pats-on-the-back might be exchanged all round over coffee it would appear that their rally can only have a very small effect on more complex factors that threaten elephants directly in source countries, nor can they be certain that banning an open ivory trade would in simply stop the trade in ivory in fact.
I would think not, and my reasons have been given earlier with historical comparisons and some personal knowledge of the secretive & "big fish" antiquities market.

Paul Barford said...

Well thank you Kenneth for all those words... I am sure we are all very grateful. Its a shame though that you mistake my "portable antiquities and heritage issues" blog for a wildlife conservation one. I am sure the wildlife conservationists would be very happy to hear (and discuss) your reflections on how they should save the elephant from poachers, though they might be put off by the somewhat patronising tone you adopted in addressing my comments.

I think though you really are still missing the point of what I was saying here.

Kenneth reckons "I would appreciate if you at least post a link to the comments in context....like an academic should!"

I am not sure what part of the word "hyperlink" you do not understand. Embedded in the body of my message are links to the two posts to which I refer, nothing "intellectually dishonest" in that. Anybody reading this blog who wants to see what you wrote can go onto those forums and see the whole post and see them both in the context of what other posters have been saying. There really was no need to repost the whole message on my blog !! (to keep them away?)

As for the cross-posting issue... on the Yahoo AncientArtifacts forum, we were discussing something dealer Nirav Kikani had posted there about a carved ivory object he has for sale. Suddenly you decided by cross posting your answer to take it mid-discussion over to a completely different forum as well. I wrote to you saying I thought this was a bit "strange" and asking why you did it. I still think it is, and you supplied no coherent reason for your action. I can only assume you wanted the more aggressive Unidroit-L people to join in with their criticism. So far Unidroit-L stalwart Eftis Pareskevaides has not answered, but I am sure he will.

You don't seem to think illicit trade in ivory is any way comparable to illicit trade in antiquities, fine. You've said it here at some length. I disagree.

Paul Barford said...

As for your attempt to oppose a "holistic" approach with a "selective approach", nobody in either archaeological resource management or wildlife conservation is actually advocating a "selective approach" are they? The measures to protect all manner of wildlife tends to be precisely along the multiple lines you suggest. The same goes for archaeological remains, just look at the structure of the international conventions to see what elements they discuss. I've mentioned some in this blog. Just picking out one element for discussion (and you missed and still miss the point of what I was actually highlighting) does not mean the others do not exist and are equally important.

I'm writing a blog on portable antiquities here, not a treatise on conservation of endangered species. I would have thought it pretty obvious that nobody would think that just getting eBay to stop illicit ivory sales is going to solve all the elephants' problems. But the fact that it has, and the reasons why it has done so, are I think worth paying attention to in the discussions about the antiquities' trade. Which is why I mentioned it.

I suspect though that the vehemence with which you try to draw attention away from this one issue is because you in fact see this all too clearly. Because it IS a good analogy isn't it Kenneth? Collecting antiquities IS primarily a conservation issue, not one of "individual rights".

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