Friday, 8 August 2014

Acting Responsibly - Taking Responsibility for the Future of Artefact Collecting

John Winter does not want to discuss what he wrote about Mouthy Mike the metal detectorist videoed in a field in Hampshire:
Detectorists all over the country have expressed their disapproval and yet you still manage to turn that into a negative. These are my last words to you on the matter.
It is a shame that he wants to dismiss my reply before he's even heard it. Since he has refused to allow discussion of the matter on his blog, then I will air my opinion here (Mr Winter is of course welcome to reply here should he have anything to add to his former 'last words').

First of all, I really see nothing unusual in the expression of dismay and disapproval. One of the oldest leitmotifs in the tekkie excuse book is "we are not nighthawks, we hates them!". This, the people who come out with it in knee-jerk manner imagine, puts those of them who recite the mantra on the side of the angels. So it is not surprising that the moment critical comments about what this video shows started to appear, so the hate-in began on a number of forums. If you look a little deeper however (for example in the plethora of empty-headed comments below the original You Tube video itself), it becomes crystal clear that the real reason why detectorists are 'disapproving' this man's actions is that things like this give the hobby overall 'bad press'. Keeping up appearances is what these folk are angst-stricken over. It does not matter what artefact hunters and collectors do or do not do, what is important is the face they present to the public. This is why most metal detecting forums (and lists like Moneta-L) are closed to the view of the general public of course.

The two issues of real importance which I see here are succinctly typified by this comment under Mr Winter's post:
Unfortunate event and I hope they nail him quickly.
What is happening here is that - as always - the tekkies are reacting in knee-jerk fashion to each 'event' as it occurs, and hope that 'they' (someone else) 'nail him'. The issue that I raised was that if one is talking about responsible hobbying, it also means taking responsibility for the hobby, so it should not be that an undefined 'they' nail him, but should instead be that 'we hobbyists' get his name to the authorities. John Winter for some reason expects us all to see the positive aspects of the fact that nobody has in fact done that yet. Try as I might, I see nothing positive in that, nor do I see any evidence that tekkies are over-exerting themselves to take responsibility.

The other disturbing factor is the event-specific approach which is replacing strategic thinking. There is a common characteristic of metal detector using artefact hunters and dug up ancient coin collectors, they are not thinking ahead. There is no overall strategy being discussed for the development of the hobby. Both are drifting aimlessly from minor problem to minor problem, muddling through and evidently hoping that if they ignore the major issues they'll go away.  Any activity they undertake is merely to deflect attention from the underlying issues, and maintain the status quo. We have seen this pattern repeated with monotonous frequency.

Illegal artefact hunting in the UK will increasingly become a problem as the number of tekkies increases, the amount of available land with productive sites on them shrinks (due in part to the depletion of accessible sites after four decades of intensive artefact hunting) and more farmers refusing permissions for one reason or another. It behoves forward-looking hobbyists not only to foster an attitude towards the issue but evolve a strategy for dealing with it in a way that is to the public benefit.

We see the same phenomenon in other areas of dug-up artefact collecting. US Coin collectors who follow activists Sayles, Tompa and Welsh of the ACCG not only want to shore up the crumbling facade of appearances, but they are not at all forward-looking. What they really want is for their hobby to remain in the position it was in 1984, when the CCPIA was written. They want the clock turned back, to pretend the world really has not changed all that much around the hobby. The CCPIA is the latest revelation they accept, their charter and scripture, and the ACCG are the fundamentalists promoting its worship. UK metal detectorists are happy to trail along in the shadow of the PAS and its increasingly stale self-focussed 'positive' spin and residual New Labour rhetoric, which the hobby treats as its Holy Writ and charter legitimating its existence and activities. A pat on the head, and tekkies are as happy as can be, refuse them that and they start posturing and snarling. The NCMD the hobby's only recognized representative body is notorious for mindlessly putting a stumbling block in the way of every single initiative for sustainable collaboration proposed since before the PAS was even set up which it says is 'protecting are members' intrests'.

It is time for both groups to recognize that in the last two decades the environment within which the hobby operates has undergone significant change The 1980s are dead and 1984 is not coming back, nor is the 2003 of the PAS heyday. Public opinion is becoming more aware of portable antiquities issues (looting, smuggling, illicit antiquities on the market and in museums, dodgy dealers). The no-questions-asked coin collecting is operating in an increasingly hostile environment. Not much longer will clueless US politicians risk their credibility by seeking a few votes among coin collectors by proposing and supporting neo-colonialist laws to bring 'Back-to-1984' closer. In the UK, politicians might start asking about the cost of current policies on the dugup heritage. The PAS will not last forever, there's a spending review coming up soon, and after that there will be another. Governments come and go, policies change. The PAS is already in crisis, how long will it limp on, in what form, and what comes next? And if it goes to the wall, what strategy has UK metal detecting prepared for that eventuality?

Both antiquity collectors and artefact hunters are doing their level best to avoid talking, seriously, to anyone from outside their hobby. In the words of Trevor Austin they want people to 'get off our case', to leave the hobbyists alone to get on doing what they've always done in the way they and thy alone see fit. They actively discourage a wider public discussion. When such a discussion starts (prompted for example things like the A20 near Maidstone grave trashing, the controversy over the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet, and the "Mouthy Mick' video), they do this by several means, they clam up or simply refuse, as Mr Winter has just done, to discuss it, or on finding that does not work, try suddenly switching topics and trying to provoke an argument on them to deflect attention from the issue of concern, or the constant. Their third favourite tactic is the adoption of an aggressive tone and especially the use of ad hominems,* intended to discourage people from attempting sensible discussion with the milieu. These are all typical tactics used by both coin collectors and metal detectorists to isolate themselves from being involved in a wider public heritage debate. Many British archaeologists would not say 'boo' to a metal detectorist precisely in anticipation of an unequal and poorly-focussed discussion, with inherent extreme unpleasantness from the milieu - surely not the best way for these 'partners' to be perceived by the outside world.

Mr Winter may not want to discuss rationally what artefact hunters ought in the long-term perspective t
o consider taking on board to function  freely in a sustainable manner  alongside other interests as they develop. That however does not mean that such discussions are not a necessity. I have the impression though that long term thinking (or thinking of things in a broader context) is not the forte of the sort of people that take up these two types of collecting. But by deliberately cutting themselves off from the wider discussion, they are throwing away a chance to be involved in the decision-making processes that will affect their hobby, which will take place without their fuller participation.

 * in the Winter thread this surfaces in pathetically puerile off-topic personal comments intended only to annoy (what we call 'trolling', Mr Winter) such as: "Randy Mr. Barford wouldn’t know enjoyment if it hit him in the eyes. I pity him" (sic).  


heritageaction said...

The righteous indignation of detectorists over incidents like this always looks silly when considered in context. In particular -

1. Most of them don't report most of their finds - which means that collectively they cause vastly more cultural damage than nighthawks do collectively.

2. A lot of them get farmers to sign contracts giving THEM sole authority to decide if the farmer should be shown the finds - which betrays a lack of respect for the farmers' rights on precisely the same scale as nighthawks show. Yet they claim nighthawks are "scum" etc. Simpletons with no sense of fair dealing.

Mr Winter must knows this but evidently prefers to play to the cheap seats.

Paul Barford said...

The problem is, isn't it, that there really are no others to play to. Look at the comments under the original video and under Winter's own blog post. Despite it being pointed out who filmed the alleged intruder, what the video does and does not 'prove', you still have airheads talking about "the farmer" and totally ignoring the facts of the case - despite everything being in black and white inches away from them ! The whole problem with getting even a basic discussion of a simple notion (like the finds agreement point) is that the majority of them display an inability for anything but the most schematic and superficial of thought coupled with a preference for wilful ignorance.

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