Monday, 31 December 2018

Personalia: The Views of the Durham FLO

While, as is the nature of things, this blog often makes generalisations, it is primarily built around presentation and discussion of news items and specific cases accessed (mainly) through the social media involving real situations, real statements by real people. The reader can see examples of the sort of practices and attitudes this blog opposes (and by following the links, verify and contextualise them and judge the accuracy of my presentation). Since many of the situations described are ones I cannot agree with, this often involves a polemic style of writing. Some of these polemics take on a life of their own. One such case is a longish series of posts here concerning the views and statements of Benjamin Westwood, PAS FLO from Durham.

I have always been fascinated by the FLOs. They are all archaeologists, would have the same training and intellectual background as the rest of the archaeological world, and they have daily contact with the effects and attitudes of those involved in Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record. One might think we would all be singing more or less from the same song-sheet about this. What is quite obvious to me is that we are not, very often in fact the PAS and FLOs offer the public (and archaeological community) 'justifications' that are a perfect mirror image of those offered (and coined by) by artefact hunters and collectors. I would love to understand why. The expression of his views by one FLO, Ben Westwood, for a certain period of time seemed to be offering an opportunity.

He seems to have been appointed to the FLO post fairly recently, his earliest entry on the PAS database is from December 2016. As I recall it was not long after that that on Twitter when I or Heritage Action posted a message critical of 'metal detecting' or a link to either my or HA's blog was posted on Facebook, we became aware that with a certain annoying frequency, the same person was jumping in with a defence of artefact collecting and the PAS. Mr Westwood would come out with a few phrases opposing what we had said. These were usually with something irritatingly naive, irrational, dismissive and insubstantial.

I initially took this explosion of pro-collecting enthusiasm  to be a newbie FLO 'defending the honour' of his new employer. It seems that in PAS-school they teach them that in the 'old days' (Delhi Convention time, I guess), archaeologists were against Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, but now the 'progressive' view is that it's a good thing and only archaeological 'dinosaurs' and 'silly conservationists' have failed to change their minds, and fledgling FLOs are apparently taught that these people are just delusional and are fair game and can safely be trashed and ignored.

Attempts to interact with Mr Westwood's remarks on Twitter therefore got nowhere, I wrongly assumed that if once could show there were indeed arguments supporting what we were saying, he'd tire of his intent to be the thorn in our side. The problem was that it emerged that what one was up against - as in the case of most supporters of collectors - was a blinkered view that was permanently in denial. For Woodward, anything that was said that conflicted with what he 'believed' (as an article of faith rather than deduced from open examination of all the facts in a broader context) was simply ('project fear') 'fake news'. This was an opinion (framed as a 'fact') that this mouthy FLO increasingly aggressively pushed - but never in fact stooped to attempting to substantiate.

Thus it was that the exchange of views when I decided to actually attempt to engage with his expressed views - and sometimes those that would jump in to his defence - sometimes developed into major threads on my twitter feed (something I wanted to avoid). Often therefore I brought the discussion over here to free the latter up, inviting him to comment here. He always resisted that, apparently preferring the superficiality of a 280 character tweet to actually developing his arguments.  Thus there are about two dozen posts here on the PACHI discussing the views of a FLO and saying why I cannot agree with them. I have set them out in a separate post should anyone care to check out his and my arguments and assess them for themselves.

On looking over them, these texts of mine are clearly generally too long to be very useful. Setting out one person's view and then setting out the applicable contrary arguments took space, a lot of time to compose and reference and basically meant that in October, November and  December polemicising with Mr Westwood and his views began to monopolise space on this blog and too much of my time. If the views expressed were of significance that might be justifiable. The problem is that they are instead pretty typical of the genre (and in some cases only illustrated the FLOs lack of knowledge and consideration), and I think I have anyway already addressed many of the points that he brought up before on the blog and elsewhere.

These rather repetitive exchanges were therefore pretty much a waste of time as, when he was not being deliberately provocative, FLO Westwood was just repeatedly spouting a limited number of traditional banalities and parroting PAS soundbites - all of which we have heard many times before. The only time he attempted to show he actually had some independent thinking was when he tried to quote Foucault (sic) at me - the results just made him look ridiculous - though it seems he has attracted at least on devotee at the local university.

After some reflection, I have decided that we've more-or-less exhausted that resource of 'how FLOs think on the example of....'. Nobody much commented on any of them (least of all Mr Westwood himself), and some of the things he was saying really do not cut the mustard.  I have therefore decided to discontinue this line of enquiry as unfruitful. Mr Westwood has demonstrated over the course of the last year that he has nothing much to say about artefact hunting, artefact hunters or current policies dealing with these issues that I want to hear any more of. He holds views that he is unable to substantiate when challenged, and in general in my opinion seems to have a very naive and blinkered approach to the whole issue. One wonders how he fares in any exchange with artefact hunters that does not involve simply patting them on their backs and saying (as FLOs do) 'you done well'.

For the record, in November I sent the FLO at his work address a personal letter suggesting an amnesty might be in order (and included some fake Roman fourth century coins that I thought would interest him, given earlier online correspondence about such items). he did not even acknowledge receipt. As from midnight on 31st Dec 2018 I am muting Mr Westwood on Twitter, so hopefully there will be less of him and his views on this blog in 2019.

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