Thursday, 30 May 2013

Washington's Arthur Houghton and the Big Lie

Several days back Arthur Horton III, President of the US Cultural Property Research Institute decided he was going to defend the dugup antiquities industry from a few comments that were being made about it. He determined that the best way to do this might be to present "the Arthur Houghton vision of  what the 1970 UNESCO Convention is really about". Not untypically in such circles, he decided that it would be acceptable to do this without citing any real details, such as information where the fragments of it he was quoting actually came from. Why would he do that? Perhaps the reason is that he knows that most US dugup antiquity collecting types would never in a million years check for themselves what is written by one of their fellows. And the rest, well Mr Houghton does not really care what others working in the field think.

Mr Houghton scribbled about half a page on his ideas, no references cited. In order to analyse it, put the fragments (quoted out of context and reassembled into a different whole) into their original context requires a much longer discussion (with references). A bit of a waste of time in one way, no metal detectorist or coin collector will ever read through to the end, that is what the lobbyists anticipate and hope for.Wasting everybody's time by their stupid arguments is obviously another of their aims, they think if they keep it up, the rest of us will get bored and wander off leaving them alone to get up with whatever it is they want to get up to without somebody looking over their shoulders.

The truth is it turns out that, if you do take the trouble to analyse Mr Houghton's breakdown of what he thinks the UNESCO Convention contains, his presentation is found sadly wanting (and please do not take what I say for granted, click on the link and check it out for yourselves... something Mr Houghton is not inviting his readers to do). He has juxtaposed fragments discussing different things to produce a misleading picture. Does he care? No, he does not care, he is in no hurry whatsoever to enlarge on what he wrote, to refute comments that challenge his perception of the wording of a crucial document.

All he can manage in that direction is to write insulting comments about the presenter of such an analysis, but stopping well short of actually addressing the points presented. Instead, he does what artefact hunters and collectors and their dealer pals always do. He attempts (May 28, 2013 at 6:37 AM) to deflect discussion onto a new topic - in this case his doctrine of Houghtonism. He assumes that it is enough for his gullible readers to assert that there is something wrong with anyone who'd actually read the 1970 UNESCO Convention when he has already "told" them what it says. 

I think this exchange is symptomatic of a broader phenomenon. It is only through the collective use of a series of Big Lies that there can be any justification for the whole area of the collecting of dugup antiquities (and here I have in mind its full panorama from the artefact hunter with his metal detector and spade right through to the antiquity dealers either on the internet or plush London/New York galleries and auction houses). We've all heard them. Blogs like this (Looting Matters, SAFE Corner, Heritage Journal etc, etc) give the opportunity to examine the other side of the story, break down the deceits into component elements and challenge the basis of all of them.

There is a notable reaction to such critiques from  those caught up in the big lie (and here I have in mind an even broader group, including alongside those mentioned above those heritage professionals who grasp the opportunity to enter "partnerships" with such collectors and support their heritage-gobbling activities). In almost EVERY case, the sole reaction that there has ever been - and can ever be expected from such people falls into three, and five only, categories:
1) Ignore the discussion totally,
2) Dismiss the discussion as of no importance, the work of some misdirected 'radicals',
3) Personal attack,
4) Answer with some unsubstantiated glib triteness (usually in the form of a "two wrongs make a right" or a "fait accompli" pseudo-argument),  
5) Attempt to deflect discussion onto another topic. 
The sixth, actually engage with the topic and attempt to address the issues raised, is never an option for the proponents and victims of the Antiquitist Big Lie. Mr Houghton is no exception, he is a typical product of the genre.

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