Saturday 13 June 2015

The Ethical Collector: Reply to US Dealer's Mistaken Exegesis

The problem with many antiquity dealers and collectors seems to be, as I have on many occasions noted, that when it comes to discussion of heritage issues, they are wholly incapable of arranging simple facts in any semblance of order in their heads. For example, coineys can arrange small discs with writing and pictures on them because they have catalogues to guide them, once they are beyond that realm and venture into the waters of policy, method and responsibility, it seems many of them are oarless and rudderless in a sea of mental confusion. Thus it is we see Dealer Dave, a blind man attempting to set himself up as some kind of leader of the blind, attempting to discuss "collecting ethics" and confusing it with that old US bugbear left-wing politics (he mentions the Nazis too).  He attempts to make "a reasonable attempt" at producing a neutrally-worded definition what he imagines to be meant by 'The Other' (preservationists) by "the ethics of antiquities collecting (of course including collecting ancient coins)". Here it is:
the archaeological record, and all of the artifacts and situational context comprising it, inherently belong to all mankind and must not be disturbed by, still less possessed by, private individuals.
One wonders how sincere the man is reducing the whole issue to an ownership ("collectors rights") issue. This is what they all do, and it is simply dodging the issue in a most blatant way. The equivalent is like saying the ethics of responsible driving declare that private individuals should not own cars, and animal welfare, not owning dogs. That's just bonkers. There has been ample said on the PACHI blog on the topic of (codes of) ethics. I set out what I see as the main issues ('The Ethical collector', PACHI Monday, 11 August 2008). From these discussions, and those written about elsewhere, it should emerge that the issue is not so much ownership, but the manner of acquisition and documenting title that is the main issue, with reference to the cumulative effects of an individual's actions and approach on the archaeological record as a finite resource and its ability to be used by other stakeholders for other means. It is about personal responsibility to other stakeholders. This is fundamentally what the majority of codifications of ethics in many disparate fields deal with.

I would say that the final phrase of Mr Welsh's definition needs rewriting to include the notion that any disturbance for the purposes of commerce or collecting should be done in such a way that preserves the value of heritage assets and their settings to give a chance for all to benefit from them, rather than sacrifice them for the selfish ends of an individual. That is the issue, that is what the ethics of responsible collecting involves, just the same as responsible driving means care for the safety and comfort of other road users. I really do not see why that is so difficult for these people to grasp.

The rest of Dealer Dave's fringe loony conclusions about "leftist archaeologists" and what they "should" agree to has lost me, I have not the faintest idea of what he's going on about and its relationship to the real world rather than his own fantasy world. But frankly, I do not think it matters all that much what he thinks. 

Vignette: Dealer fantasises about setting himself up as leader of US collectors against the preservationists

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