Forest Clearing. Photo by J-Hob.
Archaeolog and Traumwerk in general are Good Things in my opinion. It’s a convenient way of keeping up with what’s going on in the archaeological mainstream with having to travel several hours to attend a brief seminar at a distant university. Occasionally something will come up that makes me seriously question whether what I’m doing is remotely archaeological or whether I am solely an ancient historian who uses archaeology. Matt Edgeworth’s piece The Clearing: Heidegger and Excavation is an example of something where it’s not so much that I disagree with it, it’s that I can’t work out where there might be a common frame of reference.
Korean, not Chinese, history. Photo by Matthijs Gall
There’s an brief but interesting article on Yonhap News today, President Roh expresses regrets over China history project.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Sunday expressed regrets to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao over Beijing’s history research program that claims part of Korea’s ancient history as its own.
What I find interesting isn’t that it happens, but rather that it doesn’t happen more often. The English origin myth is that they’re all Anglo-Saxons, yet traditional histories are tied to the land rather than people. This makes sense for archaeology, it’s associated with the ground, but history is rather more malleable as it can also be genealogical as well as locational. The popular English disinterest in 1st millennium AD Germany is a curiosity. Instead if you look at English Heritage it’s generally about the land rather than the people. Hence the conflict in Cornwall, where some people object to sites built thousands of years before the Anglo-Saxon arrival as English heritage.
I’ve had Why Truth Matters on the shelf for a while. I’ve read it a couple of times and dipped into it to re-read chapters many more. It’s a safe bet I like this book, but is it a good book? This question perhaps matters for this book more than most. It’s a book about the importance of reason, evidence and above all truth.
It opens with an introduction couple of chapters talking about what we mean by ‘truth’ and how philosophers have tackled the subject before moving on to recent challenges to the concept of truth. Later chapters are case studies from various contexts, such as dogmatic attacks on biology, the ‘empowerment’ or otherwise of oppressed peoples and in academia. It’s thoughtful and well-presented. Rather than vague attacks on post-modernists or other bogeymen, it cites specific examples and explores either the reasoning, or what has been substituted for reasoning, behind various claims. I think its a reasonable exploration of the topic and by and large I agree with the conclusions which is where the big problem arises.
Do I like this book because it is a good book or because it confirms my prejudices about certain authors?
Mine wasn’t in such good condition. Photo by Andreas Reinhold.
I’m tripping up over a lot of really quite vicious anti-atheist posts recently and it seems I’m not the only one. Via Coturnix comes the news that the tired line “There are no atheists in foxholes” has been brought out for a fresh airing, this time by Lt. Gen. Blum who charmingly said “Agnostics, atheists and bigots suddenly lose all that when their life is on the line.” Obviously any slur there upon people serving their nation is entirely imaginary, though Archy disagrees. But is Lt. Gen. Blum or a satanist correct to say people abandon a lack of faith when the chips are down? It’s one of those things that sounds like it might make sense. If things are going really badly wouldn’t you take any option?
It might be difficult to know if it is true. I haven’t been in a foxhole for reasons explained by Coturnix at God, Country and Apple Pie nor shot at by trained professionals. The only people who have shot at me did so on a purely recreational basis. On the other hand I think I have had enough of a test to know I wouldn’t call on a god. In fact if I were concentrating on avoiding uncertain death it probably wouldn’t occur to me to call on a god for help.
I could be your magician Photo (cc) jin.thai
There’s all sorts of reasons why pseudosciences flourish. One which is overlooked is that it’s not stupid people who get taken in. In fact if you’re planning a successful career in deception there are plenty of good reasons not to target stupid people. A fool and his money are easily parted, so they’re not likely to be rich. They’ll explain your story to others in simple terms, exposing you pretty quickly. Finally stupid people need things explained to them carefully. It’s a lot of hard and unnecessary work. I’ve an amateur interest in magic, especially mentalism. Cold reading isn’t a magic technique, but it’s a useful skill to have to add finesse to tricks. The one of the ways it works may also explain one of the reasons people find pseudosciences so compelling.
Put simply Cold Reading is a way of providing some words and leaving the mark to make sense of it. In much the same way a hole-in-one is simply hitting a golf ball so that it lands in the hole at the first attempt. I’ll try and give some examples but like a lot of tricks they look mundane once written down.
Here’s my first prediction.
[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]
Historian (in jeans no less). Photo by Gerard Van der Leun.
One of the problems in being a slow thinker and slow in commenting is that often you find someone has already said what I’m thinking, and said it better than I would.
An example is a debate following the recent History Carnival at Air Pollution. Our host Andrew Israel Ross opened the debate.
Last night I was in the middle of a conversation that I think happens quite frequently amongst grad students in the humanities, at least those informed by history. Do members of oppressed groups today have special access on the past of those groups? In other words, do gay people or Black people, have a special claim to an understanding of the gay or Black past? My answer: yeah, I’m afraid so. And I say this even though one of my favorite queer theorists happens to be a married woman.
This has been challenged by ADM at Blogenspiel. ADM’s position is:
[I]t’s pretty easy to be a medievalist — and I think it’s easier the earlier one goes … but we really are in ‘the past is a different country’ land. We don’t have to worry about identifying with the people we study in the way Ross discusses. We try to understand them and make them more understandable to others, but that’s different. Because Ross is wrong about this. In fact, I would argue that what he sees as being better insight is just a faster way to bad history.
Who’s right? I’ll don my weasel suit and say they both are, but you’re welcome to disagree in the comment box below or on either of their sites.
I had a slight worry a few weeks back. I found a book that tackled a large swathe of alternative archaeology telling the truth about it. The subtitle was The Disinformation Guide to Ancient Civilizations, Astonishing Archaeology and Hidden History. It was a surprise because I keep kicking around an idea of writing my own disinformation guide. I flipped it open the contents page and found that it’s probably an uncritical trip through alternative archaeologies greatest hits. So it’s not quite what I want to do.