Re: New newsgroup and native concerns (long)

John Pastore (venture@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Sat, 13 Apr 1996 01:11:17 +0000

On 12 Apr 96 at 8:32, Mary Beth Williams wrote:

> As some of you might know, a recent vote was taken on the formation
> of a new Usenet newsgroup, sci.archaeology.moderate. Not only was I
> an original proponent of the new newsgroup, I have been one of the
> original voices calling for its creation. I know many academics and
> professionals look down on the Usenet hierachy as the parade grounds
> of the advocates of *fringe* frameworks and hypothesis,...

> I did,
> though, believe that there was a *middle* ground between complete
> chaos, i.e., sci.archaeology, and more *professional* discussion,
> that is, the mailing lists, where new grad and undergrad students,
> amateurs, avocationals and professionals (academic or CRM) could
> chat with less pressure.

Hi Mary Beth,

While usenet groups remain pretty much the same as ever, sci.
archaeology.moderated and some mailing lists are simply becoming
what their moderators want them to be, and not the participants or
the list memberships --with just as much pressure or more. The
complete "chaos" you refer is just a combination of the open-forum in
public domain, as it should be, and the failure of many readers from
simply skipping what they don't want to read, which shouldn't be. It
has its equivelent in some mailing lists where as you describe: many
academics and professionals look down on the Usenet hierachy as the
parade grounds of the advocates of *fringe* frameworks and
hypotheses", when instead of advising a few readers, for example, to
simply filter-out or delete what they don't want to read, but instead
invoke whatever powers they think they may have to close down topics.
Sort of the right to speak becoming secondary to the slight
inconvenience of deleteing, especially if the one person who can't
delete, the listowner, does't want to read a particular topic --no
matter how germane. The internet is public, and the public is both
observing and, at times, being victimized, and being denied access
by people who claim that their academic stature, or perception of
professionalism gives them a right to do so.

Strangely enough, the same people then wonder why there is less and
less sympathy for monies being allocated for research and education.

>Thus, I supported the formation of the new group. However, it soon
>became clear that the group would not take the form which many of
>us had initially supported. This namely included a policy of
>*anything is game as long as its nicely phrased and has, however
>remotely, to do with archaeolgy.*

While that is what may have been said recently to placate those who
would oppose, it is not the intent.

>The main issue
> for me came, however, with the selection process for moderators.

Was there a selection process for moderators? Not only does at least
three moderators there have a hard-core record of dictating what it
is that does not "challenge the authority of scholarship", but, at
least one, would be voted as the least nicely coiner of phrasers of
communications yet on the internet. A really fouled-mouth individual
who has no compunction to resort to the vilest threats in private
communications, but publicable to impose. The same person has
already perpertrated the same in a mail list group, also
archaeological, yet wants to duplicate the same on the Usenet.
Control is the intent, not science.

> Throughout the years leading up the creation of the new group one of
> the main problems with sci.arch was the large number of posts
> considered to be inherently racist by Native groups, such as the
> framework of hyperdiffusion where American Indian cultures were
> merely sponges absorbing technology and ideas from wandering more
> *civilized* cultures.

They are not alone. It always behooved me just how some people
really could think that even at the best of times when they really
thought they were being polite, when, anthropolgically speaking,
they failed to condescend and see what their own cultures had bred
into them. Sort like how the wasp has know idea of its own sting -its
automatic. The perception of "germane", not only varies within
cultures, it very often has nothing to do with the universality of
objective science anyway, or even racism --just control.

>At least one of the new moderators was a
> major proponent of hyperdiffusion, and in fact had argued on
> numerous occasions against the massive Contact-induced epidemics of
> the 25th-18th centuries, claiming that the *squallid* (sic)
> conditions under which Indians lived led to their demise (which he
> also claimed was not nearly as great as proposed.) He claimed
> further that farming by Indians had led to the liberation of harmful
> diseases from the soil, which caused many of the epidemics. These
> were on top of his claims that cotton, horses, dogs, pottery,
> projectile points, etc., were all passed from EuroAsian *Sea
> Peoples* to the uncivilized Indian.

Such categories as "hyperdiffusionists" has become so less indicative
of the numbers or intent of their professors, than those who have
made the tag that it is to riducule or stifle the inquiries, or
opinions, or even, at times, evidences of others, so as to control,
has become far more of a problem than what the so-called
"hyperdiffusionists" pursue. Especially in archaeology.

>This is not to say that there are not competent moderators on the
>sci.arch.mod panel... There are... However, the panel was chosen
>completely randomly, at the discretion of the main proponent, Doug
>Weller, and no amount of protest could sway him from his support of
>any single candidate, even one with such dubious credentials and
>obvious bias as the aforementioned. Although a number of Native
>American anthropologists, including myself, protested vehemently
>over the support for such overt bias, it seemed to fall onto deaf

Randomly? Doug Weller truly believes the charter of the group will
control any excesses of its moderators, despite having absolute
proof to the contrary. The problem is inherent in its very reason for
being. It is supposedly based on the idea that, even among themselves
there will be a concensus as to what is germane or not. They are
supposedly intelligent people. Don't you think they know better than
that? There is no reason for a duplicated moderated newsgroup to be
--except to extend control. A moderator of sci.archaeology.moderated
of whom I speak is more than just a listmember of the mail group.

The very idea of usurping what has become a public utility to start
telling the public what can or can't be discussed will be far more
detrimental to archaeology before the group degenerates into
sci.archaeology.moderated.moderated. The toll they will have on the
public will put archaeology in a hole it may never climb back out
of. There are closed-forums whose moderators compile the information
of its members for publishing onto the internet via private
communications anyway. Why aren't they using it? To as Doug hopes:
"Ask an archaeologist"? Well that's what the public has been doing,
and the so-called archaeologists of sci.arachaeology.moderated are at
the same time trying to tell them they can't. Or when they do
condescend to, only to the extent to where they percieve those who
question, or propose, see themselves as the ultimate authorities
for, not just their answers, but all of them. Good thing most of them
already got their diplomas, I wonder if they could get them today.
Well, they probably could, and one more for good behavior.

> However, what I have found as most disturbing is the lack of support
> shown for native concerns of racist frameworks such as
> *hyperdiffusion*.

Hyperdiffusion may be misguided, but that doesn't necessarily make
it racist. No one, including the indigenous or those who think they
speak for their interests can dictate what can or can't be spoken.
They can filter and delete, like anyone else --except the
list-owners of mail groups, and when they do it is not moderating, it
is censorship. Censorship whether instigated by indigenous,
hyperdiffusionists, or even white anglo-protestants is infinitely
less preferable than any group simply not learning how to skip what
they don't want to read or filter and delete. In my experience the
indigenous, by the way, rightly or wrongly take computers and the
internet far less seriously than most.

>A number of academic archaeologists have claimed
> in the discussion over the moderator policy that whether or not a
> moderator is overtly racist, sexist, homophobic is unimportant, and
> so should not effect their vote on the proposed newsgroup.

Of course some would say such, because such concerns are irrelevent,
or even whether should be or not be important, when control is the
objective. The charter does not allow for its membership, to vote at
all, on who they may wish for moderators, substitutes or their
replacements, and they do not bind themselves to the same
limitations on behavior as they do the prospective membership.

> Obviously, it did not effect the vote, as the newsgroup recently
> passes, with only 44 votes against.

I didn't bother to vote against it for the same reason I haven't
bothered voting since the State of Georgia decided not to count
Eugene McCarthy's votes that might be caste as write-ins the night
before the '68 election --whether that's relevent or not. Besides
voting on what I see as non-sense is to become a part of it.

>Although I've recently become
> more aware of the still lingering bias against native peoples which
> exists in the profession today, I was still surprised by the
> willingness of the archaeological community to partake in what many
> Indians see as appeasement at best, complicity at worst. Many of my
> friends and colleagues were listed in the *yea* column...

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here. The 'yea' votes are using
the anti-hyperdiffusionist issue for the reason of having a group
moderated. It is the hyperdiffusionists who attribute the
attainments of civilizations such as the Maya, to anyone except the
indigenous. Honestly, who is confused here? The native peoples you
are describing, you, or me?

>I can say
> it only saddens me more, and in fact, makes me question whether
> gains have been made in the sensitizing of the archaeological
> community to native concerns and issues.

I can't think of a group which *thinks* they are more concerned than
the archaeological community, including those who simply want to
control what the "authority of scholarship" is to be, as if their
should be such a thing, and those who would even prevert science
itself by coming up with politically correct answers, when need be,
to assure their getting licenses to do field work in areas highly
politicized so indigenous lands and monuments can even be
appropriated for the personal gain of politicians. It is saddening.
Especially when I believe most archaeologists are aware, and maybe
even sensitive to it, but when it comes down to it, will pay for the
license to do their work no matter to whom the ultimate benefit. Its
a terrible dilemma, but its up to archaeologists to do something
about it. Great deals of money are being made in the tourism industry
for admissions to the sites the archaeologists restore. Why don't
they concern themselves more? I guess it would be too idealistic to
expect them to strike when such revenues are being looted? Better to
worry about the looting of artifacts, which when, especially, having
precious metal content, end up right alongside of the rest of the
revenues. And if anyone doesn't believe that, well, I guess diplomas
have their price too. It is a dilemma.

> With growing concern,
> MB Williams (Penobscot/Kennebec/Maliseet)
> Dept. of Anthropology, UMass-Amherst

I deeply share your concern. Thank you for expressing it.
Ka Xiik Teech Utzil,

John Pastore
Writer in 'El Mayab'
("The Mayan Homeland")

"Knowledge is neither a copy nor a miscopy of reality,
neither representation nor misrepresentation...but a
response to living in it."
-Catherine MacKinnon