British expatriate Paul Barford who presently resides in the enlightened humanitarian democracy of Poland, has recently made a post aggressively attacking a well-meaning and sincere collector:
Kudos to Vikan for so deftly exposing the bias inherent in Barford's latest assault upon collecting.
It seems to this observer that the metric to be applied in such cases is clearly one which best measures "social good," That is necessarily something rather elastic in nature and controversial in ideology. But it at least asserts a concept and principle that conceivably might eventually be agreed upon.
What is "social good?" Here is a very essential question, and a frustratingly elusive concept. I have pondered it long and hard, and am confident that others who have done so with a relatively open mind would agree that this is one of the most fundamental and difficult questions affecting human society. At present it has no universally agreed-upon definition. This observer believes that clear agreement upon a workable definition of "social good" would consequently resolve many significant concerns as to the ethics of various human activities.
In this particular case the "social good" metric to be applied to collecting activities must be construed as a complex balance of multiple "social goods." These are neither zero-sum calculable nor obviously in any simple manner, quantitatively interrelated. That which is highly positive with respect to one interpretation of "social good" may well have negative implications in regard to another. Perhaps I may be sustained in advocating a perspective that humanity's ethics are as yet insufficiently evolved and quantified to definitively and accurately weigh all the complex, conflicting factors in assessing collecting activities.
Now, it is appropriate to assert certain essential principles fundamental to democracy. In doing so I do not imply that those not discussed are insignificant, but rather that those discussed relate in an essential way to the question at hand.
The first such principle is that of common sense. The implication of this principle is that arguments which construe theoretical principles in a manner contravening "common sense" are invalid. The definition of "common sense" is what appears to the individual voter to be sensible and appropriate.
I do not propose to argue that the collective opinions of individual voters will necessarily be perfect, They will however tend to reduce arguments to simple, easily assessed concepts. The social benefit of assuring a widespread, simply assessed verdict regarding controversial questions is that the electorate will be likely to support that verdict should push come to shove.
In assessing Barford's arguments against private collecting, this observer is convinced that they are in every respect anti-democratic and anti-popular. His perspective emphasizes the importance of the educated, academically qualified few vs. the uneducated, unsophisticated, unqualified many who should not be allowed to lay their ignorant and grubby hands upon the "past" because they are not academically qualified archaeologists.
Unfortunately for Mr. Barford's perspective, his own formal academic qualifications in the field of archaeology are far from impressive. It is however only fair to say that his personal abilities in this field have far outstripped his formal qualifications, as his book "The Early Slavs" indicates. But where and how does one draw the line?
In deference to the principle of common sense, this observer declines to question Mr. Barford's credentials as an expert since he has contributed a valuable reference work. But, it is none the less appropriate to question whether Mr. Barford should not likewise extend some tolerance to those whose collecting impulses are motivated by a desire to comprehend and disseminate an appreciation of the nature and artifacts of the past.
A measure of the social merit of experts, not the only measure certainly but surely a significant one, is their desire and impulse to share their expertise with others. I call the attention of others to the nature and focus of my website, www.classicalcoins.com. Ancient coins and reference works are offered for sale there, but they are presented in the context of their historical significance. It is in my opinion fair to say that this website emphasizes education equally with its commercial function.
What has Mr. Barford done to educate the public? Would in not be better socially, and more effective practically, for him to focus upon educating and constructively advising those whom he believes to be inappropriately focused upon excavating ancient artifacts without due respect to the principles of archaeology? Would not that better advance the concept of "social good?"
There is a lot to be said for the importance of archaeology and its systematic methodology of excavation. That subject needs able, articulate presentation to detectorists who focus upon artifacts themselves without adequate comprehension of the importance of preserving their context.