Against the stream
I have never been much of a technophile - it’s hard to follow the lead of Marinetti and Gates and worship at the altar of the machine when you can never even seem to figure out how to use a video player - but I did go through a stage of believing, or at least wanting to believe, that the internet might improve standards of intellectual discussion and political debate. A year or so of trawling through the websites of pseudo-scholars who believe that New Zealand was settled by Celts, that Jews were behind 9/11, and that Hitler was really quite a nice chap has put paid to that fantasy.
Even in the relatively sane sections of the blogosphere, there is a distressing tendency for blogs to become circus arenas where partisans of one opinion are treated to whoops of delight and shouts of encouragement as they endlessly perform the same rhetorical acrobatics in defence of some favoured orthodoxy. (I’ve noted in the past that, in New Zealand at least, the left side of the blogosphere is as afflicted with circus acts as the right.) Occasionally, though, bloggers with an unfashionable commitment to rational, open-minded enquiry and ecumenical discussion appear on my radar.
Tim Bowron must be the worst nightmare of Jared Davidson, the ferocious young anti-art activist who turns up occasionally on this blog to implore those of us foolish enough to look at paintings or read poems to give up our bourgeois ways and dedicate ourselves to political activism. Bowron is no stranger to activism – he has been a delegate for two unions, a national organiser for the far left Workers Party, and a socialist candidate for the office of Mayor of Dunedin – but early this year he announced that he was suspending his political activity, and devoting himself instead to the study of obscure Latin American modernist poets, like the Chilean avant-gardist Vicente Huidobro.
Bowron’s retirement announcement was, it turns out, a little disingenuous: alongside fascinating readings of Huidobro and other exotic scribblers his Fatal Paradox blog has featured some very fine commentary on political affairs in New Zealand and overseas. Bowron’s reflections on the state of the far left in New Zealand are particularly interesting.
Having stepped back from the hurly burly of week-to-week activism, Bowron is able to generalise about the strengths and weaknesses of Kiwi socialism with a detachment that is clear-eyed without ever being piously Olympian. His dissection of the reasons why so many far left outfits in New Zealand end up dissolving into feuding factions – a process famously satirised by the ‘People’s Front of Judea’ scene in Monty Python's The Life of Brian – is especially worthwhile, because it avoids cheap shots and focuses on the ways that sociology can shape the behaviour of even those people most determined to reorganise society. As any reader of this blog’s comments boxes will know, Edward Ashby has been an indefatigable fighter against the sort of pseudo-historians who specialise in destroying archaeological sites, stealing ancient bones, and vandalising the internet with websites promoting their bizarre theories. Ashby is a working archaeologist who grew up in Dargaville, and therefore had to put up with the activities of local pseudo-scholar Noel Hilliam, who thought nothing of tearing up ancient urupa in search of non-existent evidence for his theory that white people settled this country thousands of years ago.
After demolishing the pretensions of Hilliam and other pseudo-scholars in the comments boxes of this blog, Ashby has launched two websites of his own that help continue the good fight. With its posts on subjects like Ancient Celtic Supermen and the Round Earth Conspiracy, The Uncritiqued is a savage exercise in satire; Archaeology Aotearoa, on the other hand, is a highly serious explanation of the realities of twenty-first century archaeological research. Both sites deserve to be read.