When History Goes Bad!

Due to the whole ‘9/11 comes to New Zealand’ thing and then the trip down to Palmy North to deliver my paper, I never did get around to posting on the most recent Franklin E-local debacle1. Yes, verily, it has come to pass that Mykeljon has once again started publishing articles suggesting that not only did the Maori not get here first, but that there is a massive Governmental conspiracy to cover that fact up.

He’s published three of these ‘interesting’ pieces of not-very-investigative journalism, and, collectively, they don’t say much. Indeed, to this reader they just go to show that the debate about when the Maori got here, versus when they colonised Aotearoa/Te Wai Pounamu, is still a slightly open question.

Still, even though I think the articles themselves are examples of poor argumentation and suspicious assertions, some have read them and gone ‘Well, looks plausible to me.’ Indeed, although I find the hardline Roman Catholicism of ‘New Zealand Conservative’ weird, disturbing and often not in the spirit of the Christian Gospels, I didn’t really think they would be taken in by the Celtic New Zealand nonsense, although in that manner I might well be wrong.

Now, at the moment I don’t really have the time (although I do have the inclination) to go into the E-local articles in any particular depth; I’m (hopefully) in the endgame of the thesis and if I buckle down, tighten my bootstraps and do all the other clichéd activities of yore, I should be finished this year. Still, the articles do demonstrate the heavy use of fallacious reasoning and allege a Conspiracy, so here’s a basic rundown of some of the issues thus far presented2 and my thoughts, such as they are. One day I’ll go into this in more depth; that’s a promise I intend to keep.

So, the articles. Three of them thus far. All unattributed (I think we can finger the editor as author in this case) and mostly a rehash of that which we have seen before in the E-local as well as the lonely, uncontinued single article in ‘Uncensored.’ As befits the style of research, the article makes a lot of the unqualified reporting of the media. The December article really is the best example of this; you get references like:

[W]hy did the initial article in the New Zealand Herald state that the remains were estimated to be about 2000 years old? (Elocal, December 2009, p. 15)

Now, that is a very good question and given that the author provides no reference to that article it is a little hard to assess why it might make such a claim? Had the Herald spoken to an expert or were they, as sometimes they are wont to do, making stuff up? The author’s support for this claim is that the remains were thought to be ancient, but ‘ancient’ doesn’t really mean anything other than ‘really old,’ and that could mean anything.

Indeed, using such media reports is problematic; as we saw with the Wairarapa skull and the Kaimanawa Walls the media will portray findings in a sensationalist fashion, and, important but disturbing, not follow up on these reports with the more sober analysis. If your archaeological knowledge just came from the media, then you’d suspect that there were ancient stone cities in the bush, sunken citadels off Cuba and India, et cetera.

Add to this level of investigative reporting the power of weak suggestion and then the flights of fancy really take off; when discussing the ‘Tall Ones,’ a posited pre-Maori Caucasian people, the author cites the journals of Abel Tasman, who reports seeing people similar to Assegai (Elocal, December 2009, p. 15), who, if memory serves me correctly, are tall in stature but also dark in colour. Hardly suggestive of a white pre-cursor race to the Maori.

The articles are filled with such weak suggestions; posit the existence of the Celts in New Zealand and then find some documentary evidence that fills one of the criteria (i.e. tallness) and use that as proof positive of the Celtic New Zealand thesis.

Now add psuedoscience. One of the prevailing myths of the Celtic New Zealand thesis proponents is the assertion that skull morphology means something; the author, when asking about some other remains, asks:

Were any photos taken of the cranium and jawline? (Elocal, December, p. 15)

because, as we are supposed to know, Polynesians have a specific rocker jaw and thus if the remains do not have them, then they must be the pre-cursor people. Except that this thesis has long been discredited, although I’m sure the author thinks that this must also be part of the conspiracy against this land’s true history.

The other technique that the author seems fond of is the Inverse ad hominem; he plays up the credentials of the people whose work supports the Celtic New Zealand thesis. Sometimes this sounds almost right and proper, if a little overly didactic, like:

…the very comprehensive and utterly proven work of farmer/archaeologist, Russell Price… (Elocal, December 2009, p. 15)

and other times it is nonsensical, as when he appeals to a person’s stature in the community being a reason to accept their anomalous views (Ibid).

Still, there are some legitimate questions the author raises, although I suspect I know the answers. He (because I assume it is Mykeljon) asks why embargoes and moratoriums are placed on the sites and discovered remains, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t raise the hackles of several readers; that does sound like suspect activity, especially when Maori are fingered as to why. Still, potential answers, such as Iwi protecting the location of their burial sites and urupa to stopping looters from pillaging such sites are quite plausible; I’m mindful about what happened when the location of an old well on K’Rd was made public; within days the site was looted by glass bottle collectors and the stratigraphy of the site was utterly ruined. We have to remember that people like Noel Hilliam seem to delight in their amateur excavation and desecration of Tapu and Wahi Tapu sites; if the location of these sites were to be made publicly known before an archaeological investigation was carried out (and due to the limited funding, such investigations could be years away in many cases), then it’s quite possible that, by the time the experts have been called in, the sites would be looted beyond recognition and use.

And then there is the suspicious behaviour on the part of the author. Now, perhaps I expect too much of the articles; I want references and the ability to check the claims he has made, so when he talks about remains being bulldozed over (Elocal, November 2009, p. 14) I want to know when that happened and who reported it. He makes series claims about potential cover-ups and anyone who is vaguely sympathetic to his thesis will go ‘Well, that proves something is rotten in the core of our government and its attached academies.’

Now, as I said, perhaps the author just is not into citing sources, but perhaps the author is also trying to get away with something. It’s very easy to inflate your claims of conspiracy by alleging that suspicious has gone on, but if that behaviour becomes less suspicious the more you look into it, it’s far better to make sure enquiring minds don’t go there.

As I have repeatedly said, I plan to make my next research project an analysis of these kind of views; I want to look into the why and how of these variant histories of Aotearoa/Te Wai Pounamu’s history and pre-history. But, in regard to the current project, what of the Conspiracy? Because one is being alleged. One that crosses the traditional party distinctions of Right and Left, ignores the rivalry in the Ivory Tower and has it that Maori, who have done so, so well (sarcasm, just in case you can’t detect it) from Pakeha. That is the reason why, apparently, information about the Celtic pre-cursor race doesn’t come out. It’s the same reason why we don’t know the ‘truth’ about 9/11, or the truth about the death of JFK, and so forth. It’s an All-embracing Conspiracy Theory, one that explains all the data by saying that everyone, aside from the precious few who are in the know, are out to get, suppress, and so forth, the rest.

Such Conspiracy Theories seem prima facie irrational because of their size; you would expect cracks to show in the Ivory Tower, for example, but, of course, these cracks are precisely what the author and his cronies think they’ve found. They’ll happily cite this report and that report as evidence that the truth is coming out, and then just as happily say that the author of said report has been forced to retract their statement by the Conspirators when said author denies that their research supports something like the Celtic New Zealand thesis. It is a the ultimate in non-falsifiable explanations; whatever contradicts the rival theory must be the result of a campaign to deny the truth.

When the Truthers were trying to descend on me and get me to issue a retraction I was often accused of working with the mysterious authorities seeking to debunk and keep the Truther Movement out of the media. Now, I can deny that, but that won’t matter; if you think I’m out to get you, then I’m out to get you (it seems). No matter what I say, or do (although if I were to convert that might work), I am the Enemy.

Not sure where this is going now, so I’m going to end it here. If February’s issue is of any interest I’ll keep you informed.

Notes

  1. Hat tip to ‘Reading the Maps.’
  2. The series of articles is ongoing.