Friday, December 1, 2017

The Alt-Right Owns Antiquity?

I've been meaning to write about this matter for a while, but this article by Curtis Dozier of Vassar College in Eidolon, an "online journal for scholarly writing about Classics that isn’t formal scholarship," edited by Mark Zuckerberg's sister, Donna Zuckerberg, got me thinking anew: where is the politics of Classics in 2017?

Eidolon's article, in its jejune way, raises some red flags when it asserts that, "the alt-right owns antiquity online," as its justification for compiling a database "to stand up against hateful appropriations of antiquity online."

On the one hand, this seems like a tempest in a teapot. My sense of the situation, unscientific to be sure, is that the left, especially the academic left, is spooked by the political rumblings of the last year and is trying to exorcise and purify its domains. With great reluctance it is realizing that it does not own the internet.

On the other hand, the matter may be quite serious.

First, the statement that "the alt-right owns antiquity online" is a probably a substantial exaggeration. Classics online, or anywhere, is not vital at all, it seems to me. (By vital I mean something that is healthy, active, and growing.)

Second, with respect to interest, it might be possible that the alt-right is right now more passionate about classics than is the left today.

Third, I'm not sure whether compiling a database will do more harm than good. A few weeks ago Jordan B. Peterson asked via a Twitter poll whether a website, and I am paraphrasing from memory, that would catalog neo-Marxist courses online, would do more good or harm. The giddy, hysterical, adolescent tone (and content) of the Eidolon article suggests to me the creators of "Pharos" have not publicly asked this crucial question.

Will a database work, ultimately, for or against debate, for or against free speech? Dozier wrote that he wanted to respond "Not to try to change the minds of those we were responding to, but so that the curious public would have access to a better way of understanding the past," but to what demand of public curiosity will Pharos respond? Too, in the absence of such curiosity, what will Pharos become?  Finally, why not try to engage people and change their minds? Why wouldn't that be preferable?

Maybe instead of compiling a database for the explicit purpose of not engaging ones adversaries, Dozier, Zuckerberg, and the staff of Eidolon should get out in the trenches, summon up the blood, bring their vaunted knowledge of the ancient world to their tongues, and debate their opposition in public in the real world in the spirit of antiquity.

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