Archaeologists Can Fight Back

We need to plant seedbombs of how CRM archaeology benefits communitiesAs cultural resource management archaeologists, we live in a bubble. We are college educated. Our work is rooted in science and we believe in objective proof. This contrasts with a large segment of the rest of the citizenry.

Most Americans do not have a college degree. They do not make decisions based on fact or science. And, when it comes to making America great, they do not immediately think about what archaeology, heritage conservation, or historic preservation can contribute.

In the Age of Trump, we CRMers have our work cut out for us. It seems like every morning I learn about a new blow from the federal government in the ongoing war against environmental protection. Proposals to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management’s Rule 2 are just recent attempts. The attempt to defund the Department of Education is not directly related to the environmental policies our careers depend upon but it will do much to diminish education in the country. This is significant because educated people are among the main advocates of environmental policy (along with hunters and outdoor recreation groups). If America gets less educated, there will be few available to fight for clean air, clean water, rare plants and animals, and archaeological sites.

The question we’re all asking is: What the fu*k are we going to do? I don’t know the answer but I do know we need to connect with those in our communities that support regulatory rollbacks and figure out why they want to go back to the Gilded Age. Understanding our adversaries is the first step in any sort of coordinated counterattack.

And, counterattack is exactly what we need to do. Right now.

Public archaeology is not the only way

For decades, we have all been advocating for additional engagement with local communities because we (rightly) believe interacting with people in their own landscape is an excellent way to expose non-archaeologists to real archaeology. We have evidence that this is working in the benefit of local communities, as seen through the many public archaeology projects and protected spaces, sites, and properties that were saved through collective action among concerned publics. We are doing much to tell the public what we do as archaeologists and why archaeology is important. Thousands of Americans have heard and heeded our message. It’s working. We need to keep it up.

But, Americans are more concerned about our wallets. It seems like the money evaporates before we even see it. In many communities, finding a job is even more difficult than forging a fruitful career in CRM archaeology. Traditional manufacturing industries are drying up and a new, more technology-based manufacturing has replaced it. The problem is not jobs. There are plenty of jobs in the United States. The problem is finding educated Americans that can do them. There are no career jobs for undereducated adults. Aside from entrepreneurism, the only career jobs in this country require an education.

Americans are also unhappy about the distribution of wealth and some believe we don’t know what to do about it. The rich keep getting richer and keep controlling our governments in their favor. I am among the minority of Americans that think we do know how to handle the problem. There is a growing movement to embrace tenets of the Plenitude economy, but we don’t all call it the same thing. My goal is to make these ideas spread:



Here are some examples of how our society is changing and moving away from the old world and into a brave new one:

  • The growth of unschooling, home schooling, and choosing not to go to college.
  • Increase in biracial Americans and interracial marriage.
  • Decline of big box retailers and department stores.
  • The movement away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy (even in Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest exporter of oil, is doubling down on renewable energy).
  • Population increases in urban areas, even places that are ridiculously overpriced and difficult to live in like the San Francisco Bay Area, because of the social, cultural, economic, and recreational benefit these areas can provide.
  • Decline in marriage, increase in co-parenting.
  • And, last but not least, the huge backlash AGAINST the Trump presidency and the widespread public support FOR his presidency (Here’s what the mainstream media isn’t telling you. Over 40% of voting adults in the United States [more than 58 million individuals] approve of Trump’s job so far.) Both movements show our political system is alive, vibrant, and important to a large proportion of our populace.

Our world is changing. This is true. It always has been. For archaeologists, this change is all around us. It’s what we study. It is the foundation upon which our craft is built. However, our society believes stable environments are necessary for us to thrive. This contradiction has stymied substantive adaptation to the world in which we live because too many people long for a “simpler,” “better” past where things were “easier.” Poor people and minorities know this past never existed but too many people think it did.

Public archaeology is excellent at raising awareness of heritage, history, and the value of science to American communities. But, public archaeology is not going to reach the publics we need to convince. Those who are against environmental and historic preservation regulations think these things negatively impact business, which causes people to lose jobs. These are the folks who think CRM delays projects, causes cost overruns, and creates unemployment for the people they know (who, ironically, do not work in CRM). Public archaeology is not going to reach or convince those 58 million adults who think rolling back regulations is a good thing.

If you wanna fight back, you’re going to have to talk to Alt-people

It’s obvious that fact is not going to convince alt-right agents of their irrationality because they also live in a bubble. It feels good for both liberals and conservatives to protest perceived injustices but these massive marches only do two things:

1) Provide a vent for outrage and;

2) Alienate us from those who’s opinion we are trying to change.

Anti-Trumpians do not go to pro-Trump rallies and vice versa. Each camp negatively views the collective actions of the other. When the two factions occupy the same space, violence is frequently the result:



The conservative movement has existed in the United States since its conception. It is nothing new. The control of our national legislatures by the rich is also nothing new. Conservativism is a major counterweight to a bloated Welfare State, but balance must be achieved. Individuals need to be empowered to succeed and, in the event of failure, the government needs to be ready to offer assistance. We need to be stewards of the environment, regardless of how much money can be made destroying it. Most importantly, the government needs to prevent the rich and powerful from subjugating the everyman. A democracy can only function when both liberalism and conservativism is in balance and when the power of the wealthy is harnessed for the public good.

The preponderance of belief in alternative facts among the 40+% of American adults that think the White House is doing the right thing is the one thing that differentiates today’s right wing from the previous renditions in the past. The Reagan-Bush-Bush II administrations were based on the chimera of freedom in all things: free markets, more choices, more democracy, and fewer restrictions on business. It was also strongly anti-fascism and clearly stated that controlling social memes through media by a central faction was the root of fascism. Bush II pushed truthiness further than most previous conservative regimes with the WMD in Iraq fallacy (Remember Colin Powell testifying that there were WMDs in Iraq? That was the proof the Iraq War was built upon), but there was an understanding that fact was derived from some sort of concrete proof even if that proof was manufactured.

To be fair, I must point out that liberal regimes in the past have also peddled truthiness (think JFK’s take on what happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis or Clinton’s reasons for ramping up of the War on Drugs). Conservatives aren’t the only ones that do this but today it seems like straight up falsehoods are accepted as fact among a large percentage of Americans, many of whom are politically conservative.

We must always remember, Americans do not make opinions based on fact. This is good for politicians but bad for scientists and others that base truth in facts. People make decisions based on personal experience, emotions, and what we hear from others we trust. Those who believe in science do so because they have been exposed to science, they value the contributions of scientists, and trust in research results.

We can’t convince the publics that consider CRM another job-killing brick in the bureaucracy to care about archaeology by basing our arguments on actual fact. These people believe in alt-facts, alternative reality, and think the media is entirely fake. They have internalized the idea that regulations destroy jobs. The only way we can have this conversation is by appealing to their emotional, irrational mind.

Also, we aren’t going to meet these people on a public archaeology site. Most of these folks are not interested in actual archaeology even though they may care about history. They might want to dig up artifacts but are not interested in recording their find or sharing information. These are the kind of people that think regulations prohibiting metal detecting, artifact collection, and site looting are obstacles created by archaeologists to keep everyday people from interacting with their own heritage. They believe archaeologists only do archaeology because they want to take archaeological materials away from property owners and local communities and hoard it for their own personal gain. Public outreach, generally, is not going to reach this kind of a public.

Finally, it will be difficult to connect with these folks through social media or traditional media because the internet is not designed for you to interact with anything you don’t already like.

  • Ever wonder why your Facebook feed is bloated with anti-Trump materials but not that much pro-Trump stuff?
  • Have you ever thought about the reasons why your Twitter feed is all about archaeology and anti-conservativism?
  • Are you still in awe of the fact they won in the first place?

If you answered yes to any of those questions you will not be able to reach anti-CRM people because all your digital communications stuff is pointing you in the opposite direction. Google, Facebook, YouTube, and all the others are aggregators for the kind of content you “like.” They are all designed to give you more of what you like, not less. This means your feeds will only take you away from that 58 million Americans we need to connect with in order to save environmental protection and historic preservation laws.

How do we have that conversation with people who don’t like what we do?

In order to reach the other side, we need to find people who are trained to have moral conversations about social justice, climate change, and racism. Archaeologists are trained to emphasize data. We are focused on quantifiable data. This kind of perspective is difficult to convey to individuals that are not accustomed to thinking within the constraints of the scientific method.

We need to locate persons that can convene on our behalf by bridging both sides of the argument. We need conveners:

A convener is a person who enjoys bringing people together. We all know people who are good at convening. They are the ones who organize potluck dinners, special events, babysitting networks, choirs, community groups, and parties. They are people who enjoy the company of others, and recognize the overarching importance of developing and maintaining human relationships” (The Organizers Handbook 2017).

Well where the hell are these conveners? Where can we find them? Conveners for archaeology exist but are not widely known. The folks that put on the recent ACRA infomercial “Archaeology in the Age of Trump” are archaeology conveners. Some of the people at Archaeology Southwest and the SRI Foundation convene on behalf of archaeology. This is good but it’s too focused on lobbying legislatures. We need people that are going to interact with the proletariat on their own turf. These folks are more difficult to find.

In my experience, if you want something done right you’re probably going to have to do it yourself. So, guess what? We need people like you to become the conveners if CRM archaeology is to survive. That’s right. You’re going to have to fight for your job.

We cannot sit back and let this happen. Cultural resource management and environmental protection was not created overnight but it is a recent phenomenon. The idea of National Parks is barely 145 years old. We’ve only had antiquities protections since 1906. The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which undergirds most CRM, is only 50 years old. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) isn’t even that old. In that amount of time, we have learned so much about the natural environment, human pasts, and what we can do to provide a natural world for future generations. Our work has only begun.

In order to prevent the rollback of environmental regulations, we all need to become the kind of folks that brings people together in order to talk about this issue. It doesn’t have to be formal meetings like a church group, but it needs to happen. Every interaction with someone on the other side of the aisle is a chance to learn about their concerns/fears. We can use this knowledge to better articulate our side of the story.

Here’s what we can do

We need to connect with the alt-public somewhere that isn’t on the internet. Digital media provides anonymity that people can use to hide. Folks post rude, counterproductive stuff, sit back, and watch others flip out. It’s also hard to argue on the internet because tempers flare and nothing gets through. Push too hard and you’re just going to get unfriended. Finally, you’re just preaching to the choir because most of us only associate with like-minded people. This is reflected in our social media networks. We’re just screaming at the people who haven’t unfriended us, which typically isn’t the alt-public we need to be reaching.

How can we connect and interact with that alt-public that thinks historic preservation and environmental protection regulations are bad? Of course, I have some suggestions of things we can all do right now to get the ball rolling:

Listen—That’s right. My first recommendation is to simply listen to the argument against conservation. But, I don’t want you to listen the way you do when your boss tells you to do something you don’t want to do. I want you to actively listen the way a marketer does when they want to sell you something really expensive. A skilled salesperson will ask you questions about yourself, your motivations to buy or not to buy, and they listen to your response. Through this series of questions, the salesperson is trying to drill down to the emotional reason why you will or will not buy. This is what separates good salespeople from bad ones.

Always remember, you are trying to engage in dialogue with an irrational person that uses alternative facts to support their argument. You will lose if you immediately try to disprove them using real facts because this only fans their emotional flames and positions you as a person that is allied with the “fake news” machine. To combat this, you want to drill down to the emotional soft spot at the core of their argument.

Somewhere at the heart of all resistance to CRM is an emotional core; somewhere past all the bristling about too many regulations, archaeologists hiding artifacts from the public, jobs being stymied because of delays, and “college-boy” elites trying to create a fake, anti-white past. Your job is to listen to their argument and let them guide you to that emotional core. Sometimes it is a fear of losing jobs or a belief that Native Americans and other minorities get “special treatment” when it comes to historic preservation. Or, more likely, it is a belief that government regulations take away freedom and a fear that it will start with artifacts and grow from there.

Your first job is to listen. Just listen to their argument and see where it takes you. Don’t try and disprove them too quickly. Don’t try and change their minds just yet. Just listen to why they don’t like CRM. Drill down into that emotional core.

You need to know your enemy better than they know themselves. During this process, you may find out that there are actually some things wrong with environmental policies that need to be addressed. You might also find out that archaeologists are not always seen as the good guys. Many of us do secret away artifacts to curation facilities and make every effort to keep them out of the hands of the public (Kennewick Man anyone?) This is as much a data gathering process as it is a self-reflection exercise.

Talk to children—Archaeology is amazing in that it addresses such a wide range of STEM fields, which makes it the perfect vehicle for reaching schoolchildren. Schools are always interested in having professionals like archaeologists speak to their kids. I recommend you do what you can to talk to schoolchildren about what you do, why you do it, and the regulations that make it possible. Don’t make this a political thing. Just share your knowledge with kids and let the seeds grow on their own.

I’ve been Skyping in to elementary school classes across the country to talk with kids about archaeology. I tailor my talks to what they’re learning in class: history, geology, chemistry, the weather, animals, there are no limits. I never take a political stance because, just like religion, that kind of stuff needs to stay out of the classroom. Students can do political activism in high school but little kids need to just be children. However, I always tell them that what I know about the past is because our country has laws mandating we not supposed to destroy archaeological sites before we study them. I pretty much leave it at that for younger kids. I go a little deeper for older kids, but still stay away from politics. Let them discuss it with their parents.

The best thing about this strategy is you can dispel myths anti-conservationists have about CRM and get them into a person’s head at an early age. Because you’ve done your research of the opposition, your short statement about CRM can dispel a few of the common misconceptions. Wherever possible, tell the truth about CRM. These seeds will grow in a young person’s mind. I guarantee it.

Don’t lose your cool—Anger clouds your judgement. Losing your cool makes it hard for you to get your point across because you can’t be convincing while you’re yelling at your opponent.

You will need to harness all your Zen to keep your cool. Pay attention to both what your opponent is saying and how that is making you feel. If you’re familiar with meditation, stay mindful of the present moment. Where is the anger in your body? Where do you feel it? Is that feeling real? Why does their words make you feel this way? You will probably discover these emotions create some sort of feeling in your heart (i.e. a tightness at the center of your chest) or in your brain but this feeling changes. It comes and goes. It is not permanent. It has no concrete basis. Your anger comes from thoughts that change like clouds in the sky. Just stay with the feeling. Follow it. Because it’s not permanent, you can watch it fade from your attention.

It’s also important to try and help your opponent stay cool. Keep them from getting riled up by maintaining your composure. If your opponent is too pissed off, you will not be able to get your message across. Do what you can to keep them from flipping out because the longer they stay engaged with you, the longer you have to expose the irrationality and falseness of their perspective. Also, it gives you more time to find that tender, vulnerable emotional core.

Learn how to argue—It’s a skill you will need because, sometimes, you will need to use words as weapons. After you’ve spent time learning the opposition’s argument and found their emotional core, you can strike with a barrage of logic, fact, and reality.

There are a bunch of resources out there about argument techniques. This blog post (How to win an argument without losing your cool) summarizes much of what I was just saying in the previous statement about the basics of winning an argument.

The book “How to Argue and Win Every Time” by Gerry Spence (1995) is the best book on arguments I’ve ever read. It’s worth your time.

The key to winning an argument with an anti-conservationist is to stay calm, use facts, and get them to agree with at least one of the facts you’ve presented. You’re not trying to change minds. You are not going to create a new archaeology fan. All you’re trying to do is chip down one tiny piece of their argument by getting them to agree with one small part of your argument. Once you’ve gotten them to agree to one small point about the public benefit of CRM, just stop arguing. Change the subject. Don’t rub it in. There is no such thing as “winning their hearts and minds.” Just strike like a guerrilla and fade back into the jungle to fight another day.

What you say will roll around in their heads for hours after the engagement. They will ponder what you said, look up your resources on the internet, and mentally debate your point of view. Long after you’ve walked away, they will still be thinking about what you said. And, that’s exactly what you want. Let their mind do all the work. You just want to get one small point across and let it grow in their mind.

Do that and you’ve won the argument. Do it enough times and you will win the war.

Bring disparate groups together—Stop hiding from the alt-right. They’re not going to go away. They are as American as apple pie, as bluegrass and blues, as American as the KKK. Alt-Americans are our communities. They are what make this country what it is. We all have alt-Americans in our families and elsewhere in our social networks. Those are the individuals we need to contact first.

I know this stuff can make you feel bad emotions ranging from rage, to sadness, to apathy. But, you can’t let them destroy our industry. Cultural resource management comprises the bulk of archaeology in the United States, for better or worse. It all hangs on a few national and local laws that were created for the benefit of all communities. Get rid of the laws and you get rid of American archaeology.

We cannot hide from the things that make us uncomfortable. The whole alt-right thing has been there all along. Recent events have just made it more vocal and visible, but it was there beside us every day, festering for years and years.

Addressing those who want to extinguish our industry will cause us pain, but pain is temporary. As the motivational speaker Eric Thomas says, pain may last an hour or a week, but, eventually, pain subsides and something else takes its place. Taking this on may also make us feel fear, but fear is also temporary. It is False Evidence Appearing Real. The evidence the alt-Americans use to justify their beliefs and actions are rooted in fear: the fear of unfairness, fear of losing jobs, fear of change, fear of our liberal beliefs. Those fears are justified because they reveal the uncertainty of living in the modern world. Acknowledging our perspectives challenges the beliefs that they use to sooth their fears. It forces them to change.

We cannot stop the change. All we can do is fearlessly face it. Our understanding of human pasts is more useful now than ever because humanity has one constant—resilience. Sharing that story of human resilience in the face of war, violence, genocide, racism, economic depression, cultural dislocation, environmental change, nuclear Armageddon, and all other adversarial forces is what the alt-Americans need to hear right now.

You are an archaeologist. You know that story better than many. Now is the time to use your knowledge of human resilience to protect the industry that puts food on your table. Simultaneously, you will be helping bridge the gap between Red and Blue.

What do you think? Ready to start debataing? Write a comment below or send me an email.


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