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Doing Justice to the Classics

Is Pharos Worth It?

by Curtis Dozier, Director of Pharos

A reader wrote with a question that a few of the specialists we’ve contacted for comment have also raised.  It’s one I wonder about every day that I work on Pharos.

Is it really worth taking seriously, and replying to, posts by such nutcakes? These are nobodies, and nobody cares what they say. Why draw attention to it and thereby gratify them?

My candid answer is that I don’t know whether it’s worth it, I don’t know whether it helps or hurts to make people aware that these sites exist, and I don’t know whether this kind of attention gratifies them or not. I don’t know how one could know, in fact. But I’ve decided that raising awareness of these appropriations and creating a forum where interested specialists can contribute to responses is preferable to ignoring them, because:

  • I don’t think it is correct to say that “no one cares what these people think.” The pages that Pharos documents have active comment sections, sometimes with hundreds of contributions. Misogynist site Return of Kings has 20,000 followers on Twitter and gets enough traffic to attract advertisers. There are 41,000 posts in the “New Members Introduce Yourselves” forum on the white supremacist message board, which uses the Parthenon in one of its logos. People care what they think.
  • If it is true that the election of Donald Trump — whose own supporters have appropriated antiquityhas emboldened white nationalists and other hateful ideologies in this country, and if it’s true that white supremacists are targeting college campus more than ever before, then I believe we should be taking these appropriations of the past seriously.
  • I am told that many people responded to Donna Zuckerberg’s “How to be a good classicist under a bad emperor” by asking “Is this really a problem? Do people like this really know about or care about antiquity?” At Pharos we have a database of over 100 such appropriations and we’re adding more every day. If even specialists working in Classics are unaware of these appropriations it seems preferable for the public to know this is happening rather than to leave it in the shadows.
  • Organizations that I respect — Pro Publica, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League — have decided it is worthwhile to document hate.
  • The field of Classical Studies, including professional scholars working in it, has been complicit in hateful ideology in the past. Pharos is my way of publicly rejecting that history and of giving others an opportunity to do so if they wish. I believe this has value.
  • The harassment others have endured for engaging in work like this suggests that this kind of attention does not gratify our opponents. From what I understand, scholars who are women and of color are more likely to experience harassment of this type. Pharos is one way of acting in solidarity with those scholars. It can also be a venue for specialists who wish to avoid harassment to contribute to resisting the appropriations we document.
  • Finally, at a time when the humanities seem to be valued less than ever, Pharos shows why it is essential to human progress that specialist knowledge of the material we study continue to be developed and articulated.

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