attitudes to personal and public health precautions among artefact-hunters amid the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic offers a novel lens through which to analyse the attitudes of artefact-hunters towards personal and public health precautions in particular and science, society and the state in general.

While researching other matters (for a paper from which I am cutting thousands of words, including the material in this post), I found open-source evidence in the form of polls and conversations, which offer preliminary insights into the situation(s) in Eastern Europe. Looking for comparative data, I found conversations (or attempts to hold conversations) in North America. I also tried to find other potential indicators of the social attitudes of artefact-hunters in Western Europe.

I have anonymised individuals and communities (for this post, so the coded identities do not relate to any others elsewhere). Locations are coded as RU for Russia and US for America. Identities are coded as CAE for cultural artefact-extractor, CIT for citizen and GRA for gun rights activist. Individuals are numbered up from the earliest citation. Communities are numbered down from the largest population.

Eastern Europe

Inescapably, the range and phrasing of possible responses varied from one poll to another. Nonetheless, when RUCIT01 (who is presumably RUGRA01, but may be another member of one of the gun forums or another acquaintance) polled Russian citizens, for no specified reason, 196 responded between late 2020 and early 2022. (The poll was held on a separate site, so it is impossible to assess its statistical significance for any community.)

Perhaps tellingly, the poll had only been shared publicly previously by its apparent designer, RUGRA01, in three gun forums, RUOC03, RUOC01 and RUOC04; and it was only shared publicly subsequently by RUCAE03 (who is seemingly not RUGRA01 or RUCIT01, but who is presumably another member of one of the gun forums, though he may be another acquaintance), in an artefact-hunting forum, RUOC02.

29 (14.80%) got vaccinated as soon as possible; 19 (9.69%) would get vaccinated sooner or later; 35 (17.86%) had not decided; and 113 (57.65%) would not get vaccinated.

Around the time of (the launch of) the poll, 38% of Russians said that they were prepared to get vaccinated, 4% said that they could not decide if they were and 58% said that they were not (according to the Yuri Levada Analytical Center, 2021a).

When RUCAE01 polled Russian-speaking artefact-hunters in RUOC02, because he had no faith in official data, 277 responded between early 2021 and early 2022 (which offers 95% confidence with a 6% margin of error).

67 (24.19%) had not had covid, but had got or would get the vaccine; 80 (28.88%) had had covid, so had not had but would get the vaccine; 26 (9.39%) had had covid and would get the vaccine; and 104 (37.55%) had not had covid and would not get vaccinated.

Around the time of the poll, 10% of Russians said that they had been vaccinated, 26% said that they would get vaccinated and 62% said that they would not (according to the Yuri Levada Analytical Center, 2021b).

While there are various reasons in every society for acceptance or rejection of vaccination, some reflect distinct historical experiences and potentially explain trends among artefact-hunters in Eastern Europe and differences between trends in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

For instance, among the 244 messages that accompanied the poll, RUCAE02 observed that anyone who had lived in a communal apartment would understand his decision to get vaccinated; RUCAE04 and RUCAE05 noted that compulsory vaccination under the Soviet Union had eradicated many dangerous diseases. Meanwhile, RUCAE06 and RUCAE07 judged that, if the government imposed or encouraged something, it was, by definition, not in the people’s interests.

While it is impossible to map these social attitudes directly onto artefact-hunting practices, they do suggest some noteworthy things. First, artefact-hunters in Russia had very similar attitudes to other citizens. Second, as ever, they distrusted the government. Since such distrust persists even when it endangers personal health, it will be even more difficult to dispel when it coincides with financial or other material interests. So, as long as this system of government prevails, this activity will be practically impossible to reform.

Theoretically, public engagement by academics and professionals and activism by other members of their society might be more effective in moderating this activity, but, under this system of government, civil society has been crushed. In Belarus, scientists long ‘appeal[ed] to [artefact-hunters’] conscience [and] asked [them] to share information about the[ir] finds[,] but they simply began to hide their cherished sites more carefully [воззвать к их совести, просили делиться сведениями о находках. Но те стали лишь более тщательно скрывать свои заветные места]’, then those scientists concluded that ‘civilised dialogue [was] impossible [цивилизованный диалог невозможен]’ (according to archaeologist Vadim Koshman, cited by Tanya, 2016).

North America

By contrast, in the United States, for example, when forum administrator USCAE12 tried to ‘inform’ one metal-detecting community, USOC02, of the need for vaccination to protect individuals and society from Covid-19, he initiated a conversation of ultimately 454 messages in mid-2021, then concluded that it was ‘not possible’ even to have the conversation with his own community (as did other pro-science members, such as USCAE23 and USCAE24).

Around the time of the poll, 67% of Americans said that they had been vaccinated, 3% said that they were going to get vaccinated as soon as possible, 10% said that they would wait and see, 3% refused to answer, 3% said that they would only get vaccinated if forced and 14% said that they would refuse to get vaccinated under any circumstances (according to KFF, 2021b).

As USCAE12 highlighted, an absolute majority of the unvaccinated were Republicans (according to KFF, 2021a). And vaccine-refusing artefact-hunters indicated that they were Republicans.

For instance, USCAE22 explicitly stated that he had considered using and USCAE15, USCAE20 and USCAE21 explicitly stated that they had used and advocated the use of antiparasitic drug Ivermectin or antimalarial drug Hydroxycloroquine, which are ineffective against Covid-19 and potentially harmful to self-administering users, yet have been promoted by Donald Trump and other representatives of the Republican Party and are believed to be effective by an absolute majority of Republican voters (according to Frankovic, 2021). Others intimated their contemplation of or indulgence in these dangerous practices.

Otherwise, USCAE13 wanted a wall to be built on the USA-Mexico border, as Donald Trump had promised to prevent the flow of migrants, in order to prevent the flow of the virus, if it was a real social danger; USCAE15 and USCAE16 claimed their constitutional right not to get vaccinated; USCAE22 denigrated an African-American man, George Floyd, who had been asphyxiated by a police officer; and USCAE14 dismissed public health measures as components of a globalist agenda for the Antichrist one world government that had been prophesied in the Bible. Others echoed these sentiments.

At least three racist posts, which were evidently more offensive than the insult to George Floyd, were deleted by moderators (according to USCAE17 and USCAE19).

On another online forum, USOC01, at least five overlapping conversations about vaccination, which were initiated by at least three artefact-hunters (USCAE01, USCAE02 and USCAE03) and which spanned from late 2020 to mid-2021, were closed. One, which had been initiated by USCAE03, was closed after 505 messages, explicitly because members refused to stay on the topic of reactions to vaccination (according to USCAE10). Again, vaccine-refusing artefact-hunters indicated that they were Republicans.

For instance, USCAE04, USCAE05, USCAE06 and USCAE07 explicitly stated that they had used Ivermectin or Hydroxycloroquine; USCAE08 dismissed any vaccine as globalist snake oil; after a vaccinated artefact-hunter, USCAE09, had credulously mentioned a conspiracy theory about DNA theft by a Democrat-supporting tech oligarch, USCAE08 also spoke of a tyranny that could not be discussed in the public section on health and had to be reserved for the private section on politics; and USCAE18 compared vaccination to the Holocaust and asserted the need for the unvaccinated to be armed to be able to defend themselves against extermination by the state.

An unknown number of messages, which were evidently more offensive than the comparison to the Holocaust, were deleted by administrators (according to USCAE10 and USCAE11).

Neither the extreme defence of gun rights nor the dangerous fantasies were outliers. According to data monitoring by marketing scientists (Dstillery, 2022), audiences of metal detecting enthusiasts skew towards being men over the age of 65, who have distinctive content affinities with audiences of gun enthusiasts and audiences of conservatives and conspiracy theorists (respectively, 14.02 and 10.29 times greater affinity than the general population).

other potential indicators of the social attitudes of artefact-hunters in Western Europe

Although the attitudes of artefact-hunters in the United Kingdom towards Covid-19 were not immediately available, their attitudes towards Brexit were. The nationwide vote to leave the European Union was 51.89%; the most relevant gender-related vote of men was 55% (Statista, 2016; cf. Thomas, 2012: 51); the most relevant age-related votes of 45-54-year-olds, 55-64-year-olds and 65+-year-olds were 56%, 57% and 60% (BBC News, 2021; cf. Thomas, 2012: 51); and the highest geographically-defined vote to leave was 75.56% in Boston in Lincolnshire (Harris, 2016). Yet an ‘extraordinary 86% of detectorists’ in one online forum ‘said they supported Brexit’ (according to Heritage Action, 2016).

Since only ‘national identity’, ‘cultural outlook’, ‘worrie[s] about immigration’ and ‘”authoritarian” views’ were significantly associated with voting to leave (according to Curtice, 2017: 158), these must be exceptionally intensely-held beliefs among artefact-hunters in the United Kingdom. It would also coincide with their personal interests, as ‘they have long feared Europe would get Britain to regulate what they do’ (according to Heritage Action, 2016).

implications

Apparently, artefact-hunters in the US and the UK have very divergent attitudes from other citizens. Those in the US seem to be anti-science and anti-society as well as anti-state, to the point that they frustrate members of their own community whose ideologies and practices are closer to those of their society, while those in the UK seem to be authoritarian nationalist. If such ideological extremism prevails in the US and the UK and artefact-hunters cannot even be reached by members of their own community, again, this activity will be practically impossible to reform.

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