Monday, November 21, 2011

Archaeology and pepper spray

Pepper spray has been in the news for all the wrong reasons these past few days, after being used unnecessarily on UC Davis students protesting tuition hikes and income inequality. Several professors have already bravely denounced this chilling excessive violence by police, and Rosemary Joyce (a Berkeley archaeologist) gives us a bit of context on the long history of how chili by-products have been used as tools of coercion in pre-Columbian Mexico:

In a sixteenth-century painted manuscript today known as the Codex Mendoza, a few pages depict what are represented as norms of raising children among the Mexica of Central Mexico (commonly referred to as the Aztecs). These idealizations-- which should be thought of as formal idealizations, not norms-- include the actions that children were threatened with if they were not compliant with authority. We have no way of knowing if these actions were ever carried out, or how often: but what is clear is that they were corporal punishments. And primary among them was exposing a defiant child to the smoke from burning chili peppers.

That relationship-- of domination by threat of punishment-- is what, for me, hovers in the background every time pepper spray is used by police on the people. And policing should not be punishment.
For an interesting, eye-opening and shocking review on the history and true potency of pepper spray, you should also check out this very informative post by Deborah Blum.

No comments: