The question is how we react to this great prejudice against women. The rule of law and social activism certainly are crucial. But no matter how...”
A few weeks ago my column highlighted how the state criminalises certain types of sexuality. In his column Kevin Baldeosingh took me to task for claiming that the identity categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality did not exist prior to the mid-19th century. I believe somehow he thought I was implying homosexuality is a simple choice rather than implicated in genetic and uterine hormonal factors.
What’s more, from that one taken-out-of-context paragraph, he praised me for “scientific ignorance” and then extended it to the entire Social Science Faculty at UWI.
His misinterpretation of my position may have been a failure in the clarity of my own writing. Although that he chose to ignore every other paragraph of the article whose central point isn’t in dispute—some human beings are afforded less rights and protections than others—made me feel the attack was a cheap shot to discredit the central message of the article. Maybe I’m too sensitive.
The accusation of “scientific ignorance,” however, is a good opportunity to discuss our understanding of the cultures and lived realities of people who practise same-sex relations, and to clarify how homophobia works.
According to the scientific literature—and not the social science literature but the natural sciences—there is much on-going research into the relationship between biology and the development of sexual orientation. This research suggests that biological factors such as prenatal hormones, brain structure, and genes are implicated in heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual orientation.
Among this peer-reviewed literature, the majority of studies conclude that while there are certainly biological factors implicated in one’s sexual orientation, no study has conclusively shown that there is only one single factor for sexual orientation. Rather there is a combination of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors.
Sexual orientation and sexuality are not identical. What biology cannot articulate or understand are the nuances of people’s everyday experiences of their sexuality—that is what anthropologists do. We describe and document people’s lives. We attempt not to make moral or judgment calls on the different lives we all live and instead try to narrate those differences.
For an anthropologist to say the identity category “homosexual” did not exist prior to mid-19th century is not to say homosexual behaviour and orientation did not exist. As has been documented from the beginning of written history, same sex-relations can be found in most societies and at most times. From ritual behaviour in ancient Greece and the Etero rite of passage in Papua New Guinea to the berdache of Native American culture and the hijras and kothis of South Asia.
Homosexual behaviour and orientation among Homo sapiens, much like among other non-human species, had always existed as an extension of or adjunct to heterosexuality. To say the western identity category of homosexuality only appears in the mid-19th century—and there is a lot of evidence out there that supports such a claim—is simply to say that prior to this era sex was tied to procreation and not identity.
Today, for some people, homosexuality has become a bounded, monolithic identity. This is simplistic and a similar prejudice to saying all black people are the same because they are black, or all women belong in the kitchen; it denies the cultural differences among human beings and stereotypes a wide breadth of experiences into a singularity.
This lets stereotypes flourish and stand in for the real experience of individuals. These experiences include trangressive sexualities that do not fit neat sexual orientation categories. Homosexual orientation is biologically determined but to reduce all people who practise same-sex relations to a singular homosexual identity and fix a group of people with identical traits (often ridiculous prejudices) is not a reflection of real experiences. It is the same with any group identity.
Another interesting point is how homophobia actually works. Homophobia is not always visible and blatant. It can also be subtle and unobtrusive. In this sense, homophobia is structural. It is built into our mental categories, our science, laws, and the attitudes and values that shape our language and world views.
In homophobia there is a self-assured feeling on the part of the dominant heterosexual group of being naturally superior or better. This perhaps connects to the importance of procreation for the survival of Homo sapiens. Yet, as Mr Baldeosingh reminds us, the scientific evidence supports the link between biology and sexual orientation. And, as has been said before elsewhere, that means homosexual orientation is natural, while homophobia is a social construct built on misleading, group stereotypes.
• Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
Its 7 am and traffic is bad. Much like sitting in a traffic jam, paying attention to what traffic tells us about our society sounds mundane. Yet traffic is a social space unlike many others. It is a place where members of different social classes are thrown together in momentary, unavoidable and revealing encounters.
In the main, gated communities, office hierarchies, and private spaces are just some of the ways wealthy and poor members of society are kept apart. Yet in bumper-to-bumper traffic—impromptu public spaces not designed specifically for any one-class group—the physical proximity of cars shatter social distance, and stir awareness of class hierarchy.
A simple example is any person stuck in a traffic jam who notes the type of car someone drives, or whether the person is even travelling by private car or by taxi. This observation about economic and social status is a daily scene where society’s class hierarchy and socio-economic differences become visible to each of us.
Traffic isn’t only an encounter between economic classes; it also one between genders, and it tells us about particular problems women face. In maxi and route taxis, as first-hand accounts and news reports constantly demonstrate, women face the potential to be sexually harassed.
Thanks to owning their own cars, many women from the upper and middle classes can, to a degree, avoid the gauntlet of taxi encounters. Yet, stopped in traffic, a female driver or passenger of any class can experience forms of harassment. These range from improper gazes and verbal comments to sexist behaviour and stalking.
Due to the design and height of their vehicle from the ground, women who can afford SUVs have a slight advantage, removing themselves from some of these gazes and forms of harassment. Another example of how class advantage plays out in traffic jams.
In the creation of instant marketplaces where people can hawk goods to a slow-moving conveyer belt of potential customers, daily traffic jams also speak to our local hustler culture. And before you ask who really buys those fluffy dice—just one of many items, from food to car parts, on offer—these improvised marketplaces continue to grow.
Interacting with such vendors is another example of the cross-class encounters on our traffic-jammed highways. Walking and running after cars they might never own, highway vendors are doing what capitalism always does where previously no market existed. Making one. The brief cross-class encounter becomes an organic site of commerce.
The segregation of traffic into Priority Bus Route and those who are not allowed on it highlights privilege within our society. And within some of those vehicles which travel on the PBR are a few people in luxury cars with chauffeurs that allow them to read papers and get work done.
This is a privilege the vast majority of our society does not have. In contrast to the economic and political elites on the PBR, many low-income workers find their lives put at daily risk when foremen or friends encourage them to travel to work in a tray or in the back of trucks. While such travel is against the law, those who are vulnerable economically may have little choice in how else to travel to work, and do what they must.
And there are also those extra special people in our society, those with political power, and how they beat the traffic. At the very, very, top some are completely exempt from traffic because they have access to helicopters.
A select larger number can get a path cleared in bumper-to-bumper highway traffic or stop all traffic, which creates longer delays for the rest of us. Put most simply, when those with political power want to get somewhere—and all their journeys are not of immediate political business (they have to eat and sleep like the rest of us)—traffic avoidance is a metaphor of the inequality between political elites and general citizenry.
Traffic reflects something of who we are as a society. It is a cultural expression. At the bottom of my brief and partial anthropology of traffic on Trinidad’s highways is a simple reality—the need to improve our public transit system. We condemn our society to inertia and persistent inequality if the only attempt to improve our traffic problem is more roads, more private cars, and a few water taxis.
We need a public transit system unlike any seen in the Caribbean before. And we need it yesterday. Making travel more efficient, safe, and equitable is an investment in a fairer society.
Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
Money laundering is the life blood of organized crime. Without it crime would simply not pay. But who does the laundering? The easy and obvious answer is criminals. But that is completely wrong and is at the root of our inability to stop it.
Criminals are the people who need money laundering. They are the clients. But they do not, themselves, know how to launder money. The only people who do know, and who are in positions to do it, are those whose day jobs are the many professional services which make up laundering: the accountants, lawyers, company registration and management agents, account managers in banks and company directors in companies that have no reason to be, other than to pass hot money through an endless spin cycle. In organized crime, criminals provide the crime but professionals provide the organization.
Of course we could get jesuitical about it and say, but those professionals who launder are criminals. Which would be fine, except that we do not treat them as criminals. Criminals break laws. Professionals do not, they have ‘failures of compliance’. One is considered an active, purposeful ‘doing’ of something, for which punishment is de rigeur. The other is excused as an unfortunate and unintentional ‘not doing’; an oversight, omisssion or failure to do, for which one and one’s employer get admonished to ‘do’ better. And as long as you promise you will, all is considered fine and finished. There may be a small fine but nothing to lose your bonus over. No one senior ever goes to gaol.
Criminals are investigated – by police. Professionals are ‘regulated’ – usually, and rather conveniently, by themselves or colleagues. People who rob banks have legal problems. People in banks, who rob people, or help others to rob them by laundering their money for them, they have regulatory issues. One is serious the other is a joke. How many bankers actually went to prison from Wachovia or Citi or HSBC?
All this might seem rather sweeping. But it is not. It is just that usually we do not get to hear about the people and businesses who do the actual laundering nor what happens to them afterwards. When money laundering is reported it is usually the lurid details of the clients of the money laundering, the drug cartels and terrorist organization, who get all the headlines. Hardly ever do we hear of the launderers themselves. And that is because, as already noted, they are never ‘guilty’ of having ‘done’ anything. But events in Cyprus have recently given us a rare opportunity to lift the sewer’s cover, peer inside and see at least some of the people who failed to act; who by omission, oversight, laziness or complicity, intentionally or otherwise, ‘helped’ to launder money.
As the philosopher Edmund Burke famously noted, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.
- A 3.4 million-year-old fossil foot suggests a second lineage of hominins (creatures more closely related to us than to our closest living relatives, chimpanzees) may have lived alongside Lucy’s kind and spent more time in the trees than on the ground.
- Fossils from Kenyadating to between 1.87 million and 1.95 million years ago rekindle debate over whether our own genus, Homo, split into multiple lineages early on.
- Analysis of tartar, molar wear and tooth chemistry in the nearly two-million-year-old hominin known as Australopithecus sediba shows that it had an unexpected diet, including tree bark.
- A shift in the technology and diet of early Homo around two million years ago may have doomed large carnivores
- Tiny bits of burned plants and bone from a South African cave show that humans had tamed fire by 1 million years ago–some 600,000 year earlier than had previously been documented.
- Our ancestors began making multicomponent tools in the form of deadly stone-tipped spears 500,000 years ago—200,000 years earlier than previously thought.
- Cave paintings in Spain are the oldest in the world and are sufficiently ancient to be the creations of Neandertals.
- Neandertals hunted birds for their fashionable feathersfor thousands of years and may have exploited certain plants for their medicinal properties–compelling evidence that our hominin cousins were cognitively sophisticated.
- Reconstructed genome of the Denisovans–an enigmatic group of archaic hominins—confirms that early Homo sapiens interbred with them and reveals new details of their genetic legacy.
- Whole-genome sequencing of modern hunter-gatherers from Africa turns up loads of previously unknown genetic variants and indicates that early Homo sapiens interbred with another hominin species long ago in Africa.
- Paleoanthropology’s hobbit, a tiny hominin species called Homo floresiensis, gets a new face thanks to forensic reconstruction–and the result is startlingly familiar.
- Stone tools and preserved poop from Oregon add to mounting evidence that the early human colonization of the Americas was more complex than scholars once envisioned.
- Study finds that mom’s metabolism—not the size of the pelvis—limits gestation length to nine months, providing a new explanation for why humans give birth to helpless babies.