I have two corrections to claims made by James Linney in his latest letter on the subject of obesity (October 15). He writes that I display an “uncanny ability to misunderstand or misrepresent what he is saying”.
Unfortunately, he bases this on partial quotes from my letter, taken somewhat out of context. In particular, I did not imply that he attributed obesity simply to “biological maladaptation by humans”. What James Linney did claim in a letter to this paper is that humans, in their hunter-gatherer past, evolved under conditions of caloric scarcity and therefore acquired a propensity to store energy in fat tissue, as a survival mechanism. Under the conditions of widespread caloric availability that exist under modern capitalism - so his argument went - what was a useful adaptation for hunter-gatherers in caloric scarcity can manifest itself as the tendency towards obesity observed today. I disagreed with this argument and, perhaps unfortunately from James Linney’s point of view, summarised this supposed tendency as being a biological maladaptation to conditions of caloric surplus.
In the second part of his letter, he writes that “the addition of sugar to the majority of processed foods makes them both calorie-dense and nutritionally poor”. Unfortunately, he makes a notable scientific error and one scientific omission here. He has once again fallen into the trap, laid for us by 19th-century calorimetry and thermodynamics, of attributing the metabolic damage caused by a macronutrient to its energy content or density. Calorimetry tells us that sugar has four calories per gram, whereas fat has nine. By this measure, fat has a higher energy density than sugar, and so, if energy density itself is the problem, then a diet higher in fat should naturally lead to higher rates of metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, dementia and so on.
However, we know, for instance, of indigenous societies, like the Maasai, who consume 60% or more of their caloric intake as saturated fat and show no signs of these metabolic diseases, provided they do not also consume the displacing foods of modern commerce. Therefore, to really understand the problem that sugar poses to public health, and the aetiology of obesity, we need to move beyond such notions from basic physics as the first law of thermodynamics, caloric density and so on, and appreciate that sugar and refined carbohydrates have very specific biochemical effects on the human metabolism that the two other macronutrients - fat and protein - do not. In particular, by stimulating the release of the hormone, insulin, a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates will tend to cause the body to increase its reserves of fat tissue and inhibit the mobilisation of those stored fatty acids for use as energy - over time pushing it towards insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes.
James Linney’s main omission in his correspondence - and this is excusable, given that that this discussion has been taking place in the letters page of the Weekly Worker - is to overlook the damaging metabolic effects of modern commercial processed foods, beyond sugar and fructose. Quite apart from the fact that carbohydrates are broken down into potentially metabolically damaging simple sugars in the human digestive tract, the consumption of processed carbohydrates (such as refined flour) acts to stimulate the secretion of glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) in the upper intestine. GIP acts as a signal to the pancreas to release insulin, putting the body into a fat storage mode, with all the consequences that this has for insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes.
Similarly, if he has not done so already, James Linney may find it interesting to read the recent study titled ‘Diet modulates brain network stability, a marker for brain ageing, in young adults’ (pnas.org/content/117/11/6170). This study found that destabilisation of brain networks correlates with poorer cognition and accelerates with insulin resistance. Significantly, the stability of brain networks is increased when the brain uses fatty acids (ketones) as a fuel source and decreases when the brain uses sugar (glucose) as such a source.
I do recognise that James has been a consistent critic of the food industry, its use of sugar, and the damaging effects that this has on public health, and I fully support him in this. However, the misattribution of the damaging effects of sugar and other modern processed foods to their caloric content or caloric density has real and negative consequences for public health. Since the 1960s, public health bodies have advised us that “the fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended” (World Health Organisation, April 1 2020). In other words, from the point of view of obesity, the official scientific dogma is that a calorie is a calorie and the fundamental question is the number of calories that one consumes, compared to the number of calories that one expends.
The work of Yalow and Berson on insulin, followed by Reaven on metabolic syndrome, show this dogma to be nonsense. Yet, due to a combination of commercial and professional vested interests, and professional scientific conservatism, the dogma continues to stand and misguide every public health response to the obesity and diabetes epidemics.
From a political point of view, there is no willingness in any capitalist society to truly address on a wide scale the real roots of the epidemic of obesity and metabolic dysfunction, as any one of the measures necessary to address the problem would be disastrous for the business models and bottom lines of the multi-billion-dollar agrifood (disease-causing) and pharmaceutical (symptom-treating) sectors.
Pioneering researchers and doctors like Julius Bauer and Raymond Greene, who did not yet have access to the work of Yalow and Berson on insulin, nonetheless understood that obesity had a hormonal basis and could not be understood or explained through the concepts of 19th-century thermodynamics. However, thanks to the actions of unscrupulous individuals like Ancel Keys, and the capacity of commercial interests to pollute both scientific research and public health policy-making, the understanding of the aetiology of metabolic dysfunction has actually regressed in the 60 or more years since Bauer and Greene were active. This scientific fiasco, with its disastrous consequences for public health, stands as another monument to the irrationality of capitalism.
In the last couple of years there has been a retreat on the question of the rights of transsexuals in the labour movement in Britain, and mockery and contempt for trans people has become a real problem, even among a layer of putative left activists.
Somewhat strangely, a key inspirer of this has been Jennifer (‘JK’) Rowling, the celebrity author of the Harry Potter children’s books and sometime novelist, and an ideologue of the Labour right. Rowling, a long-time Blairite, was an outspoken opponent of the left in the recent witch-hunts and Blairite/Zionist destabilisation campaign that brought down Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, yet remarkably she has gained kudos among some of the left for a campaign against transsexuals that bears considerable resemblance to her pro-Zionist activities. She tends to fictionalise her obsessions: during the Corbyn period she wrote a novel called Lethal white about an imaginary anti-Semitic anti-Zionist. Her latest rendering, Troubled blood, is about a transvestite serial killer - again crudely serving a political agenda.
She has been particularly outspoken in her attacks on the policy the Labour Party adopted under Corbyn, for extending anti-discrimination protections under equalities legislation to change the “protected characteristic” of “gender reassignment” in the current legislation to “gender identity”. Where previously a medical ‘diagnosis’ of “gender dysphoria”, if not actual surgery, was required for such recognition (implying that transsexuality is some kind of sickness), now “self-identification” would be all that is required. This change would remove the legal justification, which exists in current law, for the exclusion of transsexuals from some ‘single-sex services’ - for instance, in refuges and prisons.
In the past two years there had been a ‘consultation’ on the table from the Tory government, as part of their previous efforts, begun under David Cameron, to show that they are ‘enlightened’ and ‘modern’, to amend equalities and gender-recognition laws in a similar way, that would allow transsexuals who have not yet gone through the protracted and often painful process of gender-reassignment, including that involving surgery, to be recognised legally as being of their changed gender/sex on the basis of self-identification. However, under Johnson the Tories have predictably retreated from these promises and Johnson’s government now echoes the transphobes in all parties who demand the exclusion of trans women from ‘women’s spaces’ in the name of supposedly protecting women against predatory male sex offenders who decide to ‘identify’ as women.
What is more odd is that her arguments have been accepted by quite a few on the left and have become a source of significant divisions among those who are otherwise opponents of the Labour right, its pro-Nato militarism, pro-Zionism and neoliberalism. In Labour there are groups like Women’s Place, and the LGB Alliance (with the ‘T’ - for ‘Trans’ - conspicuously missing), which contain leftwing people who have historically fought hard against Blairism. It is a tragic regression that such people find common cause with the likes of Rowling.
This transphobic trend seems to have revived as a result of the adaptation of part of the left to rightwing populism and its ‘working class’ pretentions - to Trump and Brexit. Though the positions of individuals may vary considerably on such things, there does seem to be considerable overlap between those on the left who backed Brexit and showed softness on Trump, and those echoing JK Rowling’s bigotry today.
On August 17, a US Federal Judge temporarily stayed the Trump administration’s overturn of the Obama administration’s definition of sex/gender. But Trump’s policy returns to the government’s previous interpretation of sex discrimination according to “the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology”.
We hear similar things on some of the left, including from George Galloway: “I stand with JK Rowling. People can wear what they like - even their dead mother’s clothes - and identify as moon-landing astronauts if they like, and I will do my best to accommodate them. But not to the extent of signing in my blood that they actually are what they identify as … the ‘self-identifying woman’s’ freedoms are impinging on the freedoms of girls and women to their own spaces, privacy and self-expression.”
So here we see a rather strange confluence between the ‘socially conservative, but economically radical’ Galloway and a brand of feminism in the left and labour movement that, for all the rhetoric against ‘identity politics’ that we see from some of those denouncing the ‘delusion’ of transsexuals about having changed their gender/sex, exhibit a prime characteristic of identity politics - smears that anyone who does not share their particular form of chauvinist hostility to another group is hostile to the group they identify with.
Thus trans-exclusionist feminists frequently accuse those who do not share their exclusionism, whether male or female, of ‘misogyny’ (hatred of women). It only takes a moment’s thought to deduce that there is no logical reason to believe that those who defend the rights of transsexuals should have any reason whatsoever to hate women. It is just as intellectually lazy and insulting as the canard that those who are critical of the oppressive behaviour and activities of Zionist Jews towards Palestinians hate Jewish people in general.
A classic manifestation of identity politics, apart from clear cases of outright separatism by an oppressed stratum under capitalism (which is generally mistaken and counterproductive), is when strata that are not oppressed accuse members of a stratum that does suffer oppression or bigotry simply for demanding basic rights. So it is when Zionist Jews smear their Palestinian victims (and their sympathisers) as ‘anti-Semites’ for demanding their rights. So it is when the small, vulnerable minority of transsexuals (and their sympathisers), demanding equal treatment to members of the sex they have transitioned to, are smeared as sexual predators and misogynists.
The counter-argument from transphobes is that transsexuality is itself a form of ‘identity politics’, that the very idea that anyone’s psyche can be at odds with their original biology is a ‘delusion’ which should not be ‘indulged’, that such people are in effect mentally ill, and should be treated as such, or as in some other way as deviant. Such people can never be fully accepted as female, or male, no matter what they do, is the logic of this argument, which is heard regularly from those on the left who have capitulated in this way.
This argument is bigoted and inhuman, and in its logic threatens homosexuals as well as transsexuals. For, if biology is paramount, if the psyche counts for nothing and no-one can ever have a sex-related psychological makeup that is at odds with their strict biology, then how can homosexuality be a sexual orientation at all? The biological function of sex, by the same logic (applied consistently) as the transphobes use, is reproduction, and therefore ‘sexual’ activities between those of the same sex are not really sexual. By this reasoning they can only be acts that signify a mental delusion, as with the ‘delusions’ of transsexuals, that need ‘treatment’, that even should be ‘cured’. Medical orthodoxy used to say this about gays, as recently as the 1980s. And when this is said about transsexuals it can just as easily be said about homosexuals. And it will: if the left retreats on trans rights in this manner it will open the way for further retreats on gay rights.
The current anti-trans regression on the left needs to be rejected, on the grounds Lenin laid out in What is to be done? as early as 1902, that the job of a would-be communist is to act as the “tribune of the oppressed, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression … no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects”. Such unification of the oppressed behind the banner of the working class as the universal emancipator is the real negation of identity politics.
We on the left are encouraged by Keith Potter to fight against “draconian lockdowns” instead of leaving it to the right (Letters, October 15). I guess we should stand not shoulder to shoulder, but suitably distanced - politically and socially - from England’s ‘proudest boys’. Apparently our failure is pitifully hidden by a “safety versus the bosses’ profits” narrative. I must admit, I haven’t seen this. Maybe I should read Socialist Worker?
The government has committed many crimes before and during the pandemic, which have made things a lot worse for millions. The release of infected patients from hospitals into care homes comes to mind. Then there’s the donation of vast sums of money to friends and donors for ‘test and trace’. It matters not that such amateurs have failed and are failing - why wouldn’t they? They don’t really know what they’re doing.
Meanwhile professionals in the NHS and local authorities who do know what they’re doing are starved of much needed funds. Dominic Cummings’ gang of weirdos and dickheads have made a right mess of it and show no hint of making things any better. The whole pandemic looks like going right out of control.
They may well be using the pandemic to slip through other criminal activities. The Brexit mess looks like going down the pan. We have the treatment of asylum-seekers and then there’s an education minister who wants to force the IHRA lack of definition onto universities - and this from a clown who failed to organise returns to schools and universities. All sorts of stuff continues to happen, while Covid-19 hogs the headlines.
Keith writes that “civil liberties, including the right to protest, are being globally suppressed”. I thought they were doing that already. Trump, Modi, Netanyahu and co didn’t wait for Covid. Wearing masks on public transport and in shops seems quite sensible to me. Social distancing too: it does feel a bit strange, the way that people skirt around each other as they pass, but it does seem to be done quite willingly.
Just because the government says we should do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad idea. If we are warned of an (even more) imminent nuclear attack I’ll be down there in my Anderson shelter, hoping for enough signal to download Protect and survive (1980).
What should be going on? Test and trace seems to be the obvious answer - for Covid and for all the previous epidemics, where is has worked. So far they’ve failed, so maybe we will end up with herd immunity - where the vulnerable are sacrificed and who knows how many vulnerable there are?
Arthur Bough suggested that “the lockdown be ended and production resume as normal, so that society can produce all of the resources required to ensure that the vulnerable 20% of the population can indeed be enabled to isolate from the risk of infection, and that all of the resources required for that can be produced” (Letters, October 8).
Does anyone honestly believe that Britain’s capitalist government is going to concentrate resources on protecting the vulnerable? They have shown no signs of that, before or during the pandemic. Where are the resources for those with mental health problems, the young and vulnerable, the old and vulnerable? We know their priorities from their treatment of the Windrush generation victims and the indifference to the fate of those living with combustible cladding on their homes.
The House of Commons has given a third reading to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, so it is going to become perfectly legal for an undercover agent of the state to murder trade unionists. Whipped to abstain, only 17% of Labour MPs voted against.
In response, each of the Labour Party’s affiliated trade unions ought to reduce its funding of that party by 83%.
Lessons of Lenin
Mike Macnair offers three lessons from Lenin on the matter of the political party (‘Programmeless liquidationism’, October 8). He is critiquing ‘Lenin’s theory of the party’ (Time to Mutiny August 7), in which Neil Faulkner supports Lenin’s advocacy of vanguardism (What is to be done? 1902): parties winning power (this is not new - all bourgeois political parties operate this way) rather than workers as a whole (characterised as liquidationism).
Faulkner also supports Lenin’s advocacy of democratic centralism, in which membership can be withdrawn for acting against party decisions, attributing this to Kautsky’s model. Here it is obvious Faulkner references the correct Kautsky text and it is totally unfair of Macnair to suggest otherwise. Likewise, Macnair’s footnotes include various links, but nowhere is there a link to Faulkner’s texts (any of them) - a startling omission, especially because, given the current limitations on publishing, Macnair likely worked from the online version!
Jon D White
There’s a ‘freedom of speech’ crisis. Didn’t you know? Well that’s what some rightwing newspapers would have you believe. We are all the victims of political correctness gone mad, apparently, with the ‘loony left’ leading the charge to stifle comment that may cause offence. It’s all part of a cunning plan, you see, to stop us saying what’s really on our minds. The blood of ‘speak as you find’ stalwarts like Katie Hopkins must be boiling over.
Universities are being seen as places that are ripe for this kind of ‘movement’ to take hold. Centrists and those from the far right alike deplore the UK’s campuses as being filled with oversensitive students unable to accept differences of opinion.
It all started several years ago when the students union at the University of Manchester banned the far-right political commentator, Milo Yiannopoulos, from a debate. It cited “various comments lambasting rape survivors and trans people”. Many students unions also took measures to ban other speakers, such as Germaine Greer, after accusations of transphobia. Others then accused those endorsing the ban of suppressing free speech, despite a lot of it being potentially hateful.
The UK government recently told English schools not to use material from organisations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism. And here comes the double standard, because we haven’t seen the same flood of accusations of freedom of speech suppression from the usual outlets. Guidance issued by the department for education maintains that anti-capitalism is an “extreme political stance”. It went on to compare it with opposition to freedom of speech, anti-Semitism and endorsement of illegal activity.
Critics see the guidance as a further step in the culture war and a drift towards more Conservative authoritarianism. Large swathes of British history and politics are all of a sudden off limits. That includes the history of British socialism, the Labour Party and trade unionism - all of which have at some point been in favour of getting rid of capitalism.
Teachers are now not allowed to promote “victim narratives that are harmful to British society”. It begs several questions: what does the government mean by “victim narratives” and is this all part of a plan to stop the teaching of oppression endured by minority groups?
There are already fears that the national curriculum has long been whitewashed. It’s a fear the government completely rejects and yet its new guidance could well restrict anti-racism teaching. In response, the Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators (Care) and Black Educators Alliance (BEA) are threatening the government with a legal challenge. Racism and the climate crisis are intrinsically connected to and driven by aspects of capitalism. Movements such as Black Lives Matter, which stand up against racism, have openly examined the relationship between capitalism and inequality.
In order to fully understand social history and norms, it is essential for them to be given context. This ought to be happening in our schools and yet the government is now stifling what children can learn there.
At the same time, the former Conservative cabinet minister, Esther McVey, now says that teachers are pushing leftwing views in classrooms. The claim that pupils are being indoctrinated with leftwing ideology throughout their education is nothing new and it’s one that has been continually rebuffed as nonsense.
The fact is, young people are finding their political views through their life experiences. Some sincerely question whether they’ll have children of their own, for example, because the future of the planet looks so bleak. Others have lived through years of recession and austerity.
Mahnoor, a 16-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent had this to say about the government’s ban: “This rule goes against the idea of freedom of speech, and it goes hand-in-hand with censorship. This rule is basically indoctrination. The government blames schools for ‘imposing leftwing ideas’, but it’s the rise in inflation, the cuts in funding, the exploitation and the deterioration of the quality of life that makes the youth anti-capitalist.”
The centre-right think tank, Policy Exchange, conducted a report into academic freedom in 2019. It looked at how student opinion on free speech was reached after Cardiff University deplatformed Germaine Greer. Almost 70% said that they formed an opinion through social media. A meagre 1% said lecturers or teachers had had any impact on their views.
The government’s guidance is reminiscent of Thatcher’s anti-gay section 28 in the way it has been presented. It seeks to prevent “the promotion” of something that’s at odds with conservatism, something which it just doesn’t like. The policing of the classroom ultimately failed on that issue, but not without the suffering of countless young people.
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