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Submitted by AWL on 20 March, 2019 - 10:24

Janine Booth (Solidarity 494) writes that ″[t]he brain wiring that is now called dyslexia has probably existed for thousands of years, but it did not become a problem and was not labelled “dyslexia” until written language became widespread.″

She does acknowledge that this ″so-called impairment, [this] disability, is constructed by something that has developed socially i.e. the form that language takes.″

I′m not convinced that dyslexia can be reduced to a ″brain wiring″, nor that particular ″wirings″ are given, that just the problem and label arise from social factors.

I have been diagnosed with mild dyslexia with suggestions of dyspraxic traits. The diagnosis, and the traits I exhibited which led to me seeking an assessment, were on the basis of a complex interaction between me and the environment. No-one′s looked at my brain or suggested doing so.

Evidence does suggest that certain characteristics in the brain can cause or make more likely dyslexia, but this statement would be a meaningless tautology if we didn′t recognise dyslexia in terms of certain characteristics independent of brain structure — namely, certain language abilities and behaviour compared to that individual′s overall abilities.

Furthermore, individuals′ brain structures don′t develop independently of society. A study in 2000 showed that London taxi drivers have significantly larger posterior hippocampi than non-taxi-drivers. This isn′t, at least primarily, because they innately have this brain structure.

Our brain structures develop through a complex interaction between genes and environment. What and how we do activities such as navigation or linguistic interactions effects them significantly.

Dyslexia has been seen across many different cultures which use written languages, but is believed to have environmental as well as genetic factors. People can develop dyslexia from, for example, brain injuries.

Sometimes attempts to relate certain conditions to environmental factors has lead to discriminatory ideas and practices, such as with attempts to ″cure″ left-handed or autistic people. In part following the oppressive practices of Stalinist states, discrimination has sometimes been promoted by professed socialists on comparable bases, for example treating LGBTQ people as having a defect based on bad environments growing up.

While steering clear of these ideas, it is possible and important to recognise social as well as genetic factors in human diversity, without simplistically reducing it to either. It is important, too, to distinguish between the causes of individual traits and how we respond to them.

Responses to homophobia with ″I didn′t choose to be gay″ miss the point in that even if people do or did choose minority sexual practices, that′s fine.

Mike Zubrowski, Bristol

Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx

“Essence” is the English translation of Aristotle’s phrase to ti ên einai, literally “the what it was to be” for a thing.
The “essence” of a living thing, for example, for Aristotle, is its “soul”.

“Dialectic”, for Aristotle, was not a process of development of real things, but an art of argument, in particular argument which would take widely-held but disputable statements and dissect them.

For Hegel, it was different. Dialectics was not an art, but the actual process through which reality differentiated and developed. With the twist that for Hegel, “finite” things were relatively unreal, “Reason” was real, and so reality was the unfolding of Reason.

He took it to be “proved by speculative cognition that… [the] ‘Idea’ or ‘Reason’ is the True, the Eternal, the absolutely powerful essence; that it reveals itself in the World, and that in that World nothing else is revealed but this…”

A partial approximation to Hegel can be found in Aristotle, in the picture of things changing through their “what it was to be” evolving. But this is what Hegel called “speculative cognition”: a sort of super-science, or “science above science” proceeding by observation of “middle-sized” things, such as are directly perceptible to us, and “speculatively” constructing general schemes into which to fit their development. That can be called dialectics, too. But it is pre-scientific, not super-scientific. Marx in his dialectics was particularly emphatic about rejecting “teleology” (the idea of a predetermined goal inherent in things’ “essences”).

Science has shown that the invalidity of the scheme by which all things (or most things? — Paul Cooper’s letter, Solidarity 498, develop through an inner “essence” pursuing “lawful” stages of development.

Quarks, as far as we know, do not go through “stages of development” in the way that solar systems, newts, or societies do. Neither do numbers: the number represented by 1729 in Arabic numerals or, say, MDCCXXIX in Roman numerals, is what it was, will be what it is.

And the question of whether humanity will destroy those conditions of Earth’s ecosystem which make human life possible on this planet cannot be resolved by “speculative cognition” of a human “essence”.

“In return”, so to speak, science has educated us about “emergent” patterns of development of very large systems of things and interactions, patterns which cannot be read back onto and then read out from any “essence” or smaller elements of those systems.

Martin Thomas, London

Are plants commodities?

Mike Zubrowski’s article on climate change (Solidarity 498) makes some valuable points.

But... his assertion that “Growing plants in hotter, more suitable climates and then transporting them to the UK sometimes produces less greenhouse gasses than using greenhouses or other technologies to grow equivalent plants in the UK” needs a bit of un-picking.

Capitalism treats crop plants as commodities rather than as our sources of sustenance, and indeed under their rule they are. But agribusiness does massive damage to sustainable production and local food security.

The concentration on growing cash crops like cocoa, bananas, coffee beans and tea in “hotter more suitable climates” dates back to the age of European empires. It means farmers in much of Africa, South America, the Caribbean and elsewhere are tied to one-crop production, forced to import basic foodstuffs, and at risk of destitution if crop prices fall or new diseases hit.

This domination of agriculture and horticulture carries its own pathogen – the concentration of production on a tiny range of plant varieties. The threat to human life of this approach was clear in the Potato Famine of 1845-9 in Ireland. The pathogen that caused “late season blight” (from North America) particularly affected the “Lumper”, almost the only potato variety grown in Ireland.

Today the movement of plant material around the world has led to threats from insect pests, fungal infections and plant viruses on a huge scale. These, of course can be devastating if there are only a few plant varieties grown that lack resistance.

There are two answers to the impending catastrophe in food security, theirs or ours:

Theirs, the capitalists’, is to produce new seeds. With these “F1” varieties farmers and horticulturalists can’t produce new plants from the seeds the plant produces and are dependent on nutrient inputs, fungicides and herbicides.

That’s the “business model” that is making the tie up between Monsanto (seed producers) and Bayer (chemicals) the biggest ever corporate merger ever seen.

Our answer should be sustainable production through having a wide variety of plant varieties in cultivation, governments spending real money on bio-diversity, and the end of multi-national corporations’ control of the food supply.

As for greenhouses — today, with the use of red and blue spectrum LED lights, it is pretty cheap and easy to start crops like tomatoes, aubergines, okra and squashes in northern Britain in January, ready to plant out after last frosts.

Technology offers an opportunity, but we need it under our control. “Grow your own” or “dig for Brexit” is no real answer to the food shortages looming… but it isn’t the worst idea in the world.

Nik Barstow, Manchester

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