What's Your Poison? It is only in the last few years that the world has learned of the American sugar industry’s successful battle to suppress the science linking excessive sugar consumption with heart disease. In a tactic borrowed from the tobacco industry, scientists working for the sugar barons heaped doubt upon the emerging evidence and diverted scientific attention towards saturated fats as the primary cause of heart disease.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES have long fascinated me: ever since I laid eyes on a document known as “The Gemstone File” nearly 40 years ago. If I quote just the first few sentences from the cover-page, you’ll understand why I found it so hard to put down:
Tell me what it is, dear editors, before I get into it.
My dear, it’s heavy.
What is its history?
It’s an anonymous manifestation mailed from Tucson, Arizona, to a fanatical friend of The Fanatic, who insisted it should be published for the good of the North Indies – that radiated land improperly referred to by trivialists as America.
What does it mean?
It’s mean. It names names, and pushes punches right back where they came from.
On whose behalf?
God and the Revolution … If this planet’s a corporation, it’s a corpse.
In the age of the Internet this sort of pitch is commonplace: the staple fare of wild-eyed conspiracists the world around. Back in the late 1970s, however, when practically every form of written communication was carried on the surface of pulped trees, a document like “The Gemstone File” rapidly acquired semi-mystical status. It was passed from hand-to-hand; photocopied to the point of illegibility; puzzled over and debated through long nights of drug-fuelled paranoia.
The very best kind of undergraduate fun!
Whoever wrote “The Gemstone File” was right about one thing though: if this planet is a corporation, then it is a corpse. But even in the fevered brain of The Fanatic and his fanatical friends, it is unlikely that fantasy ever outstripped the true extent of corporate mendacity.
It is only in the last few years, for example, that the world has learned about the American sugar industry’s successful battle to suppress the science linking excessive sugar consumption with heart disease. In a tactic borrowed from the tobacco industry, scientists working for the sugar barons heaped doubt upon the emerging evidence and diverted scientific attention towards saturated fats as the primary cause of heart disease.
For nearly four decades the deadly impact of sugar on the health of people all over the world was downplayed. Not only was sugar’s major contribution to heart disease minimised, but its crucial role in fuelling the West’s burgeoning levels of obesity was also deliberately obscured. The inevitable outcome of a sugar-laden diet – a global epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes – looks set to burden the health services of the world for many years to come.
Calculating the harm done by the American sugar industry is difficult. But the number of people who, since the 1960s, have had their lives cut short by heart attacks, strokes, and the deadly consequences of undiagnosed and untreated Type 2 Diabetes, must run into the tens-of-millions.
It is difficult to comprehend the psychological make-up of people who, in the name of selling tobacco and sugar, were willing to suppress and/or denigrate the scientific evidence pointing to these substances catastrophic effects on public health. That they entered into genuine conspiracies to thwart all attempts to mitigate the harm caused by their products is indisputable – as is the conclusion that they have the blood of millions on their hands. And yet, somehow, they still manage to carve their Thanksgiving Turkey and ruffle the curls of their grandchildren. Death on an obscene scale is simply written-off by these corporate killers as the cost of doing business.
And it’s still going on. The tried and true tactic of denying and/or debunking “inconvenient” scientific evidence was adopted with undeniable success by the oil industry as it became increasingly clear that anthropogenic global warming was fossil-fuelled. Once again the hired scientific guns of the big corporations were dispatched to undermine every effort to reduce carbon emissions. That a majority of Americans are now convinced that man-made climate-change is a “hoax” bears testimony to the efficacy of the tobacco and sugar barons’ ‘big lies’. That a planet rendered incapable of sustaining human civilisation might be the ultimate outcome of their public relations exercise did not slow them down.
The author/s of “The Gemstone File” devoted considerable creative energy to inventing a world ruled by individuals utterly consumed by greed, lust and ambition. Paradoxically, their villains are too charismatic, too grandiloquent, to be believably evil. True evil is nearly always the work of ordinary, or, to use Hannah Arendt’s superbly chosen adjective, “banal”, human-beings whose lack of empathy and atrophied imaginations make them the ideal carriers of the corporate disease.
How else could so many of them work so diligently for corporations that have piled up so many corpses.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Sunday, 18 September 2016.