Thursday, 30 September 2021

Cordelia does Selection Criteria: a cautionary tale for CEOs and recruiters


The Cordelia Variant

of the syndrome currently known as "Autism"

Cordelia's Portion (Ford Maddox Brown)


King Lear, aging ruler of Britain intends on retiring and wishes to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia

But to win the greatest share, they must meet such selection criteria as he devises

Being an absolute ruler whose power has clearly stupefied him absolutely, he reckons one criterion is all he needs, to wit,  “Which of my daughters loves me the most?”

He makes a Very Baaaaaaaaaad Choice

Spoiler Alert!

In the end, everybody dies 😥

By the end of this exercise, you will have learnt:

  • King Lear’s Cordelia is possibly the first Autie in English literature
  • If you frame your selection criteria to invite flattery and self-promotion,  you may find you got the wrong person for the job.
  • And by the time they've successfully climbed over your head up the corporate ladder, you may be looking for a job yourself
  • Identify the characteristics of the Cordelia SyndromeVariantVirtuosity

Lesson Plan

  1. Do the required reading
    *You may apply for an exemption if you have Severe Acquired Shakespeare Intolerance due to early traumatic experiences with the Bard in high school
  2. Learn the to recognise the signs of Cordelia Virtuosity amongst your candidates
  3. Demonstrate your proficiency as a recruiter by intelligently discussing the set questions amongst your peers

Required reading

King Lear

Act 1. Scene 1
(Disclaimer: text accuracy honoured in the breach)

The Selection Criteria


Demonstrated fluency in declaring which daughter doth love us most

Candidate Responses


Sire, I love thee more than words can express; Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty; Beyond the rarest riches. No less than life itself, TBH, with grace, health, beauty, honour; As much as child e'er loved, that makes breath poor, and speech unable; blah blah etc etc


[Aside] OMG, how canst Regan and Cordelia toppeth this?


[Aside] OMG, what shall Cordelia do? Mine tongue bendeth not to flattery. Methinks will I best love and be silent


[Aside] Marry, craven Regan picketh up the gauntlet and runneth withal

So REGAN goes

#MeToo Sire! My sister hath taken the words right out of mine mouth only she falls way short. Trust me,  I alone bask in the sunshine of your dear highness' love


[Aside] Ah poor me! For want of that glib and oily art, I am undone!
Now must needs I step into this breach

Exeunt GDJ, leaving the rest to Shakespeare
overcome at the tragic lack of Neurodiversity Awareness
amongst Elizabethans

. . .


Now, our joy, Although the last, not least; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.


Nothing, my lord.






Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.


Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty 
According to my bond; nor more nor less

<... etc etc...>


So young, and so untender?


So young, my lord, and true.


Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower:
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate, and the night;
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever.
E'en the barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.

FYI Lear full script here


The wicked sisters soon throw Lear out 
to wander mad on the icy blasted heath 

Too late doth he wake to his folly 
For alas, poor Cordelia, she is dead

King Lear weeping over Cordelia's body
Artist James Barry 1788

King Lear mourns Cordelia, then kills himself.
Everyone else is already dead anyway

What is the Cordelia Virtuosity?

From birth, Cordelians: 
  • find being deceptive mentally painful
    thus cannot lie, deceive, cheat or self-promote

  • find illogic mentally painful
    thus can't bear being illogical themselves, can't stand it in others

  • have no more "Theory of Minds (0ther than their 0wn)" than anyone else
    thus they have no "Theory of Deceptive Minds"
    and can naively end up being exploited by those who do

  • have not a skerrick of  malice or desire to hurt
    but their logical bluntness can be misunderstood

But let's not go overboard with a tendancy to the Rainbows and Sunshine School of Neurodiversity

Cordelians may be born Holy Innocents, but that does not make them "Inherently Saints". Allegiance to pure logic based on mistaken assumptions can also lead to extremism, conspiracist thinking and unfortunate allegiances aka "Sidekick Ayndrome"

Questions for discussion

  1. Would Cornelia have benefitted from Social Skills Training?

  2. When is masking a good idea? 

  3. What questions could King Lear have asked to determine who would make the best ruler for his country


Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Future of Neurodiversity

I'm afraid I don't have the gift of clairvoyance. When I look into my crystal ball, I see through the glass  darkly, very darkly.  And even more so in these times. Now pandemic, global warming, the rise of populism and the decline of what we called "Western Civilization", in all its horror and glory,  point to a future of socio-economic upheaval and uncertainty. History teaches us that in such times the dominant majority, and those who indentify with it, will turn against minorities and seek to eliminate them. 

The best advice in such times is to expect the best, but prepare for the worst. 

It will require courage to stand up for minorities - not just our own, but that of others, because divided we must beg but united we can bargain. 

And it will require us to work together. By "work" I'm not just referring to "paid work" though it is good to have if you can get it. But I will venture a prediction that paid work will be harder to get for more and more people, while employment terms and conditions will deteriorate. 

Instead, I'm talking about real work in the service of the future of humanity, not “busy work” as commercial and industrial conscripts goaded by the carrot of consumer goodies and the stick of a punitive “welfare” system. 

Don't  buy in to the belief that the possession of  paid work, no matter what the terms and conditions, is inherently a virtue. See also my awkwardly but meaningfully titled piece,  Is Paid-workliness Next to Godliness?

Work is not a virtue when our labour is used to pollute the planet for the sake of producing consumer junk for people in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and desire due to the meaninglessness of their working lives.

And as for the Zero Sum Game of substituting an occasional autistic coder to replace a non-autistic coder in a shrinking employment market, think: 

Playing Musical Deckchairs on the Titanic 

Musical chairs game sinking couldn't find an image of the Titanic

So here's what I think are the most important aims that the Neurodiversity Movement can have, beyond the core goals of advocacy for recognition and respect for human variation 

  • the recocnitiongof  neurodiversity as a necessity for cultural sustainability, in the same way that biodiversity is a necessity for ecosystem sustainability
Going into an uncertain future, I advocate joining movements who are working towards
  • A living UBI - Universal Basic Income (see pilot results from Finland)
  • An end to the vilification of Unemployed People, and who wouldn't like to bet that a high proportion of them are Neurodivergent? 
  • Investment in public housing
  • Investment in Health
  • Investment in Inclusionary Education... 
You know you want it! Especially an UBI. It used to be a fringe idea. Now it's going mainstream. 

But, you cry, "How are "we" to pay for it?"

That's a political issue - you get what you fight for. NeuroMinorities when lobbying together, are a big voting bloc!

Image 1: Globe as Crystal Ball by Gerd Altman on Pixabay
Image 2: Downsizing Musical Chairs, adapted by JSinger

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Neurodiversity: It's politics, not science!

... or ...

It's the name of a social justice movement, not a diagnosis

You may have heard critics of the Neurodiversity paradigm dismiss it with "It's not even scientific" or "It's pseudoscience". 

Of course it isn’t. It's not meant to be. 

Neurodiversity simply names a biological truism, a self-evident fact that adds nothing to what we already know about the world.  You don't need a cross-disciplinary PhD in a brace of "~ologies" to figure out that every human brain on the planet is as unique as each fingerprint. It follows that there is a virtually infinite diversity of humans on the planet, with infinitely diverse minds complexified further by experience in equally diverse bodies. 

A scientific investigation of Neurodiversity would have to find two individuals on the planet whose minds are exactly alike. Identical twins? As soon as one infant looks to the left and sees something that the other doesn't, their minds being to diverge. Neurodiversity is a not a scientific concept because it cannot be tested or falsified, though what a dream job it would be to get a grant to travel the world analysing each brain to get a perfect match. Y

es, you can have genetic matches, but not if you factor in culture and experience

And secondly, having been blessed, or cursed, with a highy systematizing (!) sociologizing brain,  my intent was political, unifying and liberatory, not divisively intent on putting individuals "under a microscope".

By political, I mean the combative process by which organized groups in societies make decisions about how to allocate resources, power, and status. 

Members of Neurological minorities, whether diagnostically labelled or not,  have generally been been discriminated against: denied resources, disempowered, and devalued from school through life trajectory and work career, which affects our standard of living unless we are lucky enough to be born into a well-to-do family. This must change. Thus our fight for recognition and a fair share of resources, influence, and status is a political fight. And to have the political clout we need to organize ourselves. 

The Dialectics of Neurodiversity
The Dialectics of
Click to enlarge

That is how the Neurodiversity movement began. First it needed a catchy name, a banner to gather under. And then the people came and fleshed out the agenda for change. And then as people always do, they disagreed on this and that,  polarised, debated, and sometimes even trolled each other, and a consensus began to evolve, with extremist views acting as a delimiter. And that is how politics is, and how the world changes by what is called a dialectical process 

To this end, instinctively - albeit semi-consciously, as I never imagined how this would actually take off  decades later - I came up with the word "Neurodiversity" for two specific political functions

·         to add a necessary new category to what is now called "Intersectionality".

·       to suggest an umbrella term for an emerging social/political movement based on the pioneering work of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Movement. It had become clear that ASA movement's paradigm was beginning to be adopted by other Neurotribes who had different diagnostic labels but common issues of exclusion

To be clear, this is how I first used the word "Neurodiversity", this and nothing else. 

That’s all.

Neurodiversity is a conjoined word which trades on two of the era-defining developments of 20th century science

·       the ascendency of Neuroscience, the "hard" science of the physical brain, - with pictorial proof yet - over Psychology, the study of that elusive substance, the Psyche

·       the rise of environmental science, from which emerged, in the 1980s, the term Biodiversity, another truism, coined expressly as an argument for the conservation of the species

The intention was to sound authoritative based on the combined heft of neuroscience and environmental science, not to be scientific.

The word Neurodiversity could be called a Koan – it caught on because it delivers an instant Aha! moment to so many of us. We hear it, we know it, it fits our times and for many of us, names our struggles. But the word is perhaps an exercise in consciousness that begs a question: Now that we have foregrounded the uniqueness of each human mind, 

“What is humanity going to do about it”?

What humanity has "done about it" depends on the cultures we have been born into. And our diversity of human cultures have, needless to say, dealt with it in their own diverse ways. 

Although I majored in Anthropology, I daren't make pronouncements about other cultures, other than to state that, from what I have learned so far, there are no utopias out there, not even amongst the remaining hunter-gatherer that some idealist romantics would still like to exalt to the status of "Noble Savages". Like individuals, the cultures we create have their strengths and weaknesses, winners and losers, as delimited by their available natural resources, of which, significantly, famine was the ultimate delimiter. 

Instead I will confine my observations to what I know best, our Dominant Patriarchal Western Christian Civilization.  (DPWCC). Armed with this conglomerations of beliefs, DPWCCs conquered most of the world over the past millenium, enslaving other peoples, including their own women and amassing massive fortunes as a result.

DPWCC is a mouthful. Let's call this obviously life-threatening (to others)  psychologically diseased constellation "Capitalist Syndrome". 

But like every other labelled disability, Capitalist Syndrome has its strengths and weaknesses  

Weaknesses: an  exploitative juggernaut which worships "The Market", "The Workplace"  and its High Church "The Mall" like we once worshipped our Father-God. It concentrates inequality and turns molehills of inequality into mountains that few can climb, that keeps everyone on a constant treadmill of anxious striving to outpace everyone else, lest we fall into the abyss of poverty and shame. 

Strengths: it has delivered the preconditions for an egalitarian society, at least for its members: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and freedom from famine. There is now in principle enough for the inclusion of everyone to extend to the other necessities of life. 

Nevertheless, this monoculture is gradually being diversified and its autocratic hold weakened by various factors. These include: 

  • transfers of wealth and populations by globalization, including the movement of formerly colonized people back into the lands of their colonizers
  • the post-war human rights movement that emerged as a reaction tp the horrors of the Nazi eugenicist extermination camps, based on the psueudoscience of race, and which led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
  • the emergence of one minority movement after another demanding civil rights pioneered by African Americans Americans, Women, and Gays etc.

And this is where the Neurodiversity came in. By the end of the 20th century, Westerners had been forced by the first intersectionalist movements to question their ingrained beliefs about the inferiority of black and indigenous people and women and the criminality of homosexuality.  

These movements had made it generally unacceptable for civilized people to air derogatory opinions about the above minorities. But it was still open season on "nerds", aka Aspies  -  as we learned to call ourselves. One of the triggers for me to start thinking about Neurodiversity included the film "Grease" in which it seemed perfectly normal, natural and unremarkable that the the nerdy character Eugene, should was bullied by the gang, who were assumed to have "hearts of gold". And this is par for the course for so many other films with the obligatory nerd character humiliated for the hilarity of the crowd. 

That is partly why I wanted to add Neurodiversity to Intersectionality, so that the mistreatment of neurological outsiders could no longer be casually overlooked.

Politics and Intersectionality

Broadly speaking, politics is the process by which societies make decisions about how to distribute resources, with status, power and wealth accruing to those who are best placed to control the resources. 

Without going into the history of why society began to classify people according to their neurological profiles, and punishing some 

Despite the complaints of angry conservative outrage-manufacturers, intersectionality is a tool of social analysis that is increasingly used by policy makers.  out of the recognition that as nations we must come to terms with the reality that we are no longer a monoculture, and must learn to understand each other's backgrounds and learn to get along. 

It's important to notice that the categories of intersectionality:  Age, Class, Ethnicity, Gender, Religion,  Sex, Disability, are devoid of rank or judgment, except for "disability", which only goes to show how much disability is still considered a second class category.  The correct term should be of course ABILITY

We all have socio-economic class, we are all ethnic, we are all gendered etc, we all have abilities Yet all of of these categories have been used to classify, grade, rank, disempower and impoverish people. That is what makes these categories political, as per the definition on the right. 

Politics and the unequal distribution of resources

While our culture is nominally still Christian, notice that the political “Right” who tend to be the most vociferous about their allegiance to Christianity, act according to the tenets of “jungle law”. They preach Christianity, but their practices of Neoliberalism support Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Market law makes clear that those who are unfit or unproductive within Neoliberalism’s limited ideas of productivity deserve what the get, and should be grateful for  the meagre pensions doled out to them.

And this is where Politics come in:

In the broadest sense, politics is about the distribution of resources and in our society that is massive inequity. There is still a long way to go.

I know the explicitly political nature of these terms can make the dominant majority uncomfortable, if they want to frame the issue in medical or commercial terms, whether for the financial and/or status benefits of expertise. And who can blame them? We live in a stratified social order, and must needs struggle to retain our place.  But discomfort is part of social change. Thanks to globalisation, and how the colonized nations have come back to bite those who benefitted from colonization, there are no more Anglo monocultures, and never will be. That is why intersectionality manifested. We need to learn how to get along. 

This is not to say that there’s no such thing as disability, or no role for helping professionals. 

Difference shades into disability depending on the amount of help required by individuals and their families. We do not want to go back to a world where (primarily) women had to give up their own dreams  because there was no help or advice available for them as carers. We still have a long way to go, when we see that mysogyny has recast Refrigerator Mothers into “Autism Moms” if they shd show a reluctance to acquiesce to the roles assigned to them whether by medical authority or the Twitter mob. It takes a village to raise any child, and more so if the child is developmentally more labour intensive

Take Home Lesson: ND is not a classificatory term dividing us from them. We are all Neurodiverse. We live on a Neurodiverse planet in which amoral nature generates endless genetic diversity, while we humans have evolved the capacity to make judgments about nature’s bounty. What Neurodiversity brings us is a challenge to find a place for everyone and to distribute the bounty fairly.


Thursday, 22 October 2020

Volunteering on Boards: Empowerment or exploitation?

It's always an honour to be asked by an organization to become a Board member or Advisory Panel member to be "a voice" with "lived experience". And it is indeed empowering to meet with powerful people and get an insight into how decisions are made "at the top". But after a while you begin to wonder.

I volunteered on Boards for decades. It began when I became the sole parent of an autistic child. Most carers find it impossible to retain their careers so many turn to volunteering in order to remain useful members of society. Initially I found volunteering to be stimulating and empowering until I began to wonder if I was allowing myself to be taken for granted and exploited. 

Bottom line, I now find myself to be an age pensioner who cannot even afford my medical bills. 

They like to say "Time is Money" in business. But it's your time, their money. 

Now that's a wake-up call.

Don't end up like me at retirement! 

A boiling frog
Think of the metaphor of  "The Boiling Frog". They say if you put a frog in water and up the temperature very very gradually, it doesn't notice before its too late. Result: one dead boiled frog.

So don't be mad at me because I am now scrambling to commodify myself before its too late.

It would be great if you shared your experiences in the comments, either in your own name, or anonymously if you are worried about exposure

And then let's see where it goes. 

Boiling Frog Image Attribution

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Taster: Explaining Neurodiversity

I am generally credited with being the originator of the term Neurodiversity while writing a sociology honours thesis,"Odd People In: a personal exploration of a new social movement based on neurological diversity" (UTS Sydney 1998). 

I did not define the term, thinking its meaning self-evident. Since then there have been a proliferation of definitions, and as I expected, most people intuitively "get it". But inevitably, some definitions seem to me to miss the point, especially when they take neurodiversity to be a synonym for "neurological disability". 

While I understand that language evolves and changes, I am determined to defend my intuitive understanding of the term vigourously, and have thus unpacked the complex meaning furled within it. 

To read my definition, click on the "What is Neurodiversity" tab above, or here


  1. What Neurodiversity is
  2. What Neurodiversity is not
  3. What the Neurodiversity Movement is
  4. Fundamental Principles
  5. Neurodiversity and Conservation
  6. The Dark Side of Neurodiversity
  7. Neurodiversity and Eugenics
  8. Neurodiversity and "Difference vs Disability"
  9. The Future of Neurodiversity
If you are interested in going to the primary source, see my republished thesis 

Carry On Regardless!

Am I the only one who can spend more time agonizing about what kind of “regards” to send in a business letter than on writing the whole damn letter?

I’ve had enough, I just can’t take it anymore,


Life is too short!

One of my autistic traits is that I am ALWAYS sincere. (Well, almost always, unless I have been taught to fake it for the sake of self-preservation in a dog-eat-dog world business world, where duplicity is the norm, and actual sincerity is viewed with suspicion).

In this world, I understand the Regards Hierarchy thus:

  1. Kind regards
    Opening gambit: we haven’t met yet, so let’s be civilized, and let me assure you that I don’t intend to rip you off, while keeping you at a polite distance

  2. Warm regards
    The next round: We still haven't met, but let’s pretend we are practically bosom buddies

  3. Just plain unqualified Regards

  4. [Regards omitted]
    We have engaged the services of a Debt Collection Agency

I CAN’T DO THIS! I do not know you! It is literally painful for me to protest emotions that I do not, cannot, have. All I want is a job/a gig/a refund/more time to pay! Why else would I be writing? I don’t know which adjective to use! This is taking me forever! Can we please just get on with it?

Although, I must admit, when someone sends me their “Highest Regards”, I’m like “Wow, reeeeeeeeeeaally? Well OK, if you insist!”.

To avoid drowning in this quagmire,  I have composed the following sign off:

Disclaimer: the absence of “Regards” and other salutations and protestations of sincerity in this letter do not signal hostility or unfriendliness on my part.They are merely a recognition that this is a business transaction between people who do not know each other. Sincerity is assumed, unless the matter needs to be taken to the courts.

Related Issue: Kisses

How many x’es in a sign off between friends?

I usually sign letters to female friends as “Jxx”, which seems to me to be just right.

One “x“ would seem too perfunctory, too cold, almost a matter of form,  while xxx seems unnecesarily effusive. After all, we should know each other well enough by now to know that of course we have a warm friendship, while not denying that nobody is perfect, and frankly, sometimes we do piss each other off.

This works for me, until someone ruins it and escalates with an extra “x”.

What to do? Should I respond in kind, or will this signal the beginning of an arms race of x’es?

And what if someone then trumps everything with a capital X????


And let’s not even talk about the delicate situation with male friends. So many worrying factors to consider. If I use an “x”, will they feel their manhood threatened? Will they worry that I consider them effeminate? What will their wives think? Will they think I’m offering them a sexual liason? 

Best not to even go there.


Yes, folks, my mind really does work this way. I’m serious!

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

What is wrong with this Wikipedia definition of Neurodiversity?

This is a typical definition of Neurodiversity found at random on the web. There are innumberable such, all referring to "normal" variations. 

First, it's important to be wary of the "passive voice" which confers authority by fudging who is speaking. If there is an omitted "by" in the sentence , it's worth asking "by whom". So... 

Regarded by whom? I submit: by an echo chamber of Wiki editors rephrasing earlier Wiki editors. In true viral mode, these definitions  were then adopted by myriad respectable institutions and replicated ad infinitum. 

Who can blame them? Nobody owns the term. I never defined it either, thinking its meaning self-evident. Nevertheless I will put my oar in based on the intuitive Aha! moment I had while writing the work that contained it.

And for goodness sake, do NOT go to Wikipedia for a definition of Neurodiversity. It seems to be changed almost daily by heaven knows who, and it is clear that most of these people don't "get it", they just mash up earlier misconceptions. 

Neurodiversity is not a judgment. It has nothing to say about Normality or Morality. 

Neurodiversity names a biological reality, the virtually infinite neuro-cognitive variability within Earth’s human population.  It points to the fact that every human has a unique nervous system with a unique combination of abilities and needs. That is all. 

Normality is a socially constructed term originating in the 19th century mostly for the use of the bogus science of Eugenics (see my thesis for more detail on the construction of normality). 

I recognize that words evolve beyond their origins by way of a dialectical process. But for the record, I intended the word 

  • to function as an addition to the toolbox of intersectional analysis and 
  • to suggest a name for the emerging 1990s civil rights movement of NeuroMinorities

And it should never be used as a synonym for Neurological Disability, so that respect for Nature’s awe-inspiring variability and its challenge to our ethics and practices becomes the latest stigmatized term for “the Other”.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

We are not "The" Vulnerable: the dangers of the definite article

Before you talk of "The Vulnerable", ask yourself by what means a significant proportion of the populace is rendered vulnerable


  • I propose that the term "The Vulnerable" is a depoliticized euphemism for people who require social security support due to structural injustice as much as to inherent disability

  • I further argue that applying the definite article "The" to minorities is a powerful method of othering them

  • While some of us may be inherently vulnerable due to heredity, injury, or life stage, as soon as we require government supports and services, this linguistic sleight of hand subtly strips us of our strengths, our agency, our capacity for choice, and our status as citizens

  • Thus reduced to the faceless"Other", we do indeed become vulnerable to stereotype, stigma, pity, and finally compassion fatigue

  • And when compassion for minorities is exhausted, all of us become vulnerable to being divided and ruled by the worst of populist demagogues

This came to me while I was listening to a presentation by an Emeritus Professor of Sociology who I admire for their life-long dedication to social justice. Though I am in awe of their work, I found my hackles rising as the speech went on. It soon became clear why. It happened every time they used the term "The Vulnerable", as in:

"We" must do more to help "The Vulnerable".

Now I knew this was well-intentioned shorthand for a birgeoning list of marginalized populations too long to itemize: including the many people at the bottom of the socio-economic heap who require require social security to survive: these include people who are: sole parents, disabled, carers, retirees without superannuation, public housing tenants, unemployed, homeless, indigenous, refugees, diasporized, working poor and more. BTW you may notice that many of these groups are overwhelmingly female.  

"Hello", thought I, "I am, or have been, all of the above except homeless and indigenous. But I thought I was part of the concerned and enlightened 'We' attending this symposium, not one of  'Them'!

Suddenly I felt like my sense of competence and belonging was at risk of being ripped away, revealing the tragic mask of "The Vulnerable". 

Theatrical Masks Tragedy and Comedy
Can "we" avoid imagining ourselves in the Blue Mask
when we consign others to "The Vulnerable" bin?
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Well! I was damned if I would allow myself to be consigned to that nameless mass of the wretched of the earth, "The Vulnerable Others". I consider myself and many of my ilk to be smart, resourceful and resilient people who struggle to survive trauma and deprivation, and yet give back to society when we can. Whether via the energy we put into voluntary work, into caring for family, or in the taxes we paid in our working life, before discrimination, (you know the intersections I'm talking about ), unequal wages, carer responsibilities etc shut us out of paid work. 

So what does "vulnerable" actually mean? 

I disregard the concept of "showing vulnerability" as popularised by Brene Brown, since that is a personal choice, not something imposed from above.

From the definition on the right,  it is clear that while people in need of special care - due to youth, old age, or disability-  may be inherently vulnerable to risk, the rest of us rendered vulnerable by exposure to harmful agents or agencies

We are all vulnerable to having something done to us, whether by neglect, prejudice, greed, irrational belief in inhuman ideologies legislated by people with money or power. 

We are all vulnerable to the actions of unregulated enterprises, landlords and employers; predatory pedagogues and priests; inadequate social security entitlements,  the policies of neo-liberal ideologues, the incitements of tabloids, and more. 

People who are already inherently vulnerable are made more so by governmental failure to fulfil their duties of care, whether financial, or through a failure of regulation. 

I'd rather be called by the good old Aussie term, Battler. Because battling to keep our heads above turbulent economic waters is exactly what most of us do. 

Because what happens when everyone is lumped under the rubric of "The Vulnerable"?  I say it lumps everyone under the same heading of "there's something wrong with them" rather than "there is something wrong with society". Hello, Social Model... 

Some alternatives to "The Vulnerable" 

  • Battlers
  • Social Security Recepients (including those who should be but have been denied) 
  • People made vulnerable by social inequities and exclusions
  • Structurally Disempowered People
  • Socio-Economic Minorities
  • Be specific: unemployed people, sole parents, people shut out from labour markets by age or disability prejudice, people who cannot work and cannot survive on an inadequate pension.

Is "The" the most dangerous word in the English language? 

I have heard it described as such. Don't ask me where, but it certainly resonates.

Obviously the definite article is hardly dangerous when referring to places and things: the garden or the desk in the study 

But when it comes to humans and their collectives (by ethnicity, gender, class, ability etc) history has demonstrated that the danger is real.

Why? Because "the" presumes that the thing being defined is already known, that "we" share a common understanding of its referent, that the meaning attached to it is obvious, self-explanatory, and thus must be universally acknowledged by all sensible people. In short, indisputable common knowledge.

The question is, who defines what this "obvious" understanding is? Who "owns"the stereotype? Too often, the "obvious" is defined by the dominant culture and is used to stereotype and devalue minorities.

For a more indepth contemporary explanation, check out "Linguistics explains why Trump sounds racist when he talks about The African -Americans". (though I think the author is being a little too polite to Trump... )

Thought experiment 1

Look at each item on this list. Shut your eyes. What is the first image, thought, or other sensation that rises in your mind? (Don't censor it. If something ugly comes up, don't feel guilty. Remember, you are just reproducing a socially implanted prejudice. It's not your individual fault. What matters is how you act on a prejudice once you recognize it for what it is)
  • The Blacks
  • The Feminists
  • The Gays
  • The Jews
  • The Neurodiverse
  • The Neurotypical
  • The Vulnerable
  • The Whites 
If you belong to a minority, you may use those terms positively, yet when used by the dominant culture they are more likely to trigger feelings of how you have been hurt by stereotypes. Even if the dominant culture uses them positively, it’s still dangerous. Who hasn't heard the following? 

I can’t be racist because I admire ... [... the Blacks for their athletic prowess, the Jews for their cleverness, The Neurodiverse for their uncomplaining productivity, the Autistics for their genius with IT, the Aborginals for their wonderfully primitive art...]

In short, a great formula for the exploitation of minorities, lest they try to compete with the dominant culture and excel in any field that has not been alloted them.  

An interesting note: we do not often hear “The Autistics”. Perhaps our culture is wising up somewhat. Certainly linguistic research suggests that this reductionist usage of the definite article is in decline. 

Thought experiment 2

Even worse, look what happens when we make the group name singular, so that a whole minority becomes telescoped into one single inndividual.

Without censoring yourself, what image was planted in your mind by racist cartoons depicting "The Aboriginal" “The Jew”, “The Negro”, "The Blonde". Were they old or young, male or female, dangerously clever or stupidly suited only to menial work, ugly or beautiful?

When referring to human collectives:
  • simply leave out “the”
  • turn the word into an adjective: the Gay Movement,
  • qualify it: a few/some/many/most disability activists



    Friday, 19 June 2020

    Are these common socio-political terms doing more harm than good?

    Are these prominent taken-for-granted terms in the medical and sociological lexicon doing more harm than good? I've often wondered. I realise my chances  chances of shifting these entrenched concepts are slim, but I offer up these ruminations as  food for thought.  As always I  recognize that language evolves and my objections may not resonate especially with younger generations. 

    • Assess, assessment, assessor 
    • Dementia  
    • Race
    • The Vulnerable  
    • Welfare

      A list of specific arguments and alternatives for these individual term here

      Most of us use these words with the best of intentions of promoting health, wellbeing, and social justice.

      But I see these words as problematic for a variety of reasons. Including that some
      • breathe life into outdated and pernicious concepts that are best forgotten, 
      • are frequently misunderstood, 
      • some
      • trigger extreme emotional reactions and conflict or
      • embody the language of dominance and submission

      I base my ideas on Richard Dawkins' Meme Theory or Memetics

      Memetics are analogous to genetics. Memes are ideas and thoughts that reproduce similarly to viral genes. You could consider them as thought viruses, transmitted from host to host by discourse, i.e. by communicating them by any medium.  Once  we “hear” a meme, our minds become its hosts, ready to transmit it to other minds.  A meme's strength grows every time it is transmitted. 

      And here is the bad news for those who care about the common good: 

      Whether you are for or against a meme, as long as you transmit it, its power grows. It doesn't matter whether your intent is Pro-social or Anti-social. 

      The only way to attenuate a virus is to try to fade it out. 

      A perfect example:  I have often said to people who want to stamp out the Neurodiversity Movement,

      As long as you keep talking about the Neurodiversity Movement,  you are the Neurodiversity Movement!

      The Race Meme

      One well-known thought virus is the idea of "Race"

      While the term "Race" has a long history, its current usage as a tool of discrimination dates back to the pernicious "discoveries" of 19th century pseudoscientists. Their claims that there are vast genetic gulfs between different ethnic groups, have long been  refuted

      "Race" is not a biological fact. It was socially constructed for anti-social ends, as an artefact of European colonialism which need to justify its enslavement, exploitation and robbery of the "Other" and ended up in the horror of the Nazi holocaust

      Nevertheless as long as the word exists, it continues to spark bigotry.

      We have a problem:  while Race is not real, Racism is

      Therefore in order to fight Racism we are inadvertently keeping the bogus concept of Race alive. 


      Scientific racism, sometimes termed biological racism, is a pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism, racial inferiority, or racial superiority. Historically, scientific racism received credence throughout the scientific community, but it is no longer considered scientific.Wikipedia

      To reiterate the Bad News: whether you are a Racist or an Anti-Racist, as long as you keep mentioning Race,  the false idea that “Race” is a biological reality persists and grows stronger

      Possible Solutions: 

      • Use Prejudice, Bigotry or Hatred instead because they can be qualified by their objects. e.g. Prejudice against [Minority Group]
      • Always put scare-quotes around "Race"

      Assess / Assessment/ Assessor

      What’s wrong with it?

      The current usage of Assessment has segued from its official meaning below,  to the accepted term for the process by which the Helping Professions diagnose individuals, often for the purpose of determining their eligibility and entitlement to benefits.

      But check out the dictionary meanings e.g. 

      The definition of the verb "Assess" 


      To assess means to oversee a complete set of information and make an overall judgment. 

      It's fine to assess inanimate objects: documents, sites and situations. But one flawed human cannot “judge” another human in their entirety.

      This language signals an awkward power relationship especially when Helping Professionals are in theory ethically required to be "on the side of" their client, and their interests. Yet when they take on the role of Assessors, they are placed in the difficult position of serving two masters. They become the gatekeepers of  "welfare" systems 

      It is dehumanizing to treat humans as objects to be assessed.  Especially when it involves the reduction of individuals to fit to criteria or boxes to tick which in most cases, and especially in NeoLiberal, are chiefly concerned with minimizing taxes and welfare expense. 

      Thought experiment: 

      Visualize the scene of an Asses
      r assessing the Assessee: Who sits where? What is their spatial relationship, and what does it signify

      This is NOT a criticism of individuals - often social workers and other helping professionals, mostly women, I imagine. In my experience, helping professionals do their best not to dehumanize their clients but to make the welfare system work for them.

      My criticism is of neoliberal "welfare" systems and their language of “power over” 


      • Consultation
      • Social Security Eligibility Interview
      • Social Security Advice and Advocacy Service


      What’s wrong with it?

      Dementia is one of the most terrifying words in the English language, that's what! It's up there with Schizophrenia, though it isn't as scary to look at. 

      Dementia is un unhappy ending you can start dreading just prior to turning 30.

      It terrifies by implying a total loss of mind.

      It is soaked in stigma. Especially as it is horribly reminiscent of demented (crazily dangerously insane), or “dementors” (fictional evil beings).

      The reality: most often a gradual loss of memory and functionality and a part of Neurodiversity. 

      Whether this loss of cognitive functions becomes a negative or positive experience is largely dependent on the kinds of accommodations that are  offered and the attitudes of the people around you. 

      But like everything that affects the human mind/body, it doesn’t mean that some people won’t suffer. Im not against a cure. I just want to say to the psycho-medical profession, “Change the name” and stop terrifying us. 


      • Semnesia (loss of memory due to ageing or premature ageing)
        • Vascular Semnesia or 
        • The name of the specific syndrome. e.g Alzheimer's Syndrome

        The replacement should evoke respect for elders, suggest a gradual turning inward and withdrawal from the day-to-day in preparation for death and a gracious acceptance of help by those who have made their contributions to society and more…


        What’s wrong with it?

        It is loaded with stigma. It shames and devalues individuals
        It hides structural injustice - the reasons behind individual poverty


        • Impoverishment reminds us that social forces often cause poverty, and not necessarily the fault or choice of an individual 

        The categories of Intersectionality

        In my original work I proposed a new category "Neurodiversity"  to be added to the "Intersections of Class, Race, Gender, Disability". This was before I had heard the term "Intersectionality". I now have reservations about Intersectionality and Identity Politics, even though I was an eager early participant. But that is a huge topic out of the scope of this blog post. 

        The original Intersections were Class, Gender, Race, Ethnicity. Disability

        These are unlikely to changed in the near future, but FWIW this is how I see them.

        It seems to me that Intersectionality refers to the categories of Heritage. Thus my favoured terms are Asset Heritage, Genetic Heritage, Ethnic Heritage, Deep Heritage

        I have singled out Race because it is the only descriptor that has no scientific validity, either within the natural sciences or the social sciences. It is thus an especially harmful and pernicious memetic concept that should ideally be dimmed out of our consciousness. The derivative "Racist" however is of some utility if the original meaning of  "race" is forgotten. 

        A disclosure of my status on these is on my To-Do list in the biography of this blog. In the meantime it  can be gleaned from my book. 


        How I see it


         Asset Heritage differentiated as
        •   Inherited Capital Assets
        •   Inherited Cultural Capital    

         Genetic Heritage

         Disambiguate into

        • Ability
        • Difference
        • Impairment
          Race and Ethnicity       




        Combine into Ethnic Heritage

         Differentiate into 

        •  Deep Heritage or  GeoHeritage  
        •  Ethnic Identity  
          • Dominant ethnic groups
          • Minority ethnic groups   



        Differentiate as
        • biological sex including intersex  
        • gender identity
        • sexual orientation

        So-called "Race"

        What’s wrong with it?

        The term is irretrievably mired in an ugly morass of misconception and the worst of human impulses. While science shows there is no such thing as “Race”, we cannot deny that there are clusters of superficial traits of appearance that originate from our early geographical dispersal, which allow the identification and mistreatment of minorities. 


        • Deep Heritage
        • GeoHeritage
        • Diaspora Minorities

        To my mind, Deep Heritage resonates with deep respect for our ancient origins, our extraordinary adaptations to the diverse planetary regions our ancestors dispersed to, and the rich cultural styles they developed. It is a constant reminder of the genius of human creativity. 

        But what about the derivatives, Racism, Racist, Racists?

        Since the noun ‘race’ is discredited, why use the derivatives?

        Because they remain useful in political action. 

        On the other hand,  the adjective Racist is so overused that it has become the subject of endless denial and fruitless passing the moral hot potato.  We've all heard

        “I’m not a racist, but...”

        Which switches focus from the big picture, that hatred of the “Other” eventually rebounds on all of us, to a defensive individual reaction that derails further discussion and entrenches prejudice. 

        Thus the association with science legitimizes it amongst those who use it ignorantly. 

        Do we need replacements?

        Language is dynamic and we do not remember the origins of the words we use. The best hope is that the derivatives are decoupled from the pseudoscientific R-word as it is gradually forgotten. Replacements need to signal strong cultural disapproval, thus:

        • Bigotry, Bigoted, Bigots

        Or, as  #BlackLivesMatter shows there are other positive ways to fight for minority rights for diaspora peoples


        Thought experiment

        Imagine a person or people “on welfare”, imagine a government "welfare" agency. What images come to mind? 

        What's wrong with it? 

        Like the word “vulnerable”, Welfare suggests passive recipients who are devoid of agency, initiative, and capacity for choice. 


        • Social Security
        The word security reminds us that this is a form of insurance
        Social Security is that portion of the tax that most of the currently “able” pay forward against future incapacity or misadventure whether to themselves or their families. It also comes out of general revenue, which is why it is important that business pay their taxes, and why corporate tax-dodging is so reprehensible.