Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Pinned Post: 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


Contents

  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 

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. 

Always be wary of the "passive voice", which confers authority without giving specfics, always ask:

Regarded by whom? 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

Summary

  • 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


Correction

     



    Tuesday, 24 March 2020

    Covid Days: Minimizing friction in close quarters

    My daughter and I had "The Big Covid 19 Discussion" about how we were going to manage an indefinite period of isolation in close quarters together. We came up with this list which she has transcribed for anyone who is interested.




    Most importantly, let's realise it will be impossible to avoid friction entirely, however we can take steps to keep it to a minimum.

    1. Remember that the other person is not a mind reader – if you aren’t sure what the other means, ask politely. If there is a misunderstanding, don’t apportion blame, just work it out between yourselves.
    2. If the other person appears irritable, take a moment to recognise that it may not be about you.
    3. Take a moment before responding – this is IMPORTANT!
    4. Remember, we are not multi-taskers!!! One instruction at a time, otherwise it is confusing and stressful.
    5. If someone is engaged in a task, realise they may need time to finish that task before moving on to the next thing.
    6. Words/phrases to avoid: “Well – “(said defensively).
    7. THINK before acting
    8. No SUDDEN moves
    9. No snatching!!!
    10. Knock before entering a room
    11. Put aside whatever you’re doing in that moment and give your full attention to the other person if they want it.
    12. Modulate tone of voice and facial expressions when conscious of it, but DON’T suppress feelings. We know that VENTING is important, and we can work it out. After every storm, there is a rainbow.
    13. If grievances arise, take a breath and air it calmly. Do NOT bottle it up. If you hold it in, it will only EXPLODE later.
    14. Respect the other’s need for space. If they say they need some down time, then respect their wishes. They will find you again when they are ready.
    15. Remember to use the magic word when requesting that something be done.
    Remember, our moods and interests are not always in harmony. Sometimes we may not be able to enjoy what the other is enjoying – though often we do! It’s temporary, not the end of the world

    And finally, enjoy dancing, singing, laughing, and telling stories together!

    Wednesday, 18 March 2020

    Warpies and Wefties of the World, Unite!


    Everybody knows that there are just
     two kinds
     of people in the world: 

    Warpies and Wefties


    Yes, it is one of those absurd, over-generalised binaries. But bear with me, because you will find that these are binary opposites that unite us rather than divide us. Thus I believe they are a great metaphor for building harmony between neurotribes whilst avoiding medicalised jargon.

    I base my argument on the art of weaving as a social metaphor. "Warp" and "Weft" are of course names for the diametrically opposite threads which, when interwoven, create infinite varieties of fabrics

    Weaving as Social Metaphor



    Weaving is arguably humanity's oldest technology, one that combines Art and Usefulness. And one generally associated with the Female, which doubly appeals to me.

    And thus Weaving seemed to be both an adaptable and enduring metaphor for harmonizing in these fractured time

    But before I extend the metaphor to humans, and get into why the warp and weft metaphor has such exciting possibilities for uniting opposites by weaving them together constructively, a brief intro:

    Weaving Basics for Novices



    WARP
    • Taut fixed threads
    • Provide structure
    • Limited colours



    WEFT
    • Threads at 90°
    • Provide variability
    • Many colours


    WOVEN

    • Intersections create virtually infinite variety 


    SEPARATELY
    A tangled useless mess

    INTERSECTING
    Infinite potential



    TAKE THE QUIZ


    Are you a Warpie or a Weftie?


    If inclined, do take this well-meaning, if totally unscientific test. If you are perfectionist like me, you will complain bitterly that the test lumps together adjectives that are unrelated and doesn't reflect your uniquely fascinating"spikes". Just do it anyway. 

    How to score:


    Afraid I haven't figured out how to setup a quiz on blogger, so you will need a writing implement...

    1. Rate each item 1 to 5 from "Not at all like me” to "Totally me"
    2. Subtract the Warpie total from the Weftie total
    3. Warpies will of course have a negative value but only for linguistic reasons - i.e. warp usually precedes weft in English usage. No negative aspersions intended. On the contrary, the point is to show we need each other




    WARPIES

    WEFTIES

    THEIR GIFT

    Provide the backbone of society: Create, maintain and perpetuate social structures

    Provide adaptability for society: Weave through established social structures, experimenting, creating change


    PRIDE

    Pride themselves on being orderly, predictable, responsible, reliable, prudent

    Pride themselves on being change agents, brainstormers, creatives, subverting ossified cultural mores


    CAREER STRUCTURE

    Vertical: prioritize staying in stable employment and rising  through the ranks. Will build up an upwardly mobile CV as they progress

    Horizontal: In traditional jobs, may move in and out of work, with a patchy  CV: From billionaire innovators, to social security recipients


    VALUES

    Security, stability, promotion. May be willing to sacrifice intellectual and  moral freedom for career


    Flexibility, autonomy. Unwilling to compromise intellectual and moral freedom for career

    ACCUMULATION

    Accumulate money due to stable  employment, prudence,  build up retirement funds


    Boom and bust, may end up millionaires or penniless at retirement, and even homeless:

    RELATIONSHIPS

    Tend to stable upwardly mobile relationships and marriages


    Relationships tend to be less stable, often de facto

    OPINIONS OF EACH OTHER

    Consider Wefties to be erratic, untidy, unpredictable, unreliable, self-indulgent, lazy


    Consider Warpies to be authoritarian, controlling, boring, dictatorial

    DREAMS

    Dream of throwing it all away and becoming beach bums and artists. Rarely do it till retirement, when they splurge on travel

    Dream of getting through just one structured day perfecty:rising early, getting chores done,  having regular mealtimes, sleeping by midnight. Rarely achieve it


    BIGGEST REGRET

    Not spending more time with family, being creative

    Not building a career, not paying attention to accumulation


    ENVY

    Weftie freedom and creativity

    Warpie wealth and status


    COGNITIVE PROFILE

    Cognitive profile fairly level across strengths and weaknesses

    Cognitive profile "spiky" across strengths and weaknesses


    SLEEP PATTERNS

    Morning people: regular sleep patterns

    Night owls:irregular sleep patterns, insomnia­




    Why is this a good metaphor for society?



    Warp and Weft, separated, are weak and useless

    Warp and Weft, intersecting, are strong, and have infinitely diverse potential

    Their strength as a metaphor is that unlike the ND/NT divide, they do not oppose each other nor diverge in a different direction, perhaps never to meet again. They separate off, but only to meet again in a constructive fashion.

    Warpies and Wefties intersect and create the fabric of society

    They do not divide society

    They construct society together


    We need each other!




    Disclaimer


    This is not intended to replace the Neurotypical/Neurodivergent binary which is a necessary advocacy tool. I intend it as an affectionate, plain English form of self-identification for the people it suits.
    The description will obviously fit many who have been the object of prejudice in work and education. It is obviously not a "disability label" though there maybe obvious overlaps with neurodivergent conditions

    Monday, 16 March 2020

    Through a glass screen, darkly. Coronavirus thoughts

    After 7 decades of frenetic rebuilding after the unique horrors of  World War II, Nature has reasserted itself, and is forcing us to take a Sabbatical.  

    With all our human ingenuity and creativity, we have accelerated to excess, as we in the advanced capitalist world have failed to exercise enough self-discipline and self-reflection, thinking there was always going to be more, more more. 

    We now have the time to reflect on how we came to be at this junction. Here we find ourselves, isolated cells sitting alone in a network of cables, seeing the world and our friends literally “through a glass, darkly”. 

    Perhaps this pause will cause us to think creatively about ways forward, although IMO we need less "creativity" and more "receptivity". 

    In my sociology days, as I became disillusioned by the simplistic binary division then in vogue, between the "social" and "medical" models, I came to envisage “Culture” as a rubber band attached to “Nature”. 

    With all our ingenuity, we can only pull away so far before the band snaps us back. 

    Or breaks.

    We now wait and see who will bend and who will be broken.

    Crisis, opportunity. The world turns. I wish I could pray to a Parent Figure in the sky to fix it for us, myself, my near and dear, and my ever-widening circles, but its now time to wish everyone well, watch and wait, and hope we all weather this somehow and get some wisdom in the process

    Crisis, opportunity.

    Friday, 6 March 2020

    That troublesome adjective "Neurodiverse"

    The Adjective "Neurodiverse” has become so popular in common usage  as a synonym for “neurologically different", and is so entrenched in both organizational jargon and personal identification that it seems churlish to quibble that it is linguistical irrational and ultimately damaging to the cause.

    To my horror, it’s even in the Oxford Dictionary, doing the work of dividing a group called "US" from a group called "THEM"!



    Neurodiversity like biodiversity, is literally a feature of the planet not a synonym for "Neurologically Other"

    We humans are NOT Neurodiverse 
    Not individually. Not collectively.
    The PLANET is Neurodiverse

    Just no!


    The importance of language


    It seems there are two kinds of people in this world
    1. Those who believe that language matters and it's important to get it right
    2. Those who believe "Never mind the language, let's just get on with the job"
    Naturally, I prefer the first mob. (See below for an example of a perfectly useful, necessary and innocuous adjective permanently ruined by misuse. I refer to the statistical term "Deviant")

    But I do waver in my linguistic perfectionism from time to time, as I try to weigh the pros and cons of undermining a juggernaut of change. After all, if all the organizations springing up for the "inclusion of neurodiverse people" are making the world a better place, why complicate things with my obsession with linguistic purity ?

    How it ends lies with all of you.

    My linguistic point

    I have been rightly reminded by Martijn Dekker and others, that my earlier statement that we are ALL “Neurodiverse” is wrong. . But saying that NONE of us are Neurodiverse is equally wrong. I hope my argument below makes it clear. Both are wrong, because ND is a descriptor of the planet, never of individuals. 


    Logically speaking, Neurodiverse is an imaginary and irrational adjective, somewhat like an imaginary number, (the square root of a negative number which cannot logically exist) 

    This usage of “neurodiverse” cannot be based based on "biodiverse", because that adjective only exists for the comparison of ecosystems, as in "The Amazon Delta is more biodiverse than the Sahara Desert"

    Since Homo Sapiens has colonized the whole planet, the only thing we can be compared with is another planet with sentient life. Until such time as we find such a planet, the adjective is out on a very lonely limb.

    And it is illogical to use Neurodiverse as an adjective to describe an individual.

    You cannot Say "Lee Bloggs is a person, while Kim Bloggs is a neurodiverse person" (note my careful use of ungendered names) any more that you would say "Skippy the Kangaroo is a marsupial, but Wally the Wombat is biodiverse"

    So, maybe the concept is lost to all but linguistic nerds, but 

    Nevertheless, I register a protest

    Neurodiverse should not be a synonym for “neurologically disabled". We are all neurodiverse, because:
    1. It's linguistically illogical.  We are ALL Neurodiverse inhabitants of the planet, because no two minds on this planet can ever be exactly alike.
      .
    2. More importantly, if Neurodiverse becomes a synonym for Disabled instead of remaining a symbol for the incredible wonder of natural variation, it will rapidly acquire stigma,  be devalued, and we would lose its power as a unifying symbol for all

    Appendix: The sad case of the word "Deviant"

    Once upon a time deviant was a perfectly innocuous statistical term meaning "a quantity expressing by how much the members of a group differ from the mean value for the group". Somehow someone stuck it to the word "Sexual" and it's now sullied for all time. 

    One of the fathers of sociology,  Émile Durkheim viewed deviance as an inevitable part of how society functions. He argued that deviance is a basis for change and innovation!
    So now so many people think "deviant" means "sexually perverted" that the much better word Neurodeviant has to be avoided, and we must use "Neurodivergent"...


    Deviant and Divergent defined

    Deviant actually means "a significant standard deviation from the average". That is what the new term "Spiky Neurological Profile" actually means. A "Neurotypical person" has very little standard deviation from the average on a range of cognitive abilities, while "a NeuroSpiky" person with AS ADHD the Dyses etc,  has a range of deviations.

    Imagine Kim and Lee walking down the “one true”, socially sanctioned normal conventional path, and Kim deviate from the norm and forges a new path.

    Now imagine Kim and Lee walking together on a path, any path, when they come to a cross-roads, split and go their separate paths, perhaps never to meet again.

    Is that what we want?

    If the Gay movement could reclaim the word Queer as their badge of pride, why not NeuroDeviant?

    What do you think?

    Probably reclaiming "deviant" is a step too far, too late, I admit, but it's all part of my contribution to the Dialectic of Neurodiversity:



    Disclaimer

    I don't say there's no such thing as "Disability". But you have to ask yourself what you mean by Disability before you criticise others. Their understanding may be quite different.
    Do you mean the Welfare System's definition used to save money by dividing the "worthy poor" from the "unworthy poor"? 
    The United Nations definition? Your personal experience of pride, or suffering, or discrimination? And more




    Tuesday, 25 February 2020

    Confession: My neurodivergent hyperfocus comes at a price

    Surely, the most crazy-making double-bind question a job interviewer can throw at us, is “What is your greatest weakness?”.

    It should be made illegal. After all, the law requires that even criminals caught in the act must be warned not to incriminate themselves.

    Fortunately our intrepid employment agents have figured out the most effective retort...  “ Just tell them you're a perfectionist”.

    I figured that one out for myself decades ago, simply because I am a perfectionist... once I stop procrastinating...

    And perfectionism happens to be one of my greatest weaknesses

    Perfectionism, hyperfocus, contrarianism, my superpowers, my flaws, the makers of my power and misery at the same time.

    Current case in point: Luckily no one remembers anything on social media for more than 3 days. So no one is hanging by the fingernails waiting for my promised new binary coinages to lighten up the neurotypical vs neurodivergent debate, which I announced with great fanfare about 4 months ago. Ditto my rewrite of my “What is Neurodiversity” tab on this blog, designed to sort out the confusions, misunderstandings, misappropriations and pollyannisation of the concept,

    Both these pieces were written in a week, but then I got it into my head that no one reads these days, so we need colorful infographics in bright kindergarten colours,  including a few intersecting circles, some umbrellas, a rainbow and no hints of jigsaws.  How hard can that be?

    Several months later, it's still... “I’ll just try one more tweak, and then I’ll be done”. Minutes have  turned into hours, days, weeks, months... I have taught myself Photoshop, Powerpoint, Canva, and Pubisher in the process,  yet each tweak just creates an opening wedge for more tweaks...

    And now the price: I've injured my back with all that sitting like a frozen statue in front of the screen.

    I have ignored my stated priority of trying to earn some income, am stony broke, and cant afford the operation, were it not for, thank Science and Socialism, Australia's Medicare System/

    I am tormented by Guilt and Remorse

    And I still cant get those two intersecting circles to bloody well defringe

    Anyway, as we used to say in IT, those promised articles are 98% complete... Watch this space, but first, I'm just going to try one more thing with those damn circles...

    Thursday, 10 October 2019

    Neurodivergent from what, exactly?

    The word Neurodivergent begs the question, "Divergent from what, exactly?".

    Neurodivergent 1  describes the significant percentage of  humans who are increasingly recognized as differing cognitively from Neurotypicality.

    The adjective neurotypical itself emerged from the Autistic Self-Advocacy movement of the late 20th century. Pioneers of the movement used it to bypass the increasingly problematic term "Normal", while essentially pointing to the concept behind it. It's worth pointing out that the word "neurotypical" should not be read as a diagnostic term, i.e. one that has a specific set of signs and symptoms. It is purely a term developed to provide a necessary polar opposite of "neurodivergent".

    Neither should the recently coined words based on the concept of  Neurodiversity be read as scientific terms. They are socially constructed terms intended for advocacy purposes.  This should clear up criticisms that these words are "pseudoscientific". When I first used the word "Neurodiversity", I did not intend it to be a diagnostic term.  I saw it as a banner for a "Neurodiversity Movement" -  a civil rights movement for those of us who had been stigmatized for being "weird, odd, or unfathomable" outsiders. While the word is not scientific, it does trade on the authority of neuroscience and biological science - which stresses the importance of conserving biodiversity -  to argue for a revaluing of formerly stigmatized neuroMinorities 

    From my thesis, a summary of ideas from
    Lennard Davis, Enforcing Normalcy
    Normality is a culturally constructed term  which encompasses a broad range of characteristics that centre around a rarely-achieved Ideal of physical, intellectual and sociable characteristics.

    The Ideal itself is undoubtedly based on evolutionary principles, but to some extent can be culturally defined; e.g some cultures value extroversion, others, introversion.

    The boundaries of the normal range are fuzzy, and subject to contention. Small deviations from the normal range are often claimed as Identities. Large deviations are viewed as Disabilities. The boundary line between an identity and a disability is fuzzy, and will always be subject to disputation.

    Why do we need NeuroDivergent? What's wrong with Neurodiverse?

    The adjective neurodivergent became necessary because the adjective neurodiverse is not logically meaningful. Neurodiversity has been a property of the biosphere since the evolution of sexual reproduction. It simply says that all human minds on the planet are necessarily different.

    So all humans are neurodiverse!

    It's just that some of us have been excluded more than others for our divergence from the ideal.

    Neurodiversity is a fact. The Neurodiversity Movement is however an identity politics vehicle for people who were discriminated against for differing from the culturally-defined normal range.

    There are degrees of difference of course. Thus "neurodivergence" shades from difference to disability, with a grey area in between.

    Our Western free-market liberal culture tends to favour extroversion, sociability, competitiveness, self-promotion, lots of noise and buzz. We also tend to worship youth and fear and shun old age.

    Other cultures favour introversion, introspection, quietness, modesty, and tend to respect age. Think traditional Chinese, Jewish and Indigenous cultures.

    The latter cultures are eye-contact avoidant in various circumstances, considering it variously disrespectful of status, invasive or manipulative.  From the point of view of egalitarianism, this is a good thing. 

    But rather naively, Western culture demands eye-contact as a verification of sincerity, when in fact it can easily be used as a tool of emotional manipulation by psychopaths and con-artists!

    Cultures change all the time of course. Not so long ago, absent-minded professors were honoured in our culture, though perhaps we laughed at their eccentricities behind their backs. Then along came Dr Lorna Wing and Uta Frith. Before long, we could easily find our professors' eccentricities dissected in the pages of the DSM IV Bible of Everything that could Possibly Be Wrong with the Human Mind.

    And yet, from an evolutionary view, we have an expectation of a range of normal behaviours, based on our primeval survival needs as Homo Sapiens emerging from the African savanna.

    We evolved as a dominant hierarchical species, and our responses are still primed for survival in the wild, with high general levels of physical fitness, problem-solving and sociability.

    But do our advanced cultures still need the same "hard-wired" qualities for survival?   


    The Neurodiversity Movement challenges the notion that we must all be generalists to survive. Neurodivergent people are often specialists with spiky ability profiles. The biological reality is that as a species,  our success has been based on the evolutionary imperative of role differentiation.

    Now read on for my reductionist, totally un-academic,  Armchair Evolutionary Pschologist's  take on  "The Normal"
    Exit JS stage right, pursued by a Saber-Toothed Tiger
    Click below to see how it turned out 





    Acknowledgments

    The coinage of the term "neurodivergent" is attributed to Kassiane Asasumasu

    Wednesday, 2 October 2019

    Is "Paid-Employedness" the new “Next to Godliness”?

    "Absolutely Yes!" seems to be the answer in a society desperately searching for meaning, since the fading of our most recent religious fad, the quest for the Holy Grail of Wellness. Disapointingly,  the Rapture didn’t  happen, despite our purchases of sacred crystals, regular donations to vitamin pill industry in the hope of miracles, pilgrimages to the mystic East, daily yogic contortions and kale, kale and more kale.

    Being in possession of paid work is now an even bigger measure of virtue than doing good works for the glory of God, with no thought of remuneration. Sure, as a volunteer, you might get some lip-service and some Christmas Party sandwiches from whoever gained the benefit of your unpaid work.

    But caring not a fig, the tabloids will still vilify you as bludgers, scroungers and leaners. Thus justified, your government will then cut your benefits to the bone again, and you can go drop dead in a back alley for all anyone cares.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating a U-turn to the good old days of obeiscence to Iron Age Deities and their occasional Female Personal Assistants.

    But can we all remember that our current economic system (I dare not mention the C-Word lest some troglodyte throwback still fighting the Cold War accuses me of being a Communist)... So, can we remember that one of the well-documented origins of said C-ist system as it emerged in Europe, lies in the Protestant Work Ethic: work hard for the glory of the Big CEO in the Sky, with no expectation of earthly reward.

    And BTW, John Wesley’s original 18th century dictum “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness” was resurrected to sell soap in the 19th. There's a moral in that.

    And thus was the enormous productivity and creativity of Cap***ism unleashed, for both Good and Evil.

    For those hoping to find a Red under my Bed, having long out-aged my radical youth, I have concluded that Western Capitalism is as good as society ever got, despite its current decline and imminent fall 😢

    But couldn't we instead capitalize on our successes? We have freedoms barely dreamt of in the pre-capitalist world. Despite capitalisms flaws, we have amazing advances in science and public health, growing acceptance of gender diversity, legal protections for ethnic minorities, freedom of movement and information,  and more.

    So can't we instead pull back from the brink of self-destruction as out planet drowns, freezes and burns from our our over-productive excesses?

    And so, to my point...
    No.  The possession of paid work is not the hallmark of moral virtue. Nor is the pinnacle of happiness to be found in working for the profit of others.
    Meanwhile there's plenty of evidence that a significant proportion of depression, despair and suicide is a direct result of the injuries of poverty exacerbated by our punitive so-called “welfare” systems.

    What could be more depressing to the human spirit then to be press-ganged by the whip hand of punitive "welfare" systems into meaningless jobs creating junky consumer baubles and destroying the planet in the process?

    Actual happiness comes from:
    • integration into a social network engaged in working collaboratively and co-operatively towards the common good
    • being respected for your contribution
    • not being stigmatized or shamed for being unemployed in a society that worships full employment
    • being adequately remunerated in work 
    • having your basic needs met adequately if not able to work
    • having a healthy work-life balance and more...

    Have you actually SEEN the conditions under which the vast majority still toil?

    I note the huge numbers of Neurodiversity Employment Services, both public and private sector, touting their services in hot pursuit of the Holy Grail of Employment. Many are doing great work, and beginning to influence hiring processes to be more aware of the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce. At the same time, where there is profit to be made, there will be exploiters.

    As with all new growth industry, first come the creatives, the innovators, the idealists, the people of good faith. Then come the “Cowboys”. Eventually must come the regulators, if there is a government on the side of the people, not the profits.

    I notice that some agencies who specialise in autism seem to be muscling into the lucrative IT market, cherrypicking the IT whizzkids and ignoring the rest. There have always been plenty of “ Geeks” in IT, way before the penny dropped that Geeks and Aspies were pretty much the same thing. I should know. I was one of them as far back as the 1970s - female version. Case in point: the glossy brochure of one recent entrant to the Australian market shows happy smiling Aspies in IT jobs. They were all male, with maybe one exception. Says a lot, dont you think?

    What the Neurodiversity movement legitimately pursues is recognition and accommodation of the specific abilities and support needs of neurodivergent individuals. But at the same time, we should see beyond the mindset that the possession of a paid job is the measure of all virtue, and the fount of happiness. We and the whole of society would benefit from:
    • shorter working hours and more flexible conditions for ALL people who work 
    • a LIVABLE social wage for those who can't work, and, yes, even for those few who don't want to. It's not as if there were even enough jobs for those who want them. And even the most ideally "neurodesirable" worker is generally working too many hours for too little pay.
    • fallow time for those who need time to discover their talents or heal from illness or trauma
    • more pay and better conditions for human services workers, nurses, teachers, social worker to help them do it

    The  Neurodiversity Movement arose from the resistance of neurominority activists to their  exclusion from employment, health, and education etc

    But if the movement is fully understood and used properly, it will find itself humanizing the working conditions of all humans, and providing an adequate standard of living for all, not just those with inherited wealth, paid employment, or entrepreneurial abilities.

    Finally let me employ Godwin's law to ruin your day

    This was written on the gate to the hell-hole of Auschwitz

    "Work makes you free"


    It didn't then, rarely does now, and probably never will.