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 


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 the 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.