Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fools, Damn Fools, and Anti-Elitists

Originally posted January 2006


"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." (Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence)

The autistic civil rights movement is becoming increasingly divided into two factions, and that disturbs me. I'll call one of these groups the pride faction; it views autistic people as a
social minority and stresses the importance of positive language and inspirational role models. The other faction, which I'll call the anti-elitists, has been pointing out that there are genuine difficulties associated with autism and that focusing too much on pride and accomplishments could result in discrimination against, or lack of services for, the less fortunate among us.

Both of these viewpoints are perfectly reasonable, in and of themselves. They're only problematical to the extent that they are being treated as contradictory or mutually exclusive. It is certainly possible to avoid the use of unnecessarily negative language without denying the existence of actual difficulties. For example, neurodiversity.com has a collection of links to
positive portrayals of autism and provides balanced information and resources about disability. It is also possible to focus on disability rights issues while affirming the value of personal pride, a positive self-image, and social acceptance; for material written from this perspective, I recommend the excellent library on autistics.org. Unfortunately, some of us identify exclusively with one camp or the other and ignore, or even attack, the other faction's concerns.

Fools. It's not unusual on aspie websites to see comments to the effect that, although we don't need a cure, there may be some lower-functioning autistics who do. When the authors of such comments are confronted about the issue (often by activists who were labeled as low functioning) they may readily acknowledge that they spoke out of ignorance, without fully understanding the implications of their words. Such people usually have no real-life experience with so-called low functioning autistics and are repeating stereotypes carelessly, with no malicious intent.

Damn Fools. To my great disgust, there are some autistic people who see nothing wrong with eugenic abortion, provided that the targets are lower functioning (by which they generally mean anyone less successful than themselves). Of course, in reality, the research scientists aren't making any distinctions among the various diagnostic groups in their efforts to identify autism genes; every one of our unborn children is marked for death. A thoughtful blog entry deconstructing this suicidally illogical view can be found
here.

Anti-Elitists. In the main, this group is providing a valuable service to the cause by pointing out the careless errors of the Fools and attacking the dangerous drivel spewed by the Damn Fools. However, some people in the anti-elitist faction are taking it too far and are denouncing the whole notion of autistic pride as flawed and elitist. They're criticizing and refusing to link to websites that contain discussions of pride, autistic strengths, and high-achieving role models. By condemning a huge swath of the autistic civil rights movement as a divisive elite, they are themselves causing much more divisiveness and harm than the pride sites of which they complain.

The closest analogy I can think of is this: During World War II, the United States committed a despicably immoral act when it refused asylum to many Jewish refugees from Europe, some of whom were later killed by the Nazis. All the same, Jews continued to support the US war effort. They didn't sit piously on the sidelines, declaring that the American elitist hypocrites were unworthy of their support. They understood that, no matter how offensive the American government's attitudes were, the only alternative was a Nazi victory.

Likewise, there are only two sides in our war—those who want to see a world with no autistic people in it, and those who don't—and the good guys are outnumbered. It's that simple. We don't have the luxury of shunning some of our allies as morally unworthy if they don't toe the party line in all particulars. That sort of attitude will literally get us wiped off the face of the planet.

To those of us whom the elitist shoe fits: Quit describing other autistics as low-functioning retards (or similar insults) and treating them as curebie fodder. You are no more worthy of life and respect than they are, and if you're foolish enough to fall into the divide-and-conquer trap, you're very likely to find yourself next up on society's hit list.

And to those in the anti-elitist crowd: Don't twist yourself into such contortions to maintain your cherished principles that your head disappears up your ass.

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