Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Maoist Anti-Intellectualism

Originally posted August 2005

During China's infamous "Cultural Revolution," intellectuals were denounced as enemies of the people, as a plague of useless elitists living off the honest sweat of the peasants. Universities and research laboratories were shut down, professors and scientists were sent off to the countryside to work in the fields, and the Chinese economy came to a crashing halt. Millions starved. But Chairman Mao was happy, because the intellectuals and the peasants starved equally together.

A similarly warped view of the autistic population can be found in today's world. Although many autistic children have strong academic abilities, they are routinely described as mentally disabled, incapable of a productive future, and a lifelong burden to society. Their existence is called a tragedy and an epidemic. When they display signs of high intelligence such as early reading and a precocious vocabulary, the psychs are quick to pathologize these abilities as symptoms of a disorder,
hyperlexia. Instead of encouraging autistic children's natural intellectual aptitude, parents are urged to take drastic measures to force the children to become indistinguishable from their peers. The message to parents is clear: Forget about your child's potential future contributions to science, technology, and the arts. Just give him a straw hat, teach him to be a good little peasant, and send him out to the rice paddies.

Modern business managers also routinely devalue the intellectual capabilities of autistic professionals. A student on the spectrum can graduate at the top of his class, adept in highly specialized skills desperately needed by our technology-dependent economy, but he will struggle to get a job because of the hiring managers' prejudices. Not only do interviewers reject autistic applicants on account of unusual body language and voice inflection, personality tests often are used specifically to weed them out. Some managers even attend seminars to learn how to identify various personality types, thus allowing them to discriminate more effectively against the unpopular sorts. In classic blame-the-victim mode, our society tells jobless autistics that it's all their fault because they lack the social abilities to pass an interview (which is the equivalent of telling a female applicant that she couldn't get a job because of her failure to look and act like a man at the interview).

Then, after systematically denying employment to large numbers of qualified university graduates solely on the basis of their neurological type, our jackass captains of industry go braying to Congress that they can't find enough skilled workers in the United States and need more H-1B visas to bring in foreign workers before the economy totally collapses.

Chairman Mao would have been proud.

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