The Rest of Us
I was going to comment on a post on Ballastexistenz entitled Views from above, but it ended up turning into a separate essay after I read this comment by Zilari:
I am definitely familiar with this “view from above” perspective. It’s very prevalent in most media-published articles about autism — one thing I’ve noticed is this tendency to use the word “we” to refer only to “we who are not autistic”, and to refer to things like, “the difference between autistic brains and our brains”.
And I’ve also noticed that articles or pieces of writing BY autistic people tend to be preceded by some sort of introduction written by a nonautistic person that sets the stage for the reader to experience a perspective of “other-ness” in what they are about to read.
For instance, the summary paragraph on the back of Thinking In Pictures includes the line,
“…a woman who thinks, feels and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us.”
It’s like they’re just assuming that autistic people aren’t actually going to be reading the book. So we’re not included in the “us”.
Zilari is correct that this attitude is commonplace. I've also seen it in several places. For example, Discover magazine published an article last year that used similar language in discussing how autistic children could benefit from more natural surroundings:
"But normal humans are experiencing a similar loss. We surround ourselves with television and computer games. We practically live in our offices. We inhabit a cocoon of associations and representations of the world around us—increasingly a world divorced from nature."
I'm reminded of something that I came across when I was a little girl at my grandparents' house. In the depths of the basement, which was dark, quiet, cavelike, and always smelled faintly of mold and mildew, there was a treasure trove of old books. I found comic books and adventure stories that had belonged to my uncles when they were boys, as well as Agatha Christie mysteries that might have been my mother's or grandmother's. There was always something interesting on the bookshelves.
One day, when I was about eight years old, I found a book called "A Child's History of the World," which was published around 1920. It was mostly about kings and wars, but it began with a few pages about evolution. According to the author, scientists had shown that life began with simple organisms and that more complex animals evolved, leading to the emergence of humans—who were divided into "Aryans, Semites, and Hamites." The author suggested this test to determine which group a young reader fell into:
"If your name is Henry or Charles or William, you are probably an Aryan. If your name is Moses or Solomon, you are probably a Semite. If your name is Shufu or Rameses, you are probably a Hamite."
Although I didn't always understand the social subtext of books when I was eight years old, that particular one has stuck in my head all these years because it was so glaringly obvious that the author expected all his readers to be Aryan, and male besides. From what I've seen of other material from that period, the author's attitudes were very much in the mainstream of a racist, eugenicist, patriarchal society.
Nowadays, we're supposed to know better. But do we? Not so long ago, a small group of psychologists, whose views went almost entirely unchallenged, confidently asserted—as if it were scientific truth—that the human species once again had to be divided into arbitrary and unequal categories. Autistic. Asperger. And "the rest of us."
I have to wonder what the children who find today's books in the moldy basements of the future will think of our society.