Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Culture and Happiness

I've been reading an interesting discussion on the blog A Grand Illusion, which began by asking what's wrong with wanting a cure if someone feels that they can't do what they want to do because of their autism. A commenter posted a snarky reply along the lines of "get over yourself, there are plenty of starving peasants living in huts who are much worse off than you." By way of rebuttal, the next few posts had to do with indigenous cultures and how happiness is perceived in different places across the world. Global surveys asking people to rate their level of happiness have shown that peasants living in dung huts in isolated villages feel significantly happier, on average, than the urban poor in wealthy countries.

Happiness, it seems, is more about cultural expectations than it is about material wealth in the abstract. When people feel that they have as much as the others in their society, they are happy; but when their culture dictates that they ought to have something else, they're likely to complain about whatever they don't have and to see themselves as unfairly deprived. People tend to take for granted many things that make their lives easier—such as electricity and running water—if everyone around them also has these things, and they don't feel happier because of having them. On the other hand, peasants who have never had such conveniences in their villages don't have any reason to think about it.

I would take this point even farther and say that it effectively answers not only the snarky commenter, but also the original question of why autistic people have different levels of satisfaction with their lives. There are some who feel like the urban poor in the surveys, believing that if they weren't autistic they could accomplish more in modern society. Others have an attitude more like the contented peasants, never having thought of themselves or their autistic family members as lacking anything in particular, and taking offense when those who don't share their perspective find fault with their way of life.

When people have different cultural expectations, arguing about how they ought to feel isn't likely to change anyone's point of view. As with any such differences between groups of people, it's often more useful simply to discuss what they feel without being overly judgmental about it, while working toward a more constructive mutual understanding.

Wishing a happy New Year to all!

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19 Comments:

  • I don't understand why people insist that happiness is based on what people have, rather than perception. None of the wise people of history (including most every religious founder) have ever claimed this. They have, in fact, claimed the opposite.

    Confucius said that if you seek nothing but coarse food, plain water, and a bent arm for a pillow, you will be happy.

    Buddha said that life is suffering, and the origin of that suffering is desire.

    Then there is Jean Paul and Weltschmerz, Jesus and his attitidue during his ministry, the name Lao Tzu (which means "the grand old boy" and is a reference to his wisdom and demeanor), and many others.

    This is completely logical and, if most people would examine their lives dispassionately, they'd find it to be true. I don't know why people don't recognize the importance of this sort of wisdom.

    By Blogger Four Tael, at 1:27 PM  

  • I agree that Happiness is a perceived state of being.

    I do not believe that it really has to do with Geological settings, (once all basic needs have been met first, ie. food, clothing, shelter, and health) as much as it has to do with personal preference.

    Even with cultural expectations, happiness varies from person to person.


    It all comes down to belief though; how much happiness YOU believe you can have in your life. The circumstances around you matter not.

    By Anonymous Cate, at 9:48 PM  

  • As far as I'm concerned, the main thing that's "wrong" with wanting a cure (for yourself or anyone else) is that...there isn't one. And there probably won't be one any time soon. So we're here to stay. And pathologizing us isn't going to make our lives any easier. Quite the contrary.

    I had a very late DX, and I can't even get SSI. I'm too "high functioning," which basically is code for being capable of working some sort of job if I have accommodations. But what if the job with accommodations goes away? At my age (46), this is no idle concern; I work in a dying industry, in a telecommuting position, and every job I've ever had that was out in public, I've gotten in huge trouble with my bosses for what in retrospect were obvious autistic behaviors. I could very well be stranded with no job and no healthcare some time very soon; even nonautistic people 45 and up have a hard time finding work with bennies, let alone autistic ones.

    And yeah, I have trouble making meatspace friends. And I didn't have a good primary relationship until I was in my 40s. I have no career to speak of, hardly any money, and no kids, which basically translates to most of my peers as "corroded."

    So you'd think I too would be pining for a cure, right? So more people would like me? Well, let me put it this way. I'm also fat, and when people asked me if I'd take a pill to make myself thin if one existed, my standard answer is, "That depends, what else would it do to me?" Because every pill or diet or surgery that's ever been touted as a "cure" for fat does something else to you, and so does every so-called "cure" for autism that exists now. I don't see much evidence that any proported new "cures" that were ballyhooed from here on out would not be equally risky and/or unpleasant.

    The stuff Keil is talking about is discrimination, which sucks rocks, and it's natural to wish it wasn't happening to you. I do too. I'm just not sure where she gets the idea that we who get later DXes don't experience discrimination like she does -- because boy, we have for decades, and we didn't even know what was happening to us.

    By Anonymous Meowser, at 9:52 PM  

  • I know I don't take modern conveniences for granted. I've seen real, old-fashioned outhouses, (my grandfather still had one on his farm, no way I was using that!), I've seen porta-potties at work sites and concerts, nope, not for me. Even when I was the poorest, had a little studio in Oakland, I was appreciative of the fact that I had hot and cold running water, sinks in the kitchen and bathroom, could take a bath or shower as I pleased, had a stove and refrigerator for food, had electricity, and that most necessary luxury, toilet paper!

    It comforted me to know that, as poor as I was, many of the richest Kings of England (and all of Europe), had had to do without these wonderful things that most people now take for granted.

    Those who never saw or heard of such things, the lack of them doesn't make them unhappy. This is one way that "ignorance is bliss".

    By Blogger Clay, at 6:26 PM  

  • Having read Meowser's comment here I got the impression that this is a person who has considerable intelligence, wisdom and maturity. Why should such a person fear unemployment? I can think of 2 possible explanations - anti-autistic prejudice and/or living in a place that has a poor economy. I live in one of the regions of Australia that have vibrant economys due to mining. I can't believe the idiots and crooks who have jobs here, and the place is full of working migrants.

    It makes me sad when I read about people in the US who fear losing health care insurance when they lose their job. In Australia we have universal health care coverage. There can be bad waiting lists, but you wont go broke paying medical bills. We have had this scheme since the 1970s. It's time that you Americans caught up.

    I agree up to a point with the idea that happiness is relative, but it is hard to be happy when you can't afford or access medical or dental care that you need. There are times when one has to make the decision to step out of an economic or social situation in which one can't thrive, and search for something better, or change the way things are where you are.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 10:17 PM  

  • Someone has been trying to guilt me into supporting Neurodiversity by reminding me that there are starving people in Ethiopia: that is how this started.

    By Blogger Stephanie Lynn Keil, at 8:53 AM  

  • "The stuff Keil is talking about is discrimination, which sucks rocks, and it's natural to wish it wasn't happening to you. I do too. I'm just not sure where she gets the idea that we who get later DXes don't experience discrimination like she does -- because boy, we have for decades, and we didn't even know what was happening to us."

    I don't know what you're talking about. I don't experience much "discrimination" at all. I can't hold a job (and whatever) because I have autism not because I'm being discriminated against. I had a job once and got fired, not because I had autism (and my boss knew I did) but because I couldn't perform the job tasks because of my autism. I had accommodations and whatnot but I still couldn't hold a job. I'm not discriminated against because of any disability I have. I just can never figure out what "discrimination" all of you are talking about because I have never really experienced it.

    "In Australia we have universal health care coverage. There can be bad waiting lists, but you wont go broke paying medical bills. We have had this scheme since the 1970s. It's time that you Americans caught up."

    The US does have universal health care: it's called Medicaid. I have it and yes, the waiting lists are years and the health care is poor. You have to be poor in order to receive it and I believe that everyone who qualifies for SSI gets it. No good doctor wants to accept Medicaid because the pay is very low and the paper work is atrocious so most do not. Plus, why work for the government and make very little when you can work in private practice and actually make an excellent profit?

    By Blogger Stephanie Lynn Keil, at 9:04 AM  

  • Stephanie, I'm not going to tell you that you're not experiencing what you're experiencing; that's not where I'm coming from. Where I am coming from is to tell you that if you're under the impression that those of us who are not focused on cure think this way because we have such easy lives, that's certainly not the case.

    I just gave you a pretty good laundry list of the difficulties I face; maybe you think that's nothing, but I sure don't. I doubt I'd do any better in a job working out in public than you have, because every job where I've had to be out in public has turned into a disaster. And if I'm forced into trying and trying and trying to hold that kind of job again -- which I likely would be if this work dried up, because social services tend to think that if I've worked before at all it should be a piece of cake to just suck it up and deal, so no bennies for me -- I'm facing a very scary future indeed.

    And when I was growing up, all I ever GOT was criticism for not trying hard enough. Being hyperlexic (a condition that, like Asperger's, was not recognized in my youth) and labeled "gifted" was way more trouble than it was worth; I'd rather, by far, that they had expected less of me rather than more. I truly believe that the stress of having my reality denied for decades made me physically ill, broke my endocrine system irreparably. (I've already gone bald from it, and according to my doctors, will probably never have a full head of hair again. And yes, I'm female.)

    I don't intend to argue with anyone about whether we should be cured, because it's a little like arguing over whether there should be little pink gnomes that do all our laundry. (What if they wash my sweaters in hot water?) They've never managed to "cure" any other neurological condition that has attained bugaboo du jour status, what on earth makes anyone think they can "cure" this one?

    By Anonymous Meowser, at 11:41 PM  

  • Stephanie Lynn Leil wrote:

    "The US does have universal health care: it's called Medicaid. I have it and yes, the waiting lists are years and the health care is poor. You have to be poor in order to receive it and I believe that everyone who qualifies for SSI gets it. No good doctor wants to accept Medicaid because the pay is very low and the paper work is atrocious so most do not. Plus, why work for the government and make very little when you can work in private practice and actually make an excellent profit?"

    This is all very different to the system that we have had in Australia for decades. You don't need to be poor to access Medicare here, because it actually is universal coverage for all Australians. People on a very high income are coerced thru our tax system to get private cover, but as far as I know that does not exclude them from public hospitals, which are the tertiary care hospitals here. Medical bankruptcies are not a phenomenon that you see in Australia, but I believe it happens in the US.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 1:29 AM  

  • I don't experience much "discrimination" at all. I can't hold a job (and whatever) because I have autism not because I'm being discriminated against.

    Stephanie, that entire quote is right off base. If one can't get a job because of Autism - that is exactly what discrimination IS!! Denial of a right because of a recognised "medical" condition. A job is a right.

    I back Lili's comments about the vast difference between Medicare in Australia and Medicaid in the US. Medicaid is hard to get, and it also depends on availability. If there's no money left in the Medicaid budget, that's it. This does not happen in Australia. Everyone gets the health care they are entitled to. Yes, waiting lists can be long - but it's better than getting no health care at all because you've got enough money to not qualify for Medicaid, but not enough for private insurance. America relies on their private system almost exclusively - and therein lies the problem.

    By Blogger Timelord, at 7:13 AM  

  • I both agree and disagree. First are my disagreements.

    The sentiments discussed in this post are not universal for Africa. Africa is in the process of developing economically and urbanizing, and many of Africa's rural youth are fleeing peasant villages to live in the cities because that is where the opportunities are. Africans, in general, have little experience with Western living standards and are perfectly capable of enjoying various aspects of their lives. That isn't stopping them from aspiring to those living standards. Nowadays, many people who have been deaf and have lived in the Deaf community all their lives are lining up for cochlear implants. They were fully functioning members of society while deaf. They loved their sign language, and they were surrounded by Deaf people who shared their experiences and perspectives. But they wanted more nonetheless.

    Happiness is not a one-size-fits-all formula, and that's the point being raised here. I agree 100%. The problem that I have with this line of reasoning is that some people use this to shame people who aspire to things in life other than what has been offered them. I refer again to people with cochlear implants. Deaf culturalists often shun people with cochlear implants because they weren't content with what was offered to them (the "birthright of silence.") They wanted to experience sound as well as silence and to interact with the whole world, not just the Deaf world.

    In addition, like Cate said, there are some conditions under which there is no contentment. For example, there can be no contentment without basic needs and rights. I've lived without food and heat (in December in New Hampshire!) and when you're in a situation like that, you are suffering, and you can't focus on anything else. I also couldn't be content without, for example, freedom of speech. I'd be in a state of constant fear and frustration.

    For for my agreement:

    Happiness IS in the eyes of the beholder. For example, you are strapped for cash and decide to take on the night shift at your workplace to get the differential pay. If you are an extroverted early bird, the night shift is exhausting, lonely, and a nightmare. However, if you are an introverted night owl, it will probably be a dream come true. In fact, for a lot of these people, working the night shift is one of the few vocational options for which being a night owl and an introvert is socially acceptable or even desired. Never mind that you get paid better for it.

    Another example. Most people aspire to have sex at some point in their lives, or at least to have that first kiss, because it feels good to most people. However, I do not aspire to either of those things because I dislike physical contact and because expressing emotions is hard for me, especially through physical means. While others like relatioships with lots of cuddling, kissing, etc. I prefer a relationship with a person with a stronger sense of boundaries and alternative means of expressing emotion.

    So I see both sides.

    And no, there is nothing wrong with wanting a cure. The key word here is want. No one should have a cure that does not want one, but it's wrong to deny people who DO want a cure the choice to use it. That is, if a cure is ever developed.

    By Anonymous Adrianna, at 12:20 AM  

  • Adrianna, with all due respect - it's wrong to want a cure when it's impossible, and proven to be so.

    By Blogger Timelord, at 4:55 AM  

  • "it's wrong to want a cure when it's impossible, and proven to be so."

    Why is it wrong? Do people not have the right to feel what they will, especially about their own condition? Don't people with autism who want a cure have the right to advocate for themselves?

    If we were talking about parents raising autistic children, then I would agree. Wanting a cure is a normal part of the grieving process at first, but after a period of time, you need to reach the point of acceptance. If parents wait forever for a cure, that takes away valuable time and effort from helping your child succeed as they are. If you pine away day after day for a child that you will never have, then you need tore-examine your priorities as a parent. To care for a child and love a child as thtey are, or a designer child.

    Also, if people who want a cure for autism start speaking for everyone with autism, that is wrong as well. IF you have the ability to communicate, YOU can to speak for yourself. Don't let other autistics or autism organizations speak for you.

    By Anonymous Adrianna, at 10:52 AM  

  • "Also, if people who want a cure for autism start speaking for everyone with autism, that is wrong as well."

    You might want to tell the likes of Crosby and Mitchell that. And Age of Autism. And Autism Speaks.

    Because bloody none of those fuckers actually listen to those of us who don't want cure but would rather have acceptance!

    By Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E., at 8:06 PM  

  • "You might want to tell the likes of Crosby and Mitchell that. And Age of Autism. And Autism Speaks.

    Because bloody none of those fuckers actually listen to those of us who don't want cure but would rather have acceptance!"

    As a matter of fact, I am a regular commenter on Autism's Gadfly and Facing Autism in New Brunswick and I have made it abundantly clear that I am from the Neurodiversity camp.

    I'm sympathetic to the pro (consentual) cure position, but even I can't stand a lot of the comments there. I won't rehash every comment I read on those blogs that I found objectionable. There are too many.

    I only wish two things. Number one, if someone is happy about the presence of autism in their lives, they need to respect that. Instead, they get furious at the thought of an autistic person being happy with their lives as they are and try to argue with you about it. They try to convince you, basically, that you are either secretly miserable or not autistic. I don't tell them how to perceive or treat autism. I expect the same courtesy.

    Second, I wish Jonathan Mitchell would stop claiming that the vast majority of autistics would like a cure. Who knows? It might very well be true. But he can't prove that and if he can't do that, he ought not to treat it like a fact.

    By Anonymous Adrianna, at 10:48 PM  

  • Why is it wrong? Do people not have the right to feel what they will, especially about their own condition? Don't people with autism who want a cure have the right to advocate for themselves?

    It's wrong because - like you said about the kids - it holds them back. They'll never get a cure, so they are wasting their lives doing something they'll never get. Worse - wanting a cure has an adverse effect on the provision of services for those who don't. That is, less of a demand - if you follow what I'm saying.

    I wish Jonathan Mitchell would stop claiming that the vast majority of autistics would like a cure.

    He won't. He is consumed with hate for the condition - and that came from his upbringing (and I can prove that to be true as well). You will find, Adrianna, that the vast majority who want a cure want it because they have learnt to hate themselves and the Autism they have.

    A big thing to unlearn.

    By Blogger Timelord, at 6:38 AM  

  • "I am a regular commenter on Autism's Gadfly and Facing Autism in New Brunswick and I have made it abundantly clear that I am from the Neurodiversity camp."

    Good to hear. I can't get on because he hates me for being blunt with him. Which the bollocks richly deserves!

    "I wish Jonathan Mitchell would stop claiming that the vast majority of autistics would like a cure."

    So do I.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E., at 9:19 AM  

  • That's a good post, abfh. Thanks.

    (Yeah, I'm late. And yeah, there are other issues in the comments now. But I just wanted to say that's a good post. :P)

    By Anonymous evonne, at 12:29 PM  

  • That comment made me roll on the floor laughing. I mean, of course I support neurodiversity, but attacking somebody and calling them "ungrateful" only makes them more oppositional. It is an ethical fallacy that many parents love to shame their bratty kids with.

    I usually just stay away from these depressing blogs, because there is nothing I can do to change the attitude of an autistic person on the internet. If some people want to be miserable with their lives because they are autistic, so be it. It is not my problem.

    I do encourage my real-life autistic friends to be more accepting of themselves, knowing how much progress I have made since I learned about neurodiversity. Once a child learns that s/he is autistic, and realizes it has to do with his/her personality, most of the time s/he will feel offended if a cure is promoted right in front of his/her face. "I like myself the way I am," I thought. Did not know what ND was until a year later.

    By Blogger Catatab_Tabimount, at 4:32 PM  

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