Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An Ass of You and Me

Originally posted August 2005

Deconstructing cultural assumptions

We have, as the saying goes, both good news and bad news. The good news is that autistic activists are making a difference; a large number of people have seen or heard something about neurodiversity in recent months. The bad news is that most of those people are still woefully clueless about the meaning of the word.

For example, I noticed a website that mentions neurodiversity and seems to have a generally favorable attitude toward it, but this is the language that the site uses: "Support groups for the mentally challenged are promoting acceptance of neurodiversity with the belief that we are all unique."

Descriptions like that remind me of those pages in children's activity books that ask, "How many things are wrong with this picture?" Let's all get out our crayons and circle the upside-down assumptions, missing logic, and misplaced sympathy.

Support groups. First of all, civil rights organizations such as
Aspies for Freedom, although they have various activities and goals, certainly are not support groups. They seek to raise awareness and to challenge prejudice and discrimination, not to provide emotional support in coping with difficulties. The unstated assumption behind the use of this phrase is that autistics and others with neurological differences are so damaged and needy that any group consisting of such people must, by its very nature, be a support group.

For. Generally speaking, minority advocacy groups are described as a group "of" the particular minority, not a group "for" them. In this context, the use of the word "for" tends to suggest that the individuals in question are incapable of advocating for themselves and must rely on someone else to speak on their behalf.

Mentally Challenged. No doubt the author, with this choice of words, was earnestly trying to be politically correct and to avoid giving offense. In so doing, the author completely missed the point. The neurodiversity movement seeks to end the separation of the human race into categories of normal and abnormal people; it's not about maintaining the status quo while finding nice bland P.C. descriptions of the latter category.

Promoting acceptance of neurodiversity with the belief that we are all unique. Well, isn't this sweet, we're all special, let's hold hands and sing the Barney song. Not!

I'm getting the distinct impression that we have a number of people out there who support a watered-down version of neurodiversity that amounts to little more than cutesy preschool platitudes. Of course, that's better than if they opposed our efforts, but it's still pretty damn useless. As Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers once said about civil rights, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

And while we're on the subject of solutions, there's a rather optimistic web page called
Neurodiversity Chain Letter which, after commenting on the difference between neurodiversity and patronizing do-gooding disability awareness, asks the reader to pass along the link to ten clueless people (the page puts it a bit more politely, but that's the general idea). It's a nice try, but frankly, we're not going to get through the thick skulls of the throngs of clueless ignoramuses by sending them an occasional link every now and again. We need to get in their faces on every discussion forum that mentions autism, flood the Internet with thousands of new activist websites, and march in autistic pride parades and civil rights demonstrations.

Quite simply put, most people are not capable of perceiving any viewpoint outside the box of their cultural assumptions unless and until it is repeatedly pounded into their heads. It's not that they have consciously decided they don't want to accept neurological minorities as their social equals; rather, their assumptions to the contrary are so firmly rooted that their minds can't even grasp the concept.

And that makes an ass of our entire society.

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