Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ghost Dance

Ghost Dance

The Native American tribes of the Northern Plains, forced onto reservations and near starving in 1890, were drawn in large numbers to a new religion called the Ghost Dance. Led by the shaman Wovoka, this mystical cult sought through ritual dancing to bring about a magical restoration of the world that they once had known. If they performed the dance with a pure heart, Wovoka assured them, it would bring their ancestors' ghosts back to life and bring the great herds of buffalo back to the plains.

The Ghost Dance soon lost its popularity with the tribes when no restoration happened. The buffalo remained on the verge of extinction for many years, and the families on the reservations continued to live in poverty. The tribes lost much of their history and culture when large numbers of children were taken away to boarding schools to learn English and to become assimilated into an America where their skin color would always mark them as second-class citizens.

Now, over a century later, the world we live in bears little resemblance to the one that the Ghost Dance believers sought to restore. Buffalo herds are no longer a rare sight, thanks to bison conservation efforts and commercial ranching, but they no longer have the cultural significance that they had when the tribes relied on hunting for survival. And while a modern lifestyle of burgers and fries, pickup trucks, paychecks and mortgages does indeed have some advantages in that most people nowadays don't have to hunt anything to put food on the table, it also has its constraints. In today's world, we almost never look out over wide-open landscapes, breathe in the magic of a new day and feel confident that the Earth will provide for our needs. We just stop at the local burger joint for a take-out meal.

Sometimes I feel like a ghost blogger, sending forth my words to dance on glowing screens in the hope of restoring a world that has been altered irrevocably. When I write about autistic people and our way of life, I have in mind a social minority culture that existed long before today's labels and diagnostic categories. This culture, the one in which I grew up, strongly encouraged a love of learning and of the natural world. Passionate interests were often discussed at length, not stigmatized as symptoms of an unfortunate disorder. Like the tribespeople when the buffalo still roamed the plains, we felt an almost mystical confidence that there would be a place for us in the world.

This is not, however, the existence that many of our young people know. Like the conquered tribes struggling to survive on the reservations, their natural way of life has been taken from them, forcibly suppressed and branded inferior. Many autistic students attend segregated schools where, like the Native American children in the boarding schools, they are taught that they must change almost everything about themselves before the majority population will grudgingly tolerate their presence.

At some point in the future, mainstream society's greater awareness of autistic differences can be expected to have more positive outcomes. Schools and workplaces will adapt to accommodate our needs. As with other minority groups, our diversity will be accepted and our contributions to society valued. Our right to self-determination will be protected. Our culture and way of life will be recognized as legitimate.

And yet, when this happens, we will no longer be the same people.

Crossposted to Shift Journal.



  • I don't agree with that last sentence, ABFH, for one simple reason. Our ability to change is limited - severely limited. We will always be who we are. The Autistic culture has done many positive things already (the genius's who have provided the advances in industry - you know, Einstein et al) so it won't disappear like it largely has for the Native Americans.

    In Australia, the Aborigines are in a similar spot but they have retained their culture with huge amounts of determination. I think the fact that they are acclimatised to deserts (which we have a lot of) has given them the room that Native Americans never got. So it can be done. Yes, the Aborigines are still struggling for equality much like we are despite many advances (you may be able to say the same for the Native Americans) - but not much has changed for the Aborigines.

    It may be too late for the Native Americans, but it's not for the Aborigines. I don't believe for one second that it's too late for us.

    Unless we let it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:47 PM  

  • In honestly you talking about Native culture and then comparing it to autistic culture makes me irritated for some reason. I don't know why.

    By Blogger Bard, at 6:48 PM  

  • I think this applies well to some few people who are members of what I might call the nerd culture. I consider myself and nerd and I can see how, in some cases, otherwise happy nerds are being labeled and asked to change. It is by no means the case, however, that all autistic folks are happy, at peace with their natural surroundings and living autonomously, as the native population of North America was when the Europeans arrived. Nor is it the case that all education designed for autistic kids is aimed at making them conform.

    Basically, I think this analogy could benefit from some more work.

    By Blogger VAB, at 6:55 PM  

  • Timelord, the Native Americans also have made great efforts to retain their culture. I'm not saying that it has disappeared, but rather that the world changed around them.

    Change isn't always a bad thing, as I mentioned in my post. Autistic culture has benefited in many ways from the rise of the Internet. We may not have changed much, if at all, in terms of neurology, but the way we relate to the world is very different.

    I don't know what sort of world our descendants will inhabit a century from now, but I expect that their way of life will be much changed, in ways we can't imagine.

    By Blogger abfh, at 7:00 PM  

  • Nightstorm and VAB: There are indeed many differences in how autistic people experience the modern world, and I am not suggesting that what I have described in this post is true for everyone or that it is the most common view. To the contrary, my perspective seems to be in the minority and likely to become more so, hence the title Ghost Dance.

    By Blogger abfh, at 7:17 PM  

  • Honestly I think your white privilege is showing if you can relate to the native peoples in North America.

    By Blogger Bard, at 7:58 PM  

  • I think that's a rather presumptuous comment, NightStorm, considering that you regularly write first-person stories about native characters whose experiences are very different from yours. Besides, my main point is that the Ghost Dance is so far back in history that there isn't a person now living who can truly relate to it.

    I don't believe I have ever discussed my ethnic background with you, either. It's generally not a good idea to make such assumptions about a person you've never met in real life.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:42 PM  

  • ABFH

    The world especially our country, the usa is becoming more and more pure competitive. This means they're playing a zero-sum game. All participants in this world system are trying to outdue each other. It's pure cutthroat these days. Guess what, all players will end up with nothing.

    I not only want us ASDs to benefit but I want all of humanity to benefit. Any dealings a person has with someone else must benefit himself and all people in the dealings or as many people as possible. This is called win-win. We need to be thinking win-win.

    We can't be selfish and we can't be selfless. They're both win-lose. We must be this third way like when jesus says love our neighbor as we do our selves. Jesus never gave it a name. I call it dynamic honesty. Win-lose and Win-Win both mathematically work out.

    By Blogger A better future for all, at 11:59 PM  

  • Change isn't always a bad thing, as I mentioned in my post. Autistic culture has benefited in many ways from the rise of the Internet. We may not have changed much, if at all, in terms of neurology, but the way we relate to the world is very different.

    Well to some on the Spectrum, ABFH, change is not on. I know - that's not always a good thing, but it's something that can't be ignored. If we accept change we would be hurting our own in that group. It creates a Catch 22 because the NT world won't change unless we meet them half way - and a lot of us (myself included) are suspicious of that offer because we can't see the end product as we don't have the instinctive foresight (so to speak).

    That's why I'm so keen to get everyone on our side of the fence out into the open with all our views out there (whether we agree with each other or not) so that those in power can get all the information there is and then react accordingly. The Internet is a tool that the indigenous populus (American and Australian) never had at the height of their issues and I'll bet most wish they had.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:32 AM  

  • It's me cubedemon by the way. My question is where is the half-way point? They have the attitude of why should we change for you? I'm going to post why they should.



    By Blogger A better future for all, at 7:58 AM  

  • Hi Cube Angel, I like your new name. On the question of change, I don't see it as a matter of choice. Time passes, change happens, in one way or another. People can choose how they want to respond when things change around them, but it's not possible to stay the same. Even groups like the Amish that reject modern technology are not going to stay completely static.

    And Timelord, I don't believe that anyone has the instinctive foresight to know the end result of social changes. There are plenty of non-autistic people who resist the idea of neurodiversity because they're afraid of what might be different about their lives if they had to work with autistics, etc. I think it's just a false stereotype that autistics can't deal with change, but the rest of the world can.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:51 AM  

  • Well, we'll have to agree to disagree on that one, ABFH, because those in the NT world who refuse the change are increasing in numbers. The Good Ole Boys are a great example of this. They seem to think that the change that has happened is bad and they want things to go back to the way they were - and if enough people want that, it'll happen.

    That's why we have to fight them to make them change. To be more accepting. The Internet has made the world a much smaller place and makes people see other cultures (I mean those in other countries, not the Autistic culture - although of course it counts). I've always believed that Australia is the closest example of a working multiculture IRL of any in the world. That of course doen't mean we don't have problems (India is a great example in my region at present). But we seem to have less than certainly the US.

    That's partly why whenever the subject of the US being the best off country in the world is brought up, I'll debate it. Especially when it comes to multiculture, economics and sure as heck health care! I'm not saying you did that, I'm just making the general observation in relation to the topic at hand.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:52 PM  

  • Timelord, I'm not sure we actually disagree all that much. When I said that I don't believe anyone can successfully resist change, I was also referring to the anti-neurodiversity bigots. I expect they'll end up much changed, too, whether they like it or not.

    By Blogger abfh, at 5:13 PM  

  • I think that's a rather presumptuous comment, NightStorm, considering that you regularly write first-person stories about native characters whose experiences are very different from yours.


    Yes fantastic culture from a television series is just like natives here. Cuz Inuit people totally manipulate water ride hybrid deer-horses and worship koi fish. I mention a dozen times Tikaani is a fan-character from a television series.

    Note that my fiction with my characters isn't about their "native-ness" or whatever, but character being an autist himself. I could write him being a white real world male (Like my boys Wilson and Ollie) and his stories will still be the same. So in that point, Tikaani's experience as an autist is like mine. I am not writing him struggling as native (which he really isn't he's Water Tribe which takes notes from Chinese and Inuit culture hell even Western if you watch the show) but as autist feeling foreign in his own culture which I am sure many autist here can feel.

    But nice straw-man ABFH I knew you're gonna bring that up LOL 8D

    But maybe you are a real native person living on res some where and you totally understand the Native American experience to make accurate allegory the autistic culture. You're I assumed too much, but I see the same shit from privileged white autistic men who think that their "obsession" is the same is the black males in the sixties. Or straight autists making comparisons to the Gay rights movement. It bugs me and though I get your point I just wished you you would have used something that isn't racially charged.

    But continue to use my fantastic character from culture in a made-up universe in argument against me, it's hilarious. 8D

    By Blogger Bard, at 5:59 PM  

  • http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Water_Tribe

    Also for reference, Tikaani's culture.

    By Blogger Bard, at 6:12 PM  

  • abfh, will you look at my new blog when you ever have time?

    By Blogger A better future for all, at 6:36 PM  

  • By the way, I'm staying out of all the fighting with best and the rest of them. I decompensate too easily. I'm going to concentrate on more positve stuff.

    I let my anger consume me. This is why I had to delete my previous blog.

    By Blogger A better future for all, at 6:45 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Kent Adams, at 8:54 PM  

  • This is gorgeous and heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    By Blogger Muser Grace, at 9:33 PM  

  • Kent, I'm well aware that you can't relate to my experiences. That's fine, I don't expect you to agree with what I have to say, but I also don't have to put up with you repeatedly cursing at Nightstorm and me just because you do not agree with either of us.

    Consider yourself and all your Anonymouses banned.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:35 PM  

  • Nightstorm, you're missing the point if you think this blog entry is about race. I could have written a very similar post about any other cult, from any part of the world, that tried to magically restore a golden age. There have been many of them, and what I'm saying in this post is that the world always changes, no matter how much people may try to hold on to what they once knew.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:46 PM  

  • then I guess I missed the point then however my note about not using something that is racially charged as the plight of natives still stands.

    By Blogger Bard, at 10:55 PM  

  • Fair enough. We'll just have to disagree on that point, then. I believe that history belongs to the world and that past events are not the exclusive property of any particular tribe, race, nationality, et cetera.

    By Blogger abfh, at 11:42 PM  

  • @The Muser: Much appreciated -- glad you enjoyed reading!

    By Blogger abfh, at 11:47 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Kent Adams, at 6:21 PM  

  • Kent, when I asked you what you thought we should do to help Jamey, you admitted that you didn't know.

    Right. Because there's nothing we can do to help him.

    You're only using him to rub our noses in, try to make us feel guilty that we can speak, don't wear diapers, etc.

    You don't have any solutions for Jamey, and you sure as hell don't have any solutions for the rest of us. You're just an arrogant pisspot who thinks he knows better than everyone else.

    By Blogger Clay, at 7:50 PM  

  • @VAB: "Nor is it the case that all education designed for autistic kids is aimed at making them conform."
    You are right that it is true that education for autistic students isn't all based on forcing them to conform to non-autistic standards. However, it is, in a lot of cases, considered perfectly acceptable to force autistic kids into programs designed to make them conform to non-autistic standards. In almost all of these cases, it is even considered a part of their education. When I was in elementary school, I was often taken out of the classroom to attend these speech and social skills classes during class time. Not only did that make me an object of bullying from my peers, but I could sense the feeling from the adults around me that it was perfectly all right for me because I was different in a bad way. It is also in my IEP that because I am autistic, if I attend disability-specific summer programs, especially those aimed at behavior and social skills, they will be paid for by the school district as an extended school year. As a result, I spent three horrible summers at this camp called Stepping Stone. It is now called Hi-Step (click on the link to read more about it) and I hate that they changed the fucking name. As a result of my going to that camp, I have emotional scars from my being forced to go to a camp that I hated, being physically forced to make eye contact, having to stay in a room where it was too loud to make me "less sensitive," and from being insulted and told that I was "weird" because of my talking about my interests. I was even told, at one point, that I wouldn't have to be ashamed of my being autistic if I acted more normal. And yes, VAB, it was considered perfectly all right and educational because I was autistic. Rant over.

    By Blogger TheWiredOne, at 8:48 PM  

  • Clay, I appreciate your support, but please don't respond to comments by people who are banned (the others are John Best and Billy the Lurker) because I'm just going to delete them.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:08 PM  

  • Right. Sorry. Glad to see him tossed in the shitcan with the other worthless wankers.

    By Blogger Clay, at 11:22 PM  

  • Re my last comment, about "worthless wankers", sorry for getting carried away, but it's true, and fun to say. ;-)

    By Blogger Clay, at 11:29 PM  

  • I also don't have to put up with you repeatedly cursing at Nightstorm and me just because you do not agree with either of us.

    That reminds me of a few other candidates for the Phil's Award HAA award - so guess who's being added to the list!

    When I said that I don't believe anyone can successfully resist change, I was also referring to the anti-neurodiversity bigots. I expect they'll end up much changed, too, whether they like it or not.

    That's a fair comment. I guess what we need is for them to be penalised for doing what they do to us. Whether or not that happens is for another conversation I guess.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:22 AM  

  • ABFH, this is a thoughtful observation to make. And I *am* hopeful that mainstream society will learn to change and adapt to our needs, and to accept us as we are.

    I say this as someone who is actively working with retailers to get them to adapt their businesses and services for us, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. They do this not out of pity, but because they realize that what's good for us is good for everybody.

    By Anonymous aspieteach, at 12:15 PM  

  • SBWG

    Holy crap! They did all of that to you? This sounds like a gestapo or stasi type of tactic.

    I would've asked them to please define to me what normality was. I would've asked if they had proof that there was a normality.

    If you all notice people manage to say what normality is not. They can never define what it is. This goes back to orwell's essay on the politics of the english language. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

    By Blogger A better future for all, at 6:08 PM  

  • @Cube Angel: In that situation, they had everything on their side: authority, the "campers'" parents wrapped around their little fingers, and most importantly, unquestioning trust in their favor due to their being nondisabled adults working with disabled minors. In that situation, it would take nothing short of a miracle to ensure that a child/adolescent stuck in that situation could come out better.

    By Blogger TheWiredOne, at 10:22 PM  

  • nice

    By Anonymous jon, at 6:20 PM  

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