What’s So Funny About Wikileaks and Autism?

Caitlin Wray’s essay Be the Change: How to Shift Autism into the Mainstream appeared in this space last August, opening with her declaration that “I have a neighbour who can’t say ‘autism.’” We were then introduced to Caitlin’s neighbor. They had recently had a chat on the lawn, and as two mothers of young children will do, they spoke, or tried to speak, about their kids.

I must have hit at least three occasions in our conversation where I tried to say “autism” but she saw it coming, and cut me off at every pass. She replaced it with “I see.” Where I said “I’ve been homeschooling because the school wasn’t prepared to work with Simon’s au-,” “I see, I see,” she interjected hastily. She also replaced it with “oh yeah” as in “We don’t feel Simon needs to be cured of his au-” “Oh yeah, yeah” she interrupted me nervously. Awkward silences and fidgeting ensued.

You almost have to read Caitlin’s entire description in order to believe it.  From a certain distance, this woman’s antics might be quite entertaining, and while Caitlin certainly managed to make lemonade out of her neighbor’s lemons, it’s hard to know whether to be amused or depressed by the whole thing.  We all know scores of people who deny the presence and reality of autism, perhaps not so literally in clear-cut cases such as with Caitlin’s son, but definitely in more insidious ways all across the spectrum, and certainly in terms of how that spectrum extends back across history, and remains woven into society.  Autism has been here all along – both more close-by and more far-flung than we think.

But then this is how most humans react – with denial – apparently, when that which has been “hidden” in plain sight all over the land suddenly shows up in the neighbor’s backyard, or in polite conversation – or on the teevy news shows.  Given that this entry is fourth in a series that examines parallels between the public dramas of Wikileaks and Autism, by hidden in plain sight I mean the unrecognized capabilities inherent in file-sharing technology and the people involved in the recent diplomatic cable leak (they’d been there “all along,” for several years at least), and also the unrecognized capabilities for meaningful autistic life lived within the context of loving families, lives capable not only of facing the public world but contributing to it, often to a disproportinate extent.

“… both depressing and amusing” at any rate was how Techdirt’s Mike Masnick described the scene as last month’s Wikileaks drama wound down for a Christmas break, his having watched “the federal government react to Wikileaks with some of the dumbest policy decisions possible.”  Just for an exercise in compare and contrast with Caitlin’s Very Determined Neighbor, let’s look at some of the stories Masnick had posted over the previous three weeks:

State Department Telling Students Who Apply For Jobs That If They Mention Wikileaks On Twitter, They Won’t Be Hired

How Denial Works: Library Of Congress Blocks Wikileaks

The More Some Try To Kill Wikileaks, The More It Spreads

State Department, Once Again, Asks Wikileaks To ‘Return’ Leaked Cables

How Political Pundits Get Confused When They Don’t Understand That Wikileaks Is Distributed

Click on any one of the above.  Masnick’s concise, with a sharp eye for comedic absurdity; he won’t waste your time. In the post from December 21 in which he makes the “both depressing and amusing” remark, he writes

According to some reports, the federal government is reaching out to security firms to see if they can build a system to block all access to Wikileaks content from within the federal government’s computer system. One company asked about this notes that it’s different than what they normally do, which is focused on keeping documents in a network (too late for that), rather than architecting a system to keep documents out.

The family I grew up in was one generation away from a dairy and horse farm, and a phrase I heard a lot as a child was, “No sense closing the barn door after the horse has got out.”

In the interest then of being concise, maybe the best I can do for now is to suggest that autism may or not be a horse, but still … how you gonna keep a file down on the farm once it’s seen all them bright lights, found its own kind reflected in a mirror server, and danced in heels fire engine red on a tabletop ringed with awestruck, gape-jawed bittorrent trackers?  That’s one filly who won’t be returning to the barn … and likewise with us once mute, inglorious autistics whose network has grown along with the internet, bootstrapping ourselves into self-aware communities, discovering the strength in numbers which most everyone else has always been able to take for granted.

It’s worth mentioning too that all of the panic and hysteria back in December that drove the bureaucrats and pundits to call for measures as extreme as assassination for the demon Assange has now been walked back (here, here, and here; not that they’re not still after Julian, it’s just that he’s no longer being openly demonized).  It turns out the leaked diplomatic cables have presented no such threats to life, limb, or national security as had been claimed with dire assurances by many, many, Very Serious People.  We autistics of course have kept our arms crossed and our feet tapping impatiently, but have yet enjoyed only an unconvincing, grudging walkback of the demonization of autism from many Very Serious People within and without the autism community.  All while the panic, hysteria, and stigma remain.

For my money political blogger Michael J. Smith called this one correctly early on, back at the beginning of December.  I want to quote what he had to say there so that it can be read here in the context of neurodiversity and the relationship between autistics and society.

So: if the material that Wiki has Leaked is so anodyne — why are our lords and masters so furious about it becoming public? Are they just faking it? For some super-crafty reason of their own?

I don’t think so. I think they’re really pissed. And it’s not because the material in itself is so explosive. No. It’s just because they’ve been disobeyed.

Being obeyed is just the thing they must have. After all, there are more of us than there are of them. So docility, fearfulness, and compliance on our part is indispensable to our rulers. If they say something is secret, it must stay secret. If they say we have to take off our shoes, we have to take off our shoes.

My man Assange has shown them that it’s not so easy to control the horizontal, and the vertical. Bless him, and long may he live to drive them insane.

If they say something is shameful, a tragedy, pathological, it must stay shameful, a tragedy, pathological, never-to-be-spoken-of.  If they say we must look them in the eye, we must look them in the eye.  And so on.  All the more I can add is to ask you to go back and read Caitlin’s essay in its entirety – or at least her closing thoughts, which are themselves an encouragement to disobedience:

Every misunderstood, marginalized, oppressed group of people throughout history has faced this same challenge.  Stereotypes, fear, and pity suffocated them, demoralized them.  The reality is that nothing changes, until enough people join the rebellion.  And for those at the forefront of the movement, they risk losing the security of their child’s relative neurological anonymity, in order to secure a better future for our children collectively.

Ultimately, society cannot free our children from a cage of stigma.  Only we can do that.  We need to reject the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach and foster a movement that shifts autism into the mainstream.  And the only real way to do that—to achieve complete equality, complete awareness, and complete respect for our kids—is to be brave enough to say “autism” without the slightest hint of regret in our voice.

We need to say it first.  We need to say it loud.  We need to say it often.

It’s the only way.

related:  Be the Change: How to Shift Autism into the Mainstream

related (discussion in comments):  Allen Frances gave us the Asperger’s “epidemic” — just like Al Gore gave us the Internet

related: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

related:  Did the Autistic Cohort Beget Wikileaks?

on 01/28/11 in featured, Internet | 4 Comments | Read More

Comments (4)


  1. Casdok says:

    And i say it with pride.

  2. Gwen McKay says:

    I suppose the closest historical parallel would be the invention of the printing press, which was soon followed by the splintering of Christendom and empire into small nations and denominations. It wasn’t nearly as easy for the ruling powers to burn heretics and hang dissidents when anyone could secretly post handbills all over town in the dark of night.

  3. Mark Stairwalt says:

    Maybe not by intention, Gwen, but you’ve put your finger on at least part of the reason net neutrality news is showing up in the sidebar.

  4. the kid says:

    I can cure autism. Yes, cure. As if it were a sore throat. The US government has known for decades, I am only recently piecing together the answers as a kind of distraction, abstraction, or delineation from the real work and research I’m doing at the moment. Suffice it to say, I should be able to effectively cure much more serious conditions within the next ten days. But I won’t tantalize you with the details, or who I really am. Call me the electric superman for all I care. Follow the thread until it all unravels, there you’ll find me.

    Pseudomonas fluorescens. It will eat the disease like a cancer, and after, once it has ravened all source of rivalry, it will die out or remain dormant, benign. Trust me, or don’t, if it matters. It doesn’t. Merck knows by now what I found, I’ll be dead before Xmas. Unless I’m as good as I say, in which case I’ll be unwrapping my presents early this year, a day before my birthday, the 18th of this month. Nine eighteen. A microcosm of the problem itself. 18, 36, 54, 72, 90. Seeing the pattern? Now add it all up, notice you have no repeating integers, and all numbers accounted for. It’s called Sigma. Threnody of all wave translation, gravesite of idea. But like all wicked things, it also provides the essential fertilizer to offer the hope of new growth.

    Now, consider that an electron is 1836x less massive than a proton, yet they exhibit the same charge. Ampere died in 1836, the founder of our modern conception of electric current. The same year, the first induction coil was invented. This device made it possible to bring electricity to every corner of the world. To this day, the Devil’s still in the walls. But don’t worry, I know something he doesn’t. And I can send us all back to the dark ages whenever I like. But, just like now, I’m waiting for the right time. I want to be stopped. But I also see the order in the numbers, so it makes no difference. Either a thing happens or it doesn’t. Everything is 50/50. There is no probability. The chance of rolling a 6 on a 6 sided die is not 1 from 6, it’s 3 from 6. Half of all possible outcome. That’s the reality we live in. Everything is either have, or summarily halved. Half-life. Yours, my own, cesium, even echovirus; we’re all refractions from the same point of light. So tell me, where did the 5 sided star come from? That isn’t how light works, ya know. Did we just invent it? For what purpose? The founding fathers were fools like the rest of us, they saw the keystone as simple implementation, never the symbol, or the terrible weight it represented. The burden of excellence, knowing all the world’s secrets and how you’ve fought to keep it that way, to make it harder for each successive generation. But that’s why I’m giving it back, and that’s why I’m writing you. Someone has to know, when the record passes down. Is there no help for the widow’s son? I hear ya, Hiram, you’re coming in loud and clear. But you’re gonna die all the same, whether it’s today, with angle, compass and a dagger in the back, or dead in the trenches when it all hits the shit.

    Ask Julian what it all means. He’ll only scoff, pretentious pricksore he is. He has no idea. Why do you think governments have been so forthcoming with their supposed UFO files lately? Because there’s nothing there. They don’t know any better than the rest of us, but they allow us to believe differently because it keeps our fears and suspicions busy. Like Obama’s birth certificate, haha. What a delightful ploy. Devious timing, no doubt. People are hopelessly blind to the real issues, because we’ve got you all in blinders. You see straight ahead, or only to the periphery, you don’t saccade, because that’s when they know you’re crazy. See the abstraction fixed to the specific, go about it the inverse. You might just find you’re not so crazy after all, or that autism is only a figment we’ve all helped make real. Some more than others. But here I am, like the first snake trainer ever to get nicked with a bit of his own venom. Either way, having felt what it was like to have the blinders on again, I can see more clearly than ever before. They’ll send me back into coma for years next time if they read this, good thing I’ve got at least 20 virtual machine mirrors running. Yep, you’re that important. Oh, don’t worry. It had to be someone is all, and you’re just as good as anyone. You care about the truth, that’s enough.

    But I’ve bored you enough. You may still be senseless for the time being, but if a cure isn’t the fix you’re looking for, you can always peel back the itch and blinders a bit with a trickier little treatment to see the forest apart the trees. Stuff’s been around for years, mostly harmless, an old drug the insiders kept quiet to a number of unapproved uses. Called Diamox. Senseless, but maybe not so tasteless. It’s a start. Just remember the water. Two thirds want you dead, but the water will always sustain. Hades, Zeus, Poseidon. Three realms. Three dominions. Earth, Ether, Water. Everything is 50/50 till you find Sigma. Find him. I hear he still moves on the face of the waves.

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