Autism In The Mirror

Comedian Glen Wool, musing on the sacking of the middle classes and treasuries of the United States and other nations by the looting class, has suggested that newspapers be divided into just two sections:  one would remain known as “the business section,” while all the rest might now be best understood as “the consequences.”

Likewise, musing on the historic changes experienced by autistics over the past two decades, I would like to suggest that on the one hand we have the advent of the internet, and on the other we have the consequences — and that those consequences are more properly termed “neurodiversity.”

I began this week at Shift with a densely packed retort to an imagined attack, and the sinking realization that I’d actually boot-strapped myself into the middle of a heated, already in-progress conversation about neurodiversity — a heated conversation I’m just not much interested in having.  If you’ve not been keeping up, Autism & Oughtisms found itself in the middle of a skirmish last week and fired off a round without declaring exactly where it was aimed.  Hearing that musket ball whizzing over my head, I loaded up and traded a couple more volleys with A&O (at one point receiving marquee billing from @drbrocktagon; thanks Jon!) before we figured out what was going on.  And not that I don’t stand behind what I said, or that we don’t disagree thoroughly on certain matters.  For that matter, so far as I can tell I don’t much agree with anyone involved in this particular set-to.

But back to the treasuries and the banksters, it’s funny, in that I’m avidly following maybe a dozen writers online, both amateurs and professionals, regarding the ongoing transfer of wealth in the world — and am spoiling for a fight when it comes to that discussion — yet when it comes to intramural skirmishes regarding how we are to define neurodiversity, what it ought or ought not include or signify, or even when it comes to more organized efforts to establish brand neurodiversity — and I am acquainted with some of these people, and think well of them — I’m just not compelled to get involved.

Though it has its precedents in the labor, women’s, civil, and gay rights movements, I do have a sense that the neurodiversity movement is a new thing under the sun.  It may well be that those attached to those earlier efforts felt the same way, and in a sense they are all the same effort, but this one to me seems to have the deepest roots, both in time and in human consciousness, and thus came the longer way than the others to bask under that metaphorical sun.  If it’s here at all, it will have its own momentum; overt, high-energy efforts either on its behalf or against it don’t seem all that relevant.

As Thelonious Monk famously said “When asked where he thinks modern jazz is going … ‘I don’t know where it’s going.  Maybe it’s going to hell.  You can’t make anything go anywhere; it just happens.'” (Which is not to say he didn’t continue playing, and influencing other players …)

Less than a decade after that interview, the autonomy of the invisible suggested there by Monk was being formally explored in the writings of James Hillman, whose archetypal psychology informed some of the more outlandish claims I made in this space last Monday.  I keep coming back to the notion that Hillman’s work and neurodiversity have some surprising parallels.  As my interest in Hillman was first piqued by seeing his writing offered up as an analog for Thelonious Monk’s music, I’m reminded that they can each be disorienting to newcomers — as evidenced by A&O’s comment to me that as an atheist, she didn’t know what to make of the religious language I was using.

Hillman does use a lot of religious imagery, though mostly that of Classical Greece rather than of Christendom, and not because he’s a believer (far from it) but because why reinvent the wheel or let your atheism get in the way when the Greeks already did most of the ethnographic work of documenting the ghosts that haunt the human mind?  The signature feature here being the plural, the pantheon, the multiplicity of ghosts, of gods, the diversity in styles of consciousness recognized and celebrated in Greek thought.  And what do we have in neurodiversity but tentative steps toward the recognition and celebration of a corresponding diversity of styles of consciousness in the modern world?  Gods as styles of consciousness is Hillman’s formulation, but note the congruence here with autistic rock star economist Tyler Cowen’s apt phrase, “autistic cognitive style.”

Despite their not being identical, that Hillman and Cowen would come to such similar formulations is at least as remarkable and as significant, I suggest, as Kanner and Asperger each arriving independently at the word “autism.”

One might even entertain the thought — an act which we forget is distinct from “believing” — that something in the world is moving autonomously to bring this language to the surface just now,  just as that very autistic cognitive style has gone and created a mirror in which to at long, long, eons-long last, see and reflect back on itself.

A mirror we know as the internet.

[image via geograph/Creative Commons]

related:  Steve Silberman/Squidalicious:  Disability rights/neurodiversity advocates should be fighting ignorance, not each other.

related:  Response to A&O’s reply re: “Cornering Slim Shady in the Round Barn” and the definition of Neurodiversity

related:  Reply to “Cornering Slim Shady in the Round Barn” re the definition of Neurodiversity

related:  Cornering Slim Shady in the Round Barn: On “Pinning Down” Neurodiversity

related:  Acceptance of Diversity within Neurodiversity (?)

on 08/19/11 in featured, Internet | No Comments | Read More

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