Why Shouldn’t It Be Easy For Everyone? Why Shouldn’t It Be Easy For Autistics?

Just a quick companion piece here for Zygmunt’s account of his grappling with the social justice system of extroverts — a group that if not provably neurologically distinct, certainly seems to have its own style of consciousness. A lot has happened in the world of “deserval” in the nearly two years since Extroverts and the Concept of “Deserval” was written. Public consciousness is increasingly occupied with questions of who deserves what; as I write this morning the Occupy Wall Street movement has entered its thirtieth day with related protests underway in dozens of other American cities, while this past weekend several European cities had tens and hundreds of thousands of people in the streets demonstrating for economic justice.

In drawing a distinction based on number, the protesters’ rallying cry “We are the 99 percent” is drawn from the same well as last December’s entry Which War Are We In: Good vs. Evil, or The One vs. The Many? That post also brought up the significance of distributed, decentralized systems, which was a theme I was following closely at the turn of the year as governments around the world were coming to terms with Wikileaks and the distributed network known as the internet. In the New York protests and in others modeled on it elsewhere, one signature move is exactly this turning of a decentralized face toward the authorities, with no discernable leaders and as yet no specific demands. As calls for the occupants of Zuccotti Park in New York to narrow and unify their objectives along ideological lines poured in from groups both opposed to and “concerned” for the movement, I couldn’t help but think of the spat I barged into a couple months ago, when the call was going up for the neurodiversity movement to unify its goals and objectives in like manner.

With all this in mind, that both the neurodiversity movement and those who fly the banner of “We are the 99 percent” are engaged in a struggle of The One vs. the Many, I wanted to throw out three quotes I’ve run across recently, in order to encourage consideration of neurodiversity in light of what’s being learned by and from the ninety-nine percenters.

The first and most lengthy comes from Mike Konczal’s Rortybomb, one of the Top 25 Best Economic and Finance Blogs from this year’s Time Magazine roundup. Konczal has done something fascinating with the We Are The 99 Percent tumblr. “At the site,” as he relates, “people hold up signs that explain their current circumstances, and it tells the story of a whole range of Americans struggling in the Lesser Depression.  It is highly recommended.” He goes on, “In order to get a slightly better empirical handle on this important tumblr, I created a script designed to read all of the pages and parse out the html text on the site … After collecting all the text on all the pages, the code then goes through it to try to find interesting points.”

Note: before getting hung up on literal thinking here, remember that while autistics may represent far from ninety-nine percent of the population, autism itself represents the fact that there is more than one way of being in the world. There are in fact many, Many legitimate ways of being in the world, and this is where we join the battle of The One vs. The Many.

Back to Konczal’s statistics, he comes up with a graph of the age distribution of those who had posted (about a thousand at the time) along with the twenty-five most frequently occurring words describing the relevant concerns of posters — and what he then does with and notices about those words should be not only disturbing but familiar to anyone living as or raising up an autistic person.

So if the 99% Tumblr was a PAC, what would its demands look like, and what ideology would it presuppose?  Freddie DeBoer is discouraged after reading the 99% tumblr. He’s concerned it reflects a desire for restoration of the glory days of the 90s-00s, which concerns him because “this country cannot be fixed by wishing to go back to the economics of 2005.”  Concerned that the solidarity is one that, at most, is a I-got-mine-you-go-get-yours form of neoliberalism (as he imagines it, “I went to college and I don’t have the job and the car and the lifestyle I was promised”), DeBoer is worried that We Are the 99% isn’t “a rejection of our failing order. It is an embrace of it in the most cynical terms.”

With all due respect to DeBoer, the demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead [a] far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity.

Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here.  Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.”  And think through these cases.  The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land).  In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.

A peasantry, not a working class. My takeaway here, aside from the heartbreaking, infuriating implications for we ninety-nine percenters in general, is that autistics in particular have been denied similarly actionable demands all along, in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of uninformed, unreasonable expectations regarding our behavior, expectations that can never be met without informed and reasonable accommodations, and (ii) give us the accommodations, understanding, and respect we need in both our physical and social worlds (yea, though “territory” both cheap and dear to many will have to be turned over or shared in the process) so that we may lead decent lives.

My takeaway is that autistics have been living like peasants all along.

Here I’ll pause to say that I follow Ari Ne’eman on Twitter and that save for two occasions I have never, ever known him to share or comment on anything not directly related to his work and his concerns as the first openly autistic presidential appointee, serving on the National Council on Disability. And yet twice in the days since the Occupy demonstrations began I have seen him making mention of them, wondering what will come of it all. And so of course I don’t know that I’ve seen Mr. Ne’eman’s focus waver at all actually.


My second quote is from Jack Crow, who appeared in this space not long ago with Advice for Children, Unsolicited. I introduced Jack to Shift Journal from a comments thread on his blog The Crow’s Eye; he is one of the few people I’ve ever met who got what this site is about immediately with little more than a sentence’s worth of explanation. Here he is developing an idea that actually has appeared in two posts that I’m aware of; I’ll combine them here into one train of thought:

At the point of resistance, where we meet others who want to struggle, who want to fight, who have reached the apex of a necessary question, our origins matter less than our aims.

“What is that question? ” you might wonder.

I’ll gladly tell you. The question is, “Why shouldn’t everyone have it easy?”

I mean, everyone. If you can ask this question, I kindly submit to you that you are all the way there.

So why not take the next step?

Why not resist?


6. A coherent message which can be simplified to this: It Should Be Easy For Everyone. This conservatarian/bootstrapper ethic which dominates our culture and society has got to be fucking attacked, and mercilessly. Hard work and poverty don’t improve character. They break lives.”

It Should Be Easy For Everyone.

It should be easy for everyone.

It should be easy for autistics.

It Should Be Easy For Autistics.


The final quote I have is from technologist, science fiction author, and journalist Meredith L. Patterson aka @maradydd on Twitter where her profile describes her as “angry young mathematician.” Her words might well have been posted with the hashtag #contextfree, but I expect if you’ve read this far it’s safe to let them speak for themselves:

@maradydd Meredith L Patterson
The *whole point* of privilege is “Everyone deserves X.” Do not forget this.
14 Oct via web

[image via We Are The 99 Percent Tumblr]

on 10/17/11 in featured, Politics | 1 Comment | Read More

Comments (1)


  1. Mark Stairwalt says:

    A correspondent writes in with a couple thoughts I’ll share here, first that “I wouldn’t literally say that we are living like peasants, given the fact that the world still has a lot of real peasants who would gladly trade places with us.”

    No argument there; as a recent tweet from Modeled Behavior points out, “As Occupy Wall Street protests go global, more and more Americans fall into the 1%.”

    The correspondent’s comment continues, “But it’s interesting to ponder why those feelings are so common in today’s society.”

    Here I can only point to this passage from David Graeber’s guest post today at Yves Smith’s place:

    For all the endless statistical data available on every aspect of our economic system, I have been unable to find any economist who can tell me how much of an average American’s annual income, let alone life income, ends up being appropriated by the financial industries in the form of interest payments, fees, penalties, and service charges. Still, given the fact that interest payments alone takes up between 15-17% of household income,[1] a figure that does not include student loans, and that penalty fees on bank and credit card accounts can often double the amount one would otherwise pay, it would not be at all surprising if at least one dollar out of every five an American earns over the course of her lifetime is now likely to end up in Wall Street’s coffers in one way or another. The percentage may well be approaching the amount the average American will pay in taxes. In fact, for the least affluent Americans, it has probably long since overtaken it.

    This has very real implications for how we even think about what sort of economic system we are in. Back when I was in college, I learned that the difference between capitalism and feudalism—or what was sometimes called the “tributary mode of production”—is that a feudal aristocracy appropriates its wealth through “direct juro-political extraction.” They simply take other people’s things through legal means. Capitalism was supposed to be a bit more subtle.[2] Yet as soon as it achieved total world dominance, capitalism seems to have almost immediately begun shifting back into something that could well be described as feudalism.[3] In doing so, too, it made the alliance of money and government impossible to ignore. In the years since 2008, we’ve seen examples ranging from the comical—as when loan collection agencies in Massachusetts sent their employees out en masse to canvas on behalf of a senate candidate (Scott Brown) who they assumed would be in favor of harsher laws against debtors, to the downright outrageous—as when “too big to fail” institutions like Bank of America, bailed out by the taxpayers, secure in the knowledge they would not be allowed to collapse no matter what their behavior, paying no taxes, but delivering vast sums of culled from their even vaster profits to legislators who then allow their lobbyists to actually write the legislation that is supposed to “regulate” them. At this point, it’s not entirely clear why an institution like Bank of America should not, at this point, be considered part of the federal government, other than that it gets to keep its profits for itself.


    Given “one dollar out of every five an American earns over the course of her lifetime … now likely to end up in Wall Street’s coffers in one way or another,” we can then ask, “What percentage of autistics’ and autism parents’ time and energy is spent on seeking, or suffering from the lack of needed accommodations, understanding, and respect? Twenty percent? More? More than should have to be spent? No, for several reasons it’s not literally autism-feudalism (though to reply to my correspondent, I do believe Graeber has a case); I suggest the burdens of this siphoning off of time and energy nonetheless have comparable effects and consequences.

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