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

Thank you for the kind words, A&O, and the thorough, thoughtful, and gracious reply.  It’s a pleasure disagreeing with you. :-)

My view is that neurodiversity is polycentered, that it legitimately has multiple definitions.  This is not the same as saying it lacks definition.  The point I want to get across is that an insistence on a unified, monocentric definition will inevitably distort and disappear much of what actually makes up the whole.  From a standpoint of strategy, I do understand the value of message discipline, of having a message and sticking to it come hell or high water.  I would like to have seen this concern of yours more apparent in the essay to which I was responding; re-reading it just now, I don’t find it anywhere.

The world you’re seeking seems to be one where God is in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.  To the extent I’m proud, it’s in imagining that I’ve exchanged that worldview (which is certainly the one I was raised to have) for one more polytheistic, one which does not conflate The One with The Good, and which sees legitimacy in The Many.  There’s a D. H. Lawrence quote I recently ran across that sums it up at a personal level:  “The human being is a most curious creature.  He thinks he has got one soul, and he has got dozens.”  Many gods, many souls, many perspectives, many definitions.  Yes, cats and dogs living together, and more besides.

So I think this is the level at which we are odds.  It’s not at the level of neurodiversity, and does it or does it not have or need a definition.  It’s at the level of worldview, on the battlefield of The One vs. The Many.  Notions about polytheistic psychology have been around for about half a century, neurodiversity as a concept for maybe fifteen years, and much like Billy the Kid and Oscar the Wilde in the mind of one James Luther Dickinson, they “have rented a duplex inside my head.”  As Dickinson was proud of his tenants, so I am proud of mine.

I am taken by your emphasis on penumbras, but I would suggest, again, that the model might be not of single, discrete centers with large, deceptively overlapping penumbrae, but of swarms of associated centers, constantly in motion in three dimensions, at times eclipsing one another, at times merging and splitting, and at times breaking off individually or in groups to form or join other swarms, each yes with their own large penumbrae, and all this unfolding over timespans as short as moments and as long as eons.  Definitions then need be playful, provisional, and bestowed with a light touch, or they become restrictive, manipulative, and false — or to put it another way, such definitions come to serve the worldview of those who deploy them rather than those they describe.

You may claim that in your response this is exactly what you are trying to prevent, however you are offering no choice but to accept the terms of a monocentric worldview before neurodiversity can even begin to be protected.  How is this different from a mob-style protection racket?  “Nice little movement you got here.  Be a shame if something were to happen to it …” :-D

Consider the examples I offered of other distributed systems which do not lend themselves to easy definition as players on the world stage:  the bittorrent protocol, the Tor network, Twitter, LulzSec, and Anonymous.  It’s not an accident that they’re all creatures of the internet, as the internet itself is a creation of the autistic cognitive style.  The creator of bittorrent for that matter is a diagnosed autistic.  Like begets like, and the reason you’re moved to pull your hair out over neurodiversity’s definition is the same reason Authorities condemn cutting off internet and phone service during protests in Cairo while turning around and deigning it necessary and allowable in the San Francisco Bay area.

It’s not neurodiversity’s self-contradiction that’s at issue here, any more than the internet is at fault for playing host to moving swarms of shifting valences — though governments the world over are using this as an excuse for much anti-democratic policy they’d never otherwise be able to implement.  What’s at issue is their inability, along with the rest of the monocentric world to come to terms with the presence of distributed networks which are beyond their control, and whose accurate definition calls into question the prevailing worldview.

If as they say Jesus was the Word made flesh and history’s most successful Jew, the Internet is autism made wired, weak central coherence set up on routers and switches, set loose in the world for everyone to hop on and take a ride — and thus perhaps already, the most successful neurological disorder in history (even manic depression has never spawned its own infrastructure).  So you see it does come back to the theology that sets our worldviews.  The monocentric take gained ascendance by my count in 395 A.D., when the edict came down that Christianity was to be the official state-religion of Rome.  “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath …” was (according to Swinburne) the dying cry of the polycentrists.  And yet here we are again in this twenty-first century, bringing color back, and riling up the authorities much as Jesus is said to have done back in the day.

So perhaps in your eyes I’ve now moved from proud to grandiose. :-D I do think there are big issues in play here, bigger than my individual pride, and larger than autism and neurodiversity per se.

An earlier version of the above first appeared as a comment at Autism & Oughtism, on Reply to “Cornering Slim Shady in the Round Barn” re the definition of Neurodiversity.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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 08/15/11 in featured, Language | 2 Comments | Read More

Comments (2)


  1. Gwen McKay says:

    I agree that this dynamic is not unique to neurodiversity, and it’s not unique to Internet-driven movements, either. It seems to turn up everywhere in today’s public discourse. For example, what does it mean to be a liberal or a conservative? You’ll get vastly different answers depending on what people you ask, and more often than not, they’ll criticize the other side for being inconsistent.

    I would say that’s just the way of things in modern society, where large numbers of people with different backgrounds regularly interact; and the Internet has played a large role in making such conversations more prominent. Although many people once took for granted the existence of a majority worldview, and their place within it, modern life is turning out to be much more complicated. And of course that causes a lot of anxiety, as change always does.

  2. Mark Stairwalt says:

    Hoping to have more on all this by Friday, catching up to the fact that (in light of A&O’s early comment/clarification getting caught in a spam trap) this was in part an accidental conversation — but I do think you’re right Gwen. For all that the internet can allow you to build your own bubble of cherry-picked information sources, it’s also reduced the role of the monolithic gatekeepers that fostered the illusion of a majority worldview. There’s that weak central coherence again.

    Anyway, A&O has called time-out on the conversation until I’ve had a chance to clarify my references. Or decode my oracular pronouncements, as the case may be.

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