Hello. My name is Bix.


There's a myth about autism out there. It's not any of the ones you've probably heard of, because it's a myth promulgated by actually autistic people themselves. It's the myth of autistic morality, or, more broadly, the myth of Autistic Exceptionalism.

“Autistic people,” says Pete Wharmby, “often have intensely strong feelings of justice and fairness, to the point where it is seen as a characteristic trait.”

It's hardly that simple.

When he called the police on black women using glassware beside the pool at his (now-former) apartment complex, Nick Starr-Street told the press that he's not racist, he's autistic and has a strong sense of right and wrong. The wrong, for him, was violating a rule against glassware at poolside. Unseen or unacknowledged was the potential greater wrong that could result from calling the police on a group of black women, especially for such a minor infraction.

What's at work here is not morality, but rigidity. Starr-Street was so locked into the violation of an apartment complex rule that it overtook any other consideration. This was not morality. This was not “justice and fairness” but a reckless, need I say rigid, disregard for justice and fairness.

Later in his thread, Wharmby does discuss this rigidity, but to his mind the autistic's frequent rigid personal and inward need for and adherence to rules and their consistency somehow automagically transforms into an outward need for the consistent outward application of rules in the polity. I think that's a leap.

What autistic people tend to have is a behavioral and cognitive rigidity, which when applied in an autistic person who also happens to have a well-developed sense of justice and fairness can be very noticeable and pronounced. I think that's far more reflective of what's happening than any inherent sort of mutant-like moral superiority of a Homo Autisticus.

(Wharmby also suggests that autistic people “(generally!) don't get distracted by emotional issues or [so] bogged down in detail that the main idea is lost” and that this let's us “focus on the issue completely”. His go-to example is Greta Thunberg, which is weird because that sort of activism isn't somehow just a big-picture intellectual exercise, it's profoundly emotional.)

Over the course of his thread, I think Wharmby gets really close to spotting that the key here is rigidity which happens in some autistic people to coincide with a sense of justice and fairness, but every time can't seem to help but warp it into the exceptionalism narrative instead. He posits a lack of deference to authority as an autistic trait, but, again, you can't just make the leap to an inherent moral sense of flat hierachies and equality without first examining if it's simply a rigid manner of dealing with people, because it's consistent, which is better personally for the brain of the autistic.

The idea that we might talk to our boss like we'd talk to anyone else doesn't mean we have a belief in “a good, egalitarian thing”. It might just mean we have a psychological need for consistency and a neurological penchant for impulsivity.

As I've written before, autistic people are fond of exploding the myths told about them by neurotypical society. I wish we could avoid pushing myths of our own in the process.

Note: Links to entires on my previous blog will up updated to entries here on Write House once WriteFreely has WordPress imports.

#Autism #Morality #August2019

More neptunian distance from The New York Times comes in this Vanity Fair piece in which an editor says that the “feeling from the top” is that the newspaper is “not gonna be a part of the resistance”. This makes sense in normal political times, but when the issue is the creeping fascism of the governing political party, every damned newspaper in the republic should be part of the resistance. That doesn't mean you abandon the elements (or principles) of journalism. In fact it means that you need to apply those elements more fiercely than ever.

#Fascism #Journalism #Morality #Politics #August2019

After Barack Obama’s victory, Republicans suddenly talked less about conservative economic orthodoxy—i.e., being anti-Big Government—and more about who deserves what. Even as they denied the racist roots on their thinking, Tea Party Republicans declared that entitlements were, wrote Reuters’ Chrystia Freeland, for “the deserving, hard-working citizen” as opposed to the “unauthorized, foreign freeloader.”

From Morality Is Suicide to 'the Chosen' by John Stoehr

#Morality #Politics #Highlights #August2019

Immoral or criminal autistic people need to stop blaming their autism for their immoral or criminal acts. Just as Nick Starr-Street didn't harass black women because of his autism, Jason Berlin didn't rape a woman because of his autism.

Of lesser import but still important, however, is that autistic people need to stop talking about an allegedly strong sense of right and wrong that somehow emerges from being autistic.

This is especially true when we’re younger. For example, when I was in fourth grade I printed up a broadsheet about how my classmates were sliding into juvenile delinquency by saying things “sucked” because my parents had forbidden me to say it.

You'll note just from this example that the notion of what's right and what's wrong is highly dependent upon perspective. Is saying the word “sucked” actually wrong, or just contrary to the rules as established by parental authority figures?

What's dangerous, therefore, about this purported autistic morality is that the very person Zack Budryk is arguing should not blame his autism for his having raped someone could tell a similar story in which the authority figures in his life established a right and a wrong when it came to sex, and placed rape on the “right” side.

We autistic people don't somehow innately have a stronger sense of morality. Rather, what we often have is a rigid adherence to rules, and this is what's happening in Budryk's own anecdote. If the rules are morally corrupt (or just ludicrously misconstrued, as in Budryk's story), our rigid adherence to them will be as well.

I've gone after this sort of thing before, this idea of autistic “superpowers”, and an enhanced sense of right-and-wrong often gets listed as one.

It's wrong, and it's misguided. A rigid adherence to the rules established by whatever moral authority had influence over our development only amounts to moral behavior if the rules we learned are moral. Just because it sometimes happens that those rules are moral, and we rigidly adhere to them, apply them, and try to enforce them in the world around us, doesn't mean we have some sort of magic moral sense.

Nick Star-Street, lamentably, probably does really believe his own bullshit. He likely believes it was only ever about having glass bottles by the pool where he lived, and about his righteous sense of right and wrong. Whether or not Jason Berlin really believes his own (or his lawyer's) bullshit, I won't hazard a guess.

The rest of us, however, we should know better than to open the door to exactly the sort of defense Budryk says is not just untenable but morally wrong. It's time to retire the myth of Autistic Morality.

#Autism #Morality #August2019

Trying to scare white people is an effective political strategy, but it is also an effective ratings and traffic strategy. Trump’s ability to manipulate the media through provocation and controversy has been effective precisely because covering those provocations and controversies provides news outlets with the ears and eyeballs they crave. Trump considers the media “the enemy of the people” only when it successfully undermines his falsehoods; at all other times, it is a force multiplier, obeying his attempts to shift topics of conversation from substantive policy matters to racial scaremongering. The tenets of objectivity by which American journalists largely abide hold that reporters may not pass judgment on the morality of certain political tactics, only on their effectiveness. It’s a principle that unintentionally rewards immorality by turning questions of right and wrong into debates over whether a particular tactic will help win an election.

From Trumpism Is ‘Identity Politics’ for White People by Adam Serwer

#Journalism #Morality #Politics #Highlights #July2019

The press has been covering this as tit for tat. One side hits. The other hits back. On it goes, leaving citizens to wonder what’s what. Or worse: leaving us to wonder if all they want to do in Washington is fight and not get anything done. The news has been lots of heat but no light. Result: journalistic malpractice and a bewildered citizenry.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Journalists can but don’t act morally. I do not mean moralizing. I mean assessing information methodically and coming to a reasonable conclusion about its meaning—then relaying that information, and meaning, so we all of us are better informed citizens. In other words, acting like grown-up journalists.

From The Anti-Moral Free Press by Johns Stoehr

#Journalism #Morality #Politics #Highlights #July2019

The intersection of racism or implicit bias and developmental disability remains largely unexplored. A 2015 National Institute of Health report on the topic says that previous studies on the issue have remained inconclusive. Damian Stanley, who co-authored the report, says researchers found that implicit social biases “remained intact in high-functioning adults with autism.”

For those on the spectrum of autism, “there’s more of an adherence to rules and sort of black and white, there’s a discomfort with uncertainty,” he told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. “So there’s a need for things to be clear.”

Samira Sadeque

In other words, one of the ways in which Nick Starr-Street's claim that “he doesn't see race” was bullshit is that this alleged autistic morality itself isn't somehow immune from the implicit biases of being a white man in America, and in fact one's sense of what is “right and wrong” very well could be informed by those implicit biases. That one study referenced above plainly suggests that being autistic isn't some sort of magic cloak that prevents the autistic person from carrying the racial biases of the society around them.

I've never been especially comfortable with the pro-autism mythology that we actually autistic people have some sort of higher sense of morality than neurotypicals; it doesn't make any sense. What many of us have is cognitive rigidity, and if we also happen to have a productive sense of morality then we can be fairly committed to it and perhaps the rigidity also makes us louder about it.

The autism itself? Sorry, but that doesn't make us more moral. It certainly doesn't make us less racist.

#Autism #Disability #Morality #Race #July2019

Even on their own terms, the civility police had missed the point. At that point, when the evidence was clear that this bill would hurt people (and was overwhelmingly rejected by public consensus) and the Senate Republicans were looking to pass it anyway (whether to achieve tax cuts, deliver a political promise to the hard right, or placate Donald Trump) there was no space for civil debate. People in power were simply trying to do an indefensible thing. Elizabeth Warren was using the language that people use to describe indefensible actions, and she was using it clearly and accurately. But certain types of political minds were more offended by her description of these actions than by the actions themselves. In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote that “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” Politicians mask descriptions of their atrocities in vague or meaningless language to obscure them. In civility-policed discourse, something similar is at play. The language that can plainly describe terrible things is declared out of bounds, so, in response to an atrocity, you’re faced with either normalizing it or stepping out of line to name it.

From Political science by David Iscoe

#Morality #Politics #Highlights #July2019

That last post, it turns out, does not do justice to how angry I've suddenly become tonight. There was no time, earlier, as I was off on my weekly mental health trip to the zoo, and I do tend to treat that as a protected environment for self-care. But within minutes of putting up that last post, I inflicted an increasingly-hostile rant upon my Twitter followers.

What I said at the end of that post is, I guess, my problem with the Democrats right now: I feel like they do not seem capable of any sort of political action that is either commensurate with or proportional to the scope of the immorality, or amorality, with which the country is faced. Just more hearings in that committee or this committee that no one is watching, because Nancy Pelosi is afraid of impeachment. Just another June (because we already did this last year) of putting on a show of being shocked and horrified at the conditions of America's concentration camps, then going on the cable news shows to cluck about how bad is this administration.

Today's critically-important Hispanic Caucus trip needs to be the beginning of Democrats in the House and the Senate (although when's the last time we've had any indication that members on the Senate side were capable of any kind of coherent or cohesive collective action) rising to meet the severity of the abuse, both of power and, more pressingly, of people. And that's going to mean Democrats need to stop being so God damned afraid of nonsense.

There are human beings in camps. There are human beings in padlocked cages. There are women being told to drink out of toilets. There are racist and inhumane agents laughing it up on Facebook. Just how much will it take for Democrats to to step up to this moment?

Or, like lawless abuse of presidential power, do Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer view concentration camps as just another thing to litigate in the 2020 election?

Pelosi today tweeted about only three things: the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Hong Kong, and Medicare. Not a single mention of the Hispanic Caucus delegation. Hoyer, for his part, did retweet the Caucus, but only to call it “deeply alarming” and to reassure everyone that the Democrats “will continue to work to hold the Trump [administration] accountable”, something they this far have completely failed to do.

This is how feckless politicians speak. It means absolutely fucking nothing.

It's insufficient and threatens to minimize the gravity of this moment's moral challenge, but my pop culture brain (because that's often how my brain tries to handle the pressure of things) keeps screaming Ellen Ripley's dialogue to an executive functionary of Weyland-Yutani.

These people are dead, Burke! Don't you have any idea what you've done here? Well, I'm gonna make sure that they nail you right to the wall for this! You're not gonna sleaze your way out of this one! Right to the wall!

What I can't tell tonight is whether I am internally screaming this at the Trump administration, or at congressional Democrats. I just know that if we get to the point where we have to talk about them being dead—any more about them being dead, I mean—it will be too late for any of it to matter.

#Anger #Fascism #Morality #Politics #July2019

It's all well and good, and necessary, that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus went on a barnstorming tour of some of America's concentration camps, but combine what the delegation found even with authorities on their “best” behavior with the massive ProPublica scoop about racist and dehumanizing border agent attitudes in a private Facebook group and I can't help but feel like the only thing commensurate with and proportional to the degree of cruelty and the extent of inhumanity is for all 280 congressional Democrats to travel en masse to one of these camps. Small delegations are important, and good, and need to keep happening, but I feel like if this isn't a thing for a party to “go big” on, then nothing is. Not because it's partisan, but because true politics is driven by morality, and the immorality—or is it amorality?—of what's happening is simply too immense for, well, politics as usual.

#Fascism #Morality #Politics #July2019