Autistic Collaboration for Life11 min read

One of the per­sis­tent neg­a­tive stereo­types is that we Autistics are poor at col­lab­o­ra­tion. Collaboration can take many forms, and dif­ferent people have dif­ferent needs and pref­er­ences. Autistic people learn and play dif­fer­ently, and only have a lim­ited (if any!) interest in com­pet­i­tive social games. We com­mu­ni­cate and enjoy our­selves by sharing infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge, and not by nego­ti­ating social status.

Discrimination against autistic people is com­pa­rable to the level of dis­crim­i­na­tion against homo­sex­uals 50 years ago. Within such a highly dis­crim­i­na­tory cul­tural envi­ron­ment, many ser­vices from the autism industry must be con­sid­ered uneth­ical, and obtaining a “diag­nosis” can be an invi­ta­tion for poten­tial abuse and exploita­tion. The pathol­o­gi­sa­tion of autism has led to what some crit­ical researchers refer to as the autism indus­trial com­plex.

Aut Collab acts as a hub for mutual sup­port, and encour­ages neu­ro­di­ver­gent indi­vid­uals and ven­tures to con­nect and estab­lish long-term col­lab­o­ra­tions.

NeurodiVenture : an inclu­sive non-hierarchical organ­i­sa­tion oper­ated by neu­ro­di­ver­gent people that pro­vides a safe and nur­turing envi­ron­ment for diver­gent thinking, cre­ativity, explo­ration, and col­lab­o­ra­tive niche con­struc­tion.

Autists are acutely aware that cul­ture is con­structed one trusted rela­tion­ship at a time – this is the essence of fully appre­ci­ating diver­sity. Autistic people relate to spe­cific people, and pri­marily to other autistic people, and not to group iden­ti­ties.

In con­trast, con­tem­po­rary human soci­eties are char­ac­terised by abstract group iden­ti­ties, from local com­mu­ni­ties, to favourite sports teams, employers, pro­fes­sions, social class, lan­guages, dialects, tribes, coun­tries, online groups, brand loy­alty, etc.

Every iden­ti­fi­able group iden­tity is char­ac­terised by spe­cific behav­ioural cul­tural norms, only some of which are explic­itly stated and acknowl­edged. People who iden­tify with a group are expected to con­form with the explicit and implicit behav­ioural code.

This dif­fer­ence in con­structing social rela­tion­ships has pro­found impli­ca­tions. Autists under­stand a group of people to con­sist of the set of pair­wise rela­tion­ships between indi­vid­uals – autistic people don’t “belong” to any groups, but the idio­syn­cratic rela­tion­ship between two autistic people, including their idio­syn­cratic ways of inter­acting, may belong to one or more groups.

If all rela­tion­ships in a group are based on mutual trust and respect, then the group can be con­sid­ered to be good com­pany. If some of the rela­tion­ships lack mutual trust or respect, then the group is in an unhealthy state.

Mutual trust and respect can also mean a mutual recog­ni­tion and accep­tance of sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in needs and pref­er­ences – simply allowing the other person to be them­selves, without under­taking any attempts to coerce the other person to do cer­tain things in cer­tain ways, or to respond to a ques­tion or sit­u­a­tion imme­di­ately, without any time allowed for reflec­tion and unique ways of infor­ma­tion pro­cessing.

Psychological safety means being sur­rounded by (familiar) trusted peers, not by “being part of” an amor­phous abstract group like being “human”, being “male” or “female”, being “part of organ­i­sa­tion xyz”, or being an “Antarctican” – national iden­ti­ties are amongst the sil­liest inven­tions, and one learns to be careful not to offend the mil­lions of (insane?) non-autistic believers in the var­ious cults of nation­ality.

Organisation xyz only needs one unsafe rela­tion­ship for an autistic person for the entire group to become an unsafe envi­ron­ment. This is a prac­tical working def­i­n­i­tion of psy­cho­log­ical safety for autistic people.

All groups that are gen­uinely inclu­sive of rela­tion­ships with autistic people are small in size – they are human scale.

I define autistic com­mu­nity as fol­lows:

If you are won­dering whether you iden­tify as autistic, spend time amongst autistic people, online and offline. If you notice you relate to most of these people much better than to others, if they make you feel safe, and if they under­stand you, you have arrived.

Thanks to

Autistic people are finally con­necting and estab­lishing a social habitat on this planet that limits our expo­sure to absurd super-human scale soci­eties.

An autistic model of the living planet

What is only rarely talked about in main­stream society is the effort that it takes non-autistic indi­vid­uals to con­form to a mul­ti­tude of abstract group iden­ti­ties, espe­cially if the social norms asso­ci­ated with dif­ferent iden­ti­ties are incom­pat­ible, and to some extent con­tra­dict each other.

One could say that non-autistic people have a patho­log­ical capacity for cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance and self-deception, and unfor­tu­nately there is no cure for that.

As a result, the social expe­ri­ence of a given cul­ture by non-autistic people dif­fers sig­nif­i­cantly from the social expe­ri­ence of the same cul­ture by autistic people. The dif­fer­ences can be described in terms of dif­fer­ences in the con­struc­tion of social iden­ti­ties and rela­tion­ships at var­ious levels of scale as illus­trated in figure 1.

living-planet
Figure 1: Human soci­eties in the con­text of the living planet

Organisations are best thought of as cul­tural organ­isms. Groups of organ­i­sa­tions with com­pat­ible oper­ating models can be thought of as a cul­tural species. The human genus (homo) is the genus that includes all cul­tural species. The seman­tics of the colour coding in the dia­gram are as fol­lows:

  • Green: healthy rela­tion­ships and group iden­ti­ties and human scale organ­i­sa­tions
  • Orange: chal­lenging rela­tion­ships and group iden­ti­ties with poten­tial for con­flict
  • Red: adver­sarial rela­tion­ships and group iden­ti­ties that con­sume sig­nif­i­cant energy and super-human scale organ­i­sa­tions that neg­a­tively affect their mem­bers and their social and eco­log­ical con­text

The num­bers in the dia­gram illus­trate dif­ferent kinds of rela­tion­ships and group iden­ti­ties:

  1. Healthy rela­tion­ships between spe­cific indi­vid­uals that are based on  mutual trust
  2. Healthy group iden­tity between a neu­rotyp­ical person and a human scale organ­i­sa­tion; note that neu­rotyp­ical people are capable of main­taining sev­eral group iden­ti­ties in par­allel
  3. Adversarial group iden­tity between a neu­rotyp­ical person and a super-human scale organ­i­sa­tion; the extent to which such group iden­ti­ties have a neg­a­tive impact on mental health can be deduced from the empir­ical evi­dence com­piled by David Graeber in his book Bullshit Jobs
  4. Adversarial rela­tion­ship between a cul­tur­ally “well-adjusted” neu­rotyp­ical person and an autistic person, as illus­trated by the rates bul­lying and sui­cide of autistic people
  5. Healthy set of rela­tion­ships between neu­ro­di­ver­gent people that have agreed to long-term col­lab­o­ra­tion based on (a) a small set of shared values, in par­tic­ular an appre­ci­a­tion of neu­ro­di­ver­sity and (b) a shared inability to main­tain hidden agendas – and there­fore an inability to play com­pet­i­tive social games
  6. Adversarial rela­tion­ship between a small, human scale group or enter­prise and a super-human scale organ­i­sa­tion, or between mem­bers of dif­ferent genera, char­ac­terised by a sig­nif­i­cant imbal­ance in power and a resulting lack of mutual trust
  7. Challenging rela­tion­ship between an organ­i­sa­tion con­structed via an abstract social iden­tity and a NeurodiVenture con­structed as a set of trusted rela­tion­ships between indi­vid­uals; the mem­bers of the NeurodiVenture need to con­tin­u­ously watch out for social games and hidden agendas when engaging in external rela­tion­ships
  8. Healthy set of rela­tion­ships between two NeurodiVentures that have agreed to long-term col­lab­o­ra­tion based on com­ple­men­tary capa­bil­i­ties and capacity
  9. Healthy cul­tural con­text of a human scale organ­i­sa­tion, based on shared beliefs and rit­uals, com­monly under­scored by a shared lan­guage
  10. Interdependencies between levels of scale; inter­de­pen­den­cies between a large-scale net­work of living enti­ties and either smaller-scale net­works or rela­tion­ships between indi­vidual living enti­ties
  11. Adversarial group iden­tity between a smaller super-human scale struc­ture within a larger super-human scale cul­tural con­text that is char­ac­terised by explicit com­pe­ti­tion rather than col­lab­o­ra­tion
  12. Challenging cul­tural con­text of a NeurodiVenture that is char­ac­terised by many chal­lenging rela­tion­ships with organ­i­sa­tions that are con­structed via abstract social iden­ti­ties
  13. Adversarial group iden­tity gen­er­ated by a con­formist cul­ture that is igno­rant of the exis­tence and the value of NeurodiVentures, resulting in social pres­sure to con­form with cul­tural norms imposed by the dom­i­nant cul­tural species (think cor­po­ra­tions)
  14. Adversarial inter­de­pen­dency between levels of scale; humans vs the web of life rather than humans as part of the web of life – in short: Anthropocentrism

The con­se­quences of the social dys­func­tions out­lined in the list above can no longer be over­looked. Today everyone:

  1. is able to observe eco­log­ical destruc­tion first hand,
  2. is expe­ri­encing the effects of cli­mate break­down to some degree,
  3. is con­fronted with the dis­con­nect between eco­nomic dogma and the reality of severe social inequality,
  4. is noticing the inability of insti­tu­tions to meet human needs,
  5. is affected by mental health prob­lems, either per­son­ally or within their imme­diate social envi­ron­ment.

Neurodivergent collaboration

The poten­tially trans­for­ma­tional role of neu­ro­di­ver­gent col­lab­o­ra­tion is illus­trated below, using the pur­pose of S23M within the con­text of the living planet as an example.

purpose
Figure 2: Examples of organ­i­sa­tional pur­pose relating to dif­ferent levels of scale

The seman­tics of the colour coding in the dia­gram:

  • Green: living agents
  • Orange: valu­able knowl­edge resources pro­duced
  • Red: pur­pose

The NeurodiVenture oper­ating model is the social DNA of an emer­gent cul­tural species that has devel­oped an immune system that enables it to sur­vive and even thrive in three com­ple­men­tary con­texts:

  1. within super-human scale soci­eties afflicted by ter­minal cancer
  2. within social envi­ron­ments that con­tain a growing number of NeurodiVentures
  3. within social envi­ron­ments that con­tain other human scale cul­tural species within the human genus

The pur­poses at dif­ferent levels of scale in the dia­gram above map to con­crete activ­i­ties and related trig­gers and results as fol­lows:

Maximising bio­di­ver­sity

Enabling knowl­edge to flow to all the places where it can be put to good use

Equipping autistic people for col­lab­o­ra­tion for life

Creating good com­pany and main­taining healthy rela­tion­ships at human scale

Creating sys­tems that are under­stand­able by future gen­er­a­tions of humans & soft­ware

My col­lab­o­ra­tion for life at S23M can be sum­marised and visu­alised in the logistic lens:

collaboration for life at S23M
Figure 3: My col­lab­o­ra­tion for life at S23M in the visual lan­guage of the logistic lens

The future web of life

The main dif­fer­ence between modern emer­gent human scale cul­tural species and pre­his­toric human scale cul­tural species lies in the lan­guage sys­tems and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies that are being used to coor­di­nate activ­i­ties and to record and transmit knowl­edge within cul­tural organ­isms, between cul­tural organ­isms, and between cul­tural species.

Humans have to ask them­selves whether they want to con­tinue to be useful parts of the ecosystem of the planet or whether they prefer to take on the role of a genetic exper­i­ment that the planet switched on and off for a brief period in its devel­op­ment. The big human battle of this cen­tury is going to be the democ­ra­ti­sa­tion of data and all forms of knowl­edge. If we suc­ceed, the resulting web of life may look some­thing like the fol­lowing pic­ture:

living-planet-future
Figure 4: Future human scale soci­eties in the con­text of the living planet

The num­bers in the list below map to the num­bers in figure 1 and figure 4:

  1. Healthy rela­tion­ships between spe­cific indi­vid­uals that are based on  mutual trust
  2. Healthy group iden­tity between a neu­rotyp­ical person and a human scale organ­i­sa­tion
  3. No longer applic­able: Adversarial group iden­tity between a neu­rotyp­ical person and a super-human scale organ­i­sa­tion
  4. Challenging rela­tion­ship between a cul­tur­ally “well-adjusted” neu­rotyp­ical person and an autistic person, char­ac­terised by a risk of mis­un­der­stand­ings
  5. Healthy set of rela­tion­ships between autistic people
  6. Challenging rela­tion­ship between between mem­bers of dif­ferent genera, char­ac­terised by a lim­ited level of mutual under­standing
  7. Healthy rela­tion­ship between an organ­i­sa­tion con­structed via an abstract social iden­tity and a NeurodiVenture con­structed as a set of trusted rela­tion­ships between indi­vid­uals; NeurodiVentures are appre­ci­ated for their cre­ative poten­tial and for their role in facil­i­tating knowl­edge flows across cul­tural bar­riers
  8. Healthy set of rela­tion­ships between two NeurodiVentures
  9. Healthy cul­tural con­text of a human scale organ­i­sa­tion
  10. Interdependencies between levels of scale
  11. No longer applic­able: Adversarial group iden­tity between a smaller super-human scale struc­ture within a larger super-human scale cul­tural con­text
  12. Healthy cul­tural con­text of a NeurodiVenture that is char­ac­terised by many  rela­tion­ships with organ­i­sa­tions that appre­ciate neu­ro­di­ver­gent col­lab­o­ra­tion
  13. No longer applic­able: Adversarial group iden­tity gen­er­ated by a con­formist cul­ture that is igno­rant of the exis­tence and the value of NeurodiVentures
  14. Healthy inter­de­pen­dency between levels of scale; humans as part of the web of life

In a col­lab­o­ra­tive con­text the remaining chal­lenges can be framed as healthy oppor­tu­ni­ties for learning rather than as sources of con­flict that ought to be elim­i­nated.

In the words of Greta Thunberg: “Change is coming whether you like it or not”, driven by autistic col­lab­o­ra­tion and autistic levels of per­se­ver­ance.

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  1. We are… unstop­pable

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