The Myth of Independence: How The Social Model of Disability Exposes Society’s Double Standards11 min read

The notion of dis­ability in our society is under­scored by a bizarre con­cep­tion of “inde­pen­dence”.

Autists depend on assis­tance from others in ways that differ from the cul­tural norm – and that is pathol­o­gised. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is con­sid­ered “normal”, or rather it is brushed under the carpet.

Humans have evolved to live in highly col­lab­o­ra­tive groups, with strong inter­de­pen­den­cies between indi­vid­uals and in many cases between groups.

In our pre-civilised past all human groups were small, and inter­de­pen­dence and the need for mutual assis­tance was obvious to all mem­bers of a group.

The tools of civil­i­sa­tion, including money, have under­mined our appre­ci­a­tion of inter­de­pen­dence, and within the Western world have cul­mi­nated in a toxic cult of com­pet­i­tive indi­vid­u­alism, which amongst the non-autistic pop­u­la­tion iron­i­cally leads to extreme levels of group­think.

The myth of meritocracy

Wherever autistic people go, they expose social power games.

Pathologisation is the push back from a sick society. Autistic people should be recog­nised as the agents of a well func­tioning cul­tural immune system within human soci­eties.

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Our society has been con­structed such that cer­tain forms of bul­lying are deemed accept­able / legal / nec­es­sary and such that other forms of bul­lying are deemed as unac­cept­able and illegal.

Upon closer exam­i­na­tion the boundary is an arbi­trary one.

Specifically, all soci­eties that con­struct money as interest bearing debt and endow money with a quasi-ubiquitous fun­gi­bility to enable eco­nomic activity rely on the fol­lowing four eco­nomic dri­vers or ways of “making money”:

1. Creation and lending of money for a return on investment

We use interest-bearing debt issued out of thin air by banks to prime the eco­nomic pump, and to pro­vide pro­fes­sional bankers with a reli­able source of sig­nif­i­cant income.

2. Speculation with land and real estate, and allowing people to inherit money

This enables people to “make” more money through lending for a return on invest­ment, sim­ilar to banks, only that the means of indi­vid­uals are more lim­ited.

3. Hierarchical structures of organisations in various sectors that offer extreme monetary rewards at the top

This encour­ages people to sys­tem­at­i­cally take credit for the work of others to get to the top.

4. Creation of pyramid schemes that allow people to “extract value” from the work of others.

This endorses and encour­ages harmful behav­iours which ben­efit the indi­vidual over the group.

The common theme across these eco­nomic dri­vers is the will­ing­ness to exploit other people for per­sonal gain, including the audacity to take per­sonal credit for the results of others or for the results achieved as part of a team.

Such exploita­tive inter­de­pen­den­cies between people are con­sid­ered “normal”, and we con­sider anyone who is able to sur­vive com­fort­ably by extracting money from other people “inde­pen­dent”.

The four ways of making money are jus­ti­fied by a myth of mer­i­toc­racy and cir­cular rea­soning – that people with a lot of money have “earned” the money and are enti­tled to a “fair” return on invest­ment to cover their “risk” when lending some of it to others.

 

For someone without sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money, land or real estate to begin with, the eco­nomic options are lim­ited:

1. Acting as an investor without significant money to start off with.

This path is a pure game of luck.

The very few who happen to be lucky tend to develop a sense of enti­tle­ment that allows them to feel at home amongst bankers and the money making class, and adopt cor­re­sponding behav­iours and beliefs of supe­ri­ority – sup­porting a system that only ben­e­fits a small minority.

2. Starting a charity organisation that taps into people’s social conscience to donate some of their money to those who are disadvantaged by the system.

On the one hand many char­i­ties pro­vide valu­able assis­tance to vul­ner­able people. On the other hand char­i­ties con­ve­niently allow the people engaged in “making money” to feel better about them­selves and the “exter­nal­i­ties” that they create, fur­ther enhancing their sense of enti­tle­ment and com­mit­ment to the status quo.

The need for charity organ­i­sa­tions is a symptom of a society that sys­tem­at­i­cally pro­duces eco­nomic “exter­nal­i­ties”.

3. Collaborating with others to create knowledge, products, and services that are highly valued by others.

Without sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money, acquired via one the four means above, it is not pos­sible to employ a team of people for more than a few months.

Alternatively, taking on external cap­ital imme­di­ately hands over key levers to the money making class. And lastly, attempting self-employment without a sup­porting team, what­ever you create will be heavily dis­counted by treating you like an employee or con­tractor – you only get paid the equiv­a­lent of a wage, and the money making class extracts the value.

Thus by virtue of the design of the eco­nomic system, the option of entre­pre­neur­ship is largely a dead end.

People with a com­pro­mised moral com­pass dis­card these three options as ways of con­tributing to society, and rather see them as sources of people that can easily be exploited.

Realistic paths to “suc­cess” involve career climbing in hier­ar­chical organ­i­sa­tions or the related option of the cre­ating and run­ning a more or less legal pyramid scheme.

Organisations within a poorly reg­u­lated finan­cial sector pro­vide ideal training grounds for pyramid scheme builders, and along the way, pro­vide on the job training in the busy­ness of money cre­ation and in riding the waves of eco­nomic bub­bles.

“There’s huge polit­ical pres­sure to create jobs coming from all direc­tions. We accept the idea that rich people are job cre­ators, and the more jobs we have, the better. It doesn’t matter if those jobs do some­thing useful; we just assume that more jobs is better no matter what. We’ve cre­ated a whole class of flunkies that essen­tially exist to improve the lives of actual rich people. Rich people throw money at people who are paid to sit around, add to their glory, and learn to see the world from the per­spec­tive of the exec­u­tive class.”

“A lot of bull­shit jobs are just man­u­fac­tured middle-management posi­tions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to jus­tify the careers of the people per­forming them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no dif­fer­ence at all.And that’s how you know a job is bull­shit: If we sud­denly elim­i­nated teachers or garbage col­lec­tors or con­struc­tion workers or law enforce­ment or what­ever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence. But if bull­shit jobs go away, we’re no worse off.”David Graeber

People with an intact moral com­pass tend to learn the hard way that all their attempts of invest­ment, run­ning char­i­ties or entre­pre­neur­ship only strengthen the status quo and amplify the eco­nomic inequal­i­ties.

It is easy to see that honest people, and espe­cially autistic people, are sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­abled in modern society, eco­nom­i­cally as well as socially, as many social norms are adap­ta­tions to the dom­i­nant eco­nomic par­a­digm.

The social model of disability

Autistic people con­tin­u­ously work at the edge of their per­for­mance limit, which is often much higher than what non-autistic people are capable of sus­taining, whilst not making a fuss about it.

This invites exploita­tion.

burnout

The social model of dis­ability explains two of the most dis­abling aspects of autism.

To a sig­nif­i­cant extent autistic expe­ri­ence can be described in terms of the down­stream effects of:

  1. the inability to main­tain hidden agendas, and
  2. hyper­sen­si­tiv­i­ties, including in the social realm, rejec­tion of all forms of social status.

The inability to main­tain hidden agendas:

  • makes us prime tar­gets for exploita­tion, and
  • induces fear by our ten­dency to expose the hidden agendas of others.

Hypersensitivities:

  • lead to the per­cep­tion of just not trying hard enough or of being unco­op­er­a­tive,
  • result in fre­quent sen­sory over­load, autistic burn-out, depres­sion, sui­cidal ideation.

These two “disabilities” are also our greatest strengths. We are uniquely positioned to create good company for neurodivergent people.

The more we help each other to ques­tion in ways we oth­er­wise wouldn’t – and cor­re­spond­ingly dis­cover new insights about the world and our­selves, the more we are able to learn from each other, and the more we start to under­stand each other.

We know how to create egal­i­tarian and inclu­sive soci­eties, but we must leave behind the ide­o­log­ical shackles of civil­i­sa­tion. The indoc­tri­na­tion of our society is deep.

The con­cep­tion of “intel­li­gence” baked into Western cul­ture and orthodox eco­nomic ide­ology is anaemic.

“I do believe we have to start thinking imag­i­na­tively about sys­tems that are fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ently orga­nized. Shifts do happen in his­tory. We’ve been taught for the last 30 to 40 years that imag­i­na­tion has no place in pol­i­tics or eco­nomics, but that, too, is bull­shit.”

“I think we need a rebel­lion of what I call the “caring class,” people who care about others and jus­tice. We need to think about how to create a new social move­ment and change what we value in our work and lives.”

“People have a sense of what makes a job worth­while; oth­er­wise, they wouldn’t realize that what they’re doing now is bull­shit. So we need to give this more artic­u­la­tion, and we need to unite with other people who want the same things. That’s a polit­ical project we can all get behind.” – David Graeber

Warning: Collaboration is con­ta­gious, even beyond the autistic com­mu­nity. There are some good seg­ments in this doc­u­men­tary.

“Extreme inequality, as it turns out, is not an eco­nomic law or neces­sity: it is a design failure. Twenty-first cen­tury econ­o­mists rec­og­nize that there are many ways to design economies to be far more dis­trib­u­tive of value among those who help to gen­erate it. And that means going beyond redis­trib­uting income to pre-distributing wealth, such as the wealth that lies in con­trol­ling land, enter­prise, and the power to create money.”Kate Raworth

Building a new model, the autistic way

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change some­thing, build a new model that makes the existing model obso­lete.” ― Buckminster Fuller

solidarity

Magic hap­pens when you com­bine col­lab­o­ra­tion and neu­ro­di­ver­sity, because then the result is diver­sity and cre­ativity rather than group­think.

We don’t need yet another com­plex tem­plate for organ­i­sa­tional struc­ture and not yet another com­plex or rigid process to follow within the estab­lished social order.

The path to escape the box of a sick society involves redis­cov­ering time­less and min­i­mal­istic prin­ci­ples for coor­di­nating cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion in the absence of cap­ital and hier­ar­chical struc­tures:

  1. Visibly extend trust to people, to release the hand­brake to col­lab­o­ra­tion.
  2. Unlock valu­able tacit knowl­edge within a group.
  3. Provide a space for cre­ative freedom.
  4. Help repair frayed rela­tion­ships.
  5. Replace fear with courage.

People have known about these prin­ci­ples for mil­lennia. Some of the prin­ci­ples have been redis­cov­ered many times, by dif­ferent groups of people in var­ious geo­gra­phies and in dif­ferent cul­tural con­texts. In par­tic­ular, neu­ro­di­ver­gent people are acutely aware that cul­ture is con­structed one trusted rela­tion­ship at a time – this is the essence of fully appre­ci­ating diver­sity.

“Study after study con­firms that most people have about five inti­mate friends, 15 close friends, 50 gen­eral friends and 150 acquain­tances. This threshold is imposed by brain size and chem­istry, as well as the time it takes to main­tain mean­ingful rela­tion­ships” – Robin Dunbar, 2018

Within a good com­pany (smaller than 50 people) and espe­cially within a team, everyone is acutely aware of the com­pe­ten­cies of all the other mem­bers. In a NeurodiVenture all mem­bers expose (write down and share) their indi­vidual com­pe­tency net­works for the ben­efit of everyone within the com­pany.

Transparency of indi­vidual com­pe­tency net­works enables meta knowl­edge (who has which knowl­edge and who entrusts whom with ques­tions or needs in rela­tion to spe­cific domains of knowl­edge) to flow freely with an organ­i­sa­tion.

The result is an immensely valu­able index of com­pe­ten­cies con­sisting of up to 50 unique per­spec­tives on the com­pany.

These per­spec­tives are not merged as part of some absurd attempt to create a unique source of truth.

All per­spec­tives are con­sid­ered equally valid.

Collectively their pres­ence allows the com­pany to rapidly respond intel­li­gently and with courage to all kinds of external events, by drawing on col­lec­tive intel­li­gence in a very lit­eral sense.

“It is not wealth that stands in the way of lib­er­a­tion but the attach­ment to wealth; not the enjoy­ment of plea­sur­able things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist eco­nomics, there­fore, is sim­plicity and non-violence.” – E. F. Schumacher, 1966

The obser­va­tions made by E. F. Schumacher are very closely aligned with the intent of the NeurodiVenture model. Consider the fol­lowing extract from his time­less essay on Buddhist eco­nomics:

“It is clear, there­fore, that Buddhist eco­nomics must be very dif­ferent from the eco­nomics of modern mate­ri­alism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civ­i­liza­tion not in a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of wants but in the purifi­ca­tion of human char­acter.”

“Thus, if the pur­pose of clothing is a cer­tain amount of tem­per­a­ture com­fort and an attrac­tive appear­ance, the task is to attain this pur­pose with the smallest pos­sible annual destruc­tion of cloth and with the help of designs that involve the smallest pos­sible input of toil.”

“The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic cre­ativity. It would be highly uneco­nomic, for instance, to go in for com­pli­cated tai­loring, like the modern West, when a much more beau­tiful effect can be achieved by the skillful draping of uncut mate­rial.”

“It would be the height of folly to make mate­rial so that it should wear out quickly and the height of bar­barity to make any­thing ugly, shabby, or mean. What has just been said about clothing applies equally to all other human require­ments.”

“As phys­ical resources are every­where lim­ited, people sat­is­fying their needs by means of a modest use of resources are obvi­ously less likely to be at each other’s throats than people depending upon a high rate of use.”

“Equally, people who live in highly self-sufficient local com­mu­ni­ties are less likely to get involved in large-scale vio­lence than people whose exis­tence depends on world-wide sys­tems of trade.”

It is impor­tant to under­stand that an emphasis on local-self suf­fi­ciency in terms of phys­ical resource use is simply an effec­tive way of min­imising energy use and con­flicts arising out of spu­rious cul­tural com­plexity, and does not pre­clude exten­sive global col­lab­o­ra­tion and pro­lific knowl­edge sharing.

Call for action and mutual support

Autistic people suffer at the hands of a sick society, and often this cul­mi­nates in severe mental health prob­lems. The pathway for­ward for the indi­vidual autistic person depends on the con­crete con­text.

It is time to celebrate our interdependence!

Collaboration allows us to create gen­uinely safe spaces for autistic and oth­er­wise neu­ro­di­ver­gent people.

If you are inter­ested in learning more about the NeurodiVenture approach, please get in touch via the Autistic Collaboration web­site.

I am happy to share our expe­ri­ence with other teams.

We should expect society to sup­port us in estab­lishing autistic col­lab­o­ra­tions, and we should not be forced indi­vid­u­ally to be “included” in toxic exploita­tive envi­ron­ments.

 

4 Comments


  1. Brilliant. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I some­times wonder if it might be useful to reach out to socialist or sim­ilar left-leaning groups to see how they could help make.our voices heard. While they do not nec­es­sarily share our par­tic­ular lived expe­ri­ences, they have a vested interest in reforming or dis­man­tling the sys­tems that allow our exploita­tion to sus­tain itself and might be willing to use their power base to our advan­tage.

    1. Yours truly was vis­iting L’Humanite in English.

      And I know about the World Socialist League and in Australia the Alternative and the Alliance.

      Thank you Anonymous!

      Anarchists are helpful too and the syn­di­cal­ists.

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