The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity
Autism neurodiversity

Active disablement of minorities

In a W.E.I.R.D. culture where autistic people are pathologised, it can be helpful to point to reflections on culture made by outsiders and members of minorities

  1. who are marginalised and often persecuted,
  2. whose educational diet was not limited to the W.E.I.R.D. education system,
  3. and those who have spent significant times of their lives outside their culture of origin.

The following selection of examples may give neuronormative, culturally “well adjusted” people an introduction to symptoms of the W.E.I.R.D. social disease.

An American perspective

The United States of Narcissism, by American Canary, directed by Amanda Zackem (2020):

A Japanese perspective

Excerpts from Future Design: Incorporating Preferences of Future Generations for Sustainability (2020):

While the market may be a place where desired short – term gains can be achieved extremely efficiently, it is not meant for allocating resources with an eye towards the welfare of future generations. Even in a democracy designed to compensate for market failures, a method of realizing profits for people at present, by its very nature, does not take into account the welfare of the future generations… The greatest concern of most democratically elected politicians is their own re – election, not the need to ensure that their actions consider future generations.

The market, democracy, and individual optimism lead to the “ If we all start logging this mountain, we could make a fortune ” perspective from the second half of the twentieth century to the present…

In neighborhoods, city councils, and national assemblies, which could be considered as similar mechanisms in our own societies, one never sees a scenario in which participants envision a generation, say, 100 years into the future, before they make decisions; in our society, the idea of present – day elected officials representing future generations is unthinkable.

We are realizing that the potential for a new field of science, one that bridges the gap between traditional science and the humanities, is hidden in the designs of future social systems.

Sociality was essential in order for people to work together and communicate for a single goal, so it must have evolved that way. The market is in fact a tool to erase sociality.

The market is good at balance of supply and demand on a short term in which there is no element of time, and this changes once time is factored in. Most investments do not take place over multiple generations and is focused on profit in the near future. As has just been described, markets are prone to fail with uncertain futures. This is reinforced by people’s shortsightedness. The market lacks any mechanism that distributes resources between current and future generations. Instead, markets exploit future resources without hesitation.

People naturally gravitate towards policies that give out benefits within one’s lifetime. Therefore, indirect representative democracies do not implement institutions that take future generations into account. Optimism bias is one reason why estimates for public works tend to exaggerate the benefits and understate costs. Another reason is strategic manipulation by politicians and contractors . the cost of climate change is minimal for the current generation but increases with the passing of time — for which future generations must pay dearly.

it is practical to use the human tendency to be able to think of how others think in their hearts and create a group of people who act as a person from the future world.  This group will be a sort of imaginary future generation , and make institutions to make it possible for them to bargain. We shall call this group the Ministry of the Future.

The Ministry needs only to come up with possible problems that people will face in the future, and create several alternatives from which current generations can choose the course of action. Then, we randomly select a number of individuals from society and through dialogue and debate with the Ministry of the Future, make them represent future generations. Then , we must also choose a group of people to serve as representatives of the current situation. The process will have the two sides and the ministry discusses and argues to decide upon a single course of action to solve problems to be faced by future generations.

Furthermore, by regulating the market from the perspective of future generations, myopic democracy will have to change as well. Perhaps constitutions will be amended and new legal systems will be built up on the basis of a “ basic law of the future ”.

As the example of climate change shows, various fields are incorporated into the IPCC but they do not have a clear future perspective , so their intention is not to design the future itself. Therefore a new research field is needed. We can call it future design. Perhaps in the future there will be future design research institutions and graduate programs. Think of a society in which one person in ten thousand only thinks about the future. Many universities will have a future department, complete with graduate schools and young people will learn how to design the future. From them, some may become researchers and others may become public servants in the ministry or department of the future. I hope for a society in which these kinds of people will be honored and respected.

Tatsuyoshi Saijo
Specially Appointed Professor (Program Director), Research Institute for Humanity and Nature
Professor, School of Management, Kochi University of Technology
Director, Research Institute for Future Design

A Native American perspective

The talk Looking Toward the Seventh Generation (2008) by Oren Lyons examines the origins of the obsession with growth and domination in Western ideology and law.

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons discusses the increasingly urgent issues of global warming and climate change and points to Indigenous peoples, their core values, and their reciprocal relationships to the natural world as sources of instruction for human beings to heed in order to combat those issues.

Oren Lyons describes a collaboration between indigenous nations that has a history that predates European “discovery” by over thousand years, and that has survived until today. The culture he describes is one example of a number of indigenous societies that have traditionally operated with a 150 year or longer look-ahead time horizon. 

A Nigerian perspective

Excerpt from In Nigeria, colonial thinking affects everyone. It is time we found new heroes (2020):

We joke about “colo mentality” in Nigeria as a problem that affects only “the ignorant masses”, when, in reality, it is an affliction that excludes no one – equally responsible for the most obvious displays of self-alienation, as it is for the not-so-declaratory, corrosive transformations it makes to our ideas.

Is the solution to build powerful Black nations by imitating a history of European capitalist domination and aspiring to false notions of “rationality” as espoused by European philosophy and science? Is this not, also, the result of a “colonial mentality”? Shall we counteract the violence of European colonisation by showing that we, too, can be just as exploitative, as greedy, “rational”?

I do not ask these questions to be rhetorical. I am, also, searching for answers.

One of the many devastating consequences of colonialism, in its imposition of one mode of thought and way of life, attempting to destroy all others, is that it shallows our imaginations, too closely confining them to present, near-recent, experience.

It does not help that Europeans continue, in their recordings of a history of ideas, to persist in the belief of their unique mightiness. As Zophia Edwards, a sociology professor at Providence College in the United States, notes, western scholarship is replete with false notions that the most useful ideas come from the global north, only copied by the global south. Conveniently forgetting that such ideas as a universal human rights were first developed by Latin American countries.

Through wilful acts of forgetting and myth-making, and despite the evidence of our labour in the establishment of their metaphorical houses, it remains prominent in the minds of many Europeans that the current socioeconomic development of African countries is simply the result of our supposed lack of intellectual originality.

We are, in Nigeria, beginning to unmask the villains of our present predicament. They are not just the colonials – every one of them – but those, also, among our historical elite who aided and abetted colonialism. Some, like the slave trader Madam Tinubu, we have unsoundly memorialised, though by their wickedness we should have known they were not heroes. And our heroes?

It is not enough to reveal the lies and tear down the statues, though this we must. We have, also, to build things in their places. The political thought of the anti-apartheid activist and thinker Steve Biko contains an instructive conception of freedom that requires, first, the elevation of Black Consciousness, of Black cultures and communities, out of the false baseness they have been pushed into. Second, the thorough understanding that white people are just, well, people. That the space that they have collectively attempted to occupy in the last few hundred years is not simply one of superiority, but an attempt at being more than human. And to have done so by maintaining others in sub-human state.

For everyone to be brought back to being simply, fully, but not more than, a human being, white people will need to give up instrumental power, and more – a mental, religious, understanding of themselves as God-like.

If Black Consciousness, the emancipation of the Black mind, and the recovery of the true freedom of all human beings starts with correcting the obvious violences of colonisation, it is not completed until we have questioned every communal understanding we take for granted. Our real heroes cannot be left unscathed. It is daunting. We will be tired. But free.

Eniola Anuoluwapo Soyemi
Political theorist and a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute

Māori perspectives

Excerpts from the introduction of the report of Matike Mai Aotearoa – The Independent Working Group on Constitutional Change (2016):

“I respect that our people want to be at the table and that Parliament or the Council is where the table’s at right now but that doesn’t mean that’s where it should always be at or even where it’s meant to be at…I want my tamariki to know we can change that and reset the table because it’s the right thing to do”.

“I work for Council partly because I’ve got a mortgage but also because I think it can be better for some of our people to be in there but it’s a struggle, especially in a little place like this…I’d love it if there was a better way to do things…not just because it might be easier… and I only say might be easier because our people can be hard taskmasters, but because at least we would be responsible for ourselves and wouldn’t have to keep asking for permission for things”.

“We never talk about constitutions in our mahi but we know that the people we deal with have no say over the government decisions that affect their everyday lives. They have no say over the economic policies that make them poor or take away their jobs. I know that’s not what the treaty was about and it just seems important to get it right”.

“I was in court before this hui for my mahi and everyone up on a charge was a Māori. They don’t know what to do and even if they did they have no power to change it. That might seem a long way away from any kōrero about this kaupapa but it isn’t really”.

“I’ve been in this wheelchair for eighteen years and I know all about the frustration of all of this. It’s not just policy decisions that affect me and others like me but the other power and the system that talks about partnership yet here we are…just where the old people were when they were having hui like this fifty or a hundred years ago”.

“I know some people might say all this talk is unrealistic but the reality we have now isn’t working. Parliament isn’t about us or the treaty…it’s not even from us and unless things change we’re just going to keep on having protests or making submissions or forming new Parties and nothing will really change”.

“When we told a friend we were coming to this hui she said ‘dream on’ and I know none of this will be easy…lots of others will probably think it’s unrealistic as well but Te Tiriti was a bit of dream because it was generous to the Crown and it had a tikanga…we haven’t got that tikanga right yet but we have to keep trying”.

“We have always had the whatukura tangata whenua or cornerstones of a constitution that rest in our tikanga and our mana and tino rangatiratanga. They are part of our whakapapa and are what joins humans to everything in this world and the universe…mai te wenua ki te rangi…The key will be giving effect to them for the benefit of our mokopuna…and identifying the values that would make it unique and long-lasting…being true to what is tika rather than what is expedient”.

Not everyone agreed on every point at every hui of course, and there was often a very palpable fear that advocating any real constitutional transformation might provoke a Pākehā backlash. But the overwhelming consensus was that more needed to be done, and should be done. Like the rangatahi in Porirua, the people wanted to be “in”.

However we hope that the Report does justice to the views which people shared with us. We also hope that it helps point the way to the deliberative constitutional transformation which they sought.

A Taiwanese perspective

Excerpt from We see democracy itself as a technology (2020):

What are the central elements of your present COVID-19 strategy?

We have acted along three principles: fast, fair and fun. Fast: There is a toll-free number that anyone can call and report for example a shortage of masks. Fair: We are ensuring through the single payer national health insurance that more than 99,9% of not just citizens, but also residents can have access to rationed masks. And finally, fun, humor over rumor: We battle the infodemic of conspiracy theories by creating memes and cute figures like Shiba Inu that people shared much more on social media than conspiracy theories.

Corona is more than a health crisis: What was your role as the Digital Minister?

The most important technologies in the Corona crisis are soap, sanitizers and the physical vaccine, the mask. But we did use a lot of novel data applications to battle the pandemic – like an app developed by citizens, civic hackers as we call them here. This app visualizes the availability of masks at pharmacies, enabling people to make evidence-based interpolations and base their critique on real data.

Transparency creates trust.

One key factor is alignment: Everybody can see that pharmacists, to stay with this example, really share the goal of giving as many people as possible access to masks. The other factor is accountability: Not only can everybody check the app, everybody can suggest better distribution methods.

How do you guarantee privacy?

We call it participatory self-surveillance. In high risk places like bars we do require that people make it possible to be contacted in case of a local transmission. But all information is distributed and decentralized and preserves the anonymity valued at such places.

What makes the Taiwanese society so open to new technology, so quick to adapt?

One important factor is that in Taiwan democracy is really new. The first presidential election was in 1996, the world wide web already existed. We see democracy itself as a technology, an applied social technology. The constitution is something that you can tweak and change – we already did it five times and are now considering another change. In a way, democracy is not very different from semiconductor design – anyone can improve it.

What is the other factor?

It is connected to the first: People who are 40 years old and more remember the years of martial law. And any technology that threatens to take society back to a more authoritarian era is an automatic non-starter in Taiwan. We’ll just say: Do you want to go back to martial law? Do you want to go back to white hair?

What are non-authoritarian technologies for you?

We are very focused on democratizing technologies like free software, open-source or the distributed ledger of the blockchain. We also question historical rituals of democracy, like a vote every four years. Is that really a good idea? Do you get all the best input for the democratic institutions? We augmented the election process and introduced referenda, participatory budgeting, E-petitions, you name it.

Western democracies seem to be struggling in this pandemic with a very disparate reaction to the challenge of Corona. What is your take on this?

The great thing about democracy is the resilience. It relies on people actually having scientific understanding and renewing the institution. It will be better the next time around. Just as Taiwan in 2004 set up a new infrastructure and did yearly drills and augmented with the latest digital technologies. I’m sure that now that you have this societal exposure to a SARS 2.0, you too will do better when SARS 3.0 comes around.

How do you cooperate as a state institution with citizens and other societal actors?

We are building a norm around data that is social sector first – neither public sector first, which would mean state surveillance and authoritarian intelligence, nor private sector dominated, which would mean surveillance capitalism and the dependence on multinational companies. We always put people first in people, public, private partnerships.

Audrey Tang
Digital Minister of Taiwan

An Autistic perspective

Extract from Uncovering the Words of the Wordless Aut Sutra (2020):

We consider the Aut Sutra as pre-dating 500 BCE (when the historical Buddha appeared) by at least a hundred million years. We consider active-receptive autist (or atmost) silence as an appearance of suññatā (emptiness). Further, the familiar uncorrupted qualities that we find in the Aut Sutra include:

honesty (lack of tact)

a sense of self that is not boundaried, not limited (lack of self-consciousness)

reality as interdependence (proto-panpsychism)

senses experienced as not separate from each other (synesthesia /lack of sensory discrimination)

movement in stillness and stillness in movement (lack of binary discrimination)

embodied and with everything / spaciousness-in-placeness (lack of mind-body split, lack of ego)

pronoun fluidity (lack of fixed positions for self and other)

friendliness (lack of distrust)

equanimity (lack of hierarchical reasoning)

Helen Mirra
A [u|r] tist

Critical thinking tools

Minority perspectives and outsiders are the most valuable source of critical thinking tools and the main source of collective intelligence for any society.

The way Oren Lyons talks about collaboration between “peoples” fits very well with what I outline in this article:

…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… 

“Peoples” correspond to what I refer to as a “cultural species”. I came across Oren Lyons via the work of Tatsuyoshi Saijo on social and economic decision making in modern societies. Both scholars don’t hesitate to point out the sucidal short-terminism of W.E.I.R.D. economic logic.

I can also relate to the Nigerian perspective above. From my childhood I have memories of the European/British colonial attitude in the early 1970s in Nigeria, in the years after the country gained “independence”. The way the locals were viewed by European expats had many similarities to the way in which autistic people are treated – as backwards and incapable of measuring up to Western standards of “civilisation”.

Current Māori perspectives point to the role of wilful ignorance and deception in W.E.I.R.D. cultures.

The Taiwanese perspective on COVID-19 highlights the critical role of mutual trust within society, as well as the latent potential for collective intelligence that is at our fingertips when trust is combined with transparency and with digital communication and collaboration technologies to enact new forms of democracy.

Autists conceptualise the world in terms of trusted relationships with unique people rather than in terms of tribes and abstract group identities. They are best understood as the cultural immune system of human societies that is active in virtually all human groups that involve relationships between 50 or more people.

The presence of autistic people ensures that all groups of humans are equipped with some level of self-reflective capability that counteracts cultural bias. We are devastated when we learn that neuronormative people exploit relationships as a tool to advance their social status in a group, and that “normal W.E.I.R.D.” relationships are not about continuous collaboration and learning from each other in domains that we care deeply about. Furthermore, autistic people tend to act as catalysts for knowledge flows and shared understanding between groups. Pathologising autistic people is a really bad idea.

The 26 MODA + MODE backbone principles act as a baseline set of thinking tools, to avoid getting entrapped in a single paradigm. A specific culture may have further bones, but one or more missing vertebrae lead to a collective learning disability. The following subset of MODA + MODE thinking tools relate directly to the critical role of minority perspectives for the development of collective intelligence:

  1. Understand that minorities and outsiders are well positioned for uncovering attempts of deception
  2. Give minorities and outsiders access to private means of communication
  3. Recognise neurological differences as authentic and valuable sources of innovative potential
  4. Value local perspectives more than widely-held popular beliefs
  5. Understand that all information is dependent on perspective and viewpoint
  6. Understand that a multitude of perspectives generates new insights
  7. Understand that power gradients stand in the way of transformation
  8. Recognise paradoxes and disagreements as the essence of continuous improvement
  9. Engage in niche construction
  10. Use feedback loops to create learning systems

Only by pathologising and actively disabling autistic people is the autism medical industrial complex able to manipulate the exchange rate for trustworthy autistic knowledge and honest autistic advice in favour of maximum corporate profits.

Active disablement of autists at work

There are many reasons why autists often find it difficult to find employment and to stay employed. The following examples summarise experiences made by many autists. I relate to all of them:

  1. Being perceived as over-qualified or over-experienced, potentially embarrassing colleagues and superiors
  2. Being too honest to withhold the truth from customers or to tolerate social power politics within a team or between teams
  3. Working in ways that differ from established “best practices”, resulting in being perceived as unable to integrate into a team, even if the results achieved are objectively superior to established “best practice”
  4. Inability to perform small talk to the level considered “normal” according to the unspoken rules for social interaction, resulting in being perceived as unfriendly or uncooperative
  5. Refusal to partake in after-work social events in environments that represent sensory hell for an autistic person
  6. Requesting flexibility in terms of working hours or changes to office environments that are perceived as inappropriate and incompatible with established local norms
  7. Exhaustion and burn-out, often due to a combination of sensory overload and drowning in workload that others find too difficult or too much to handle

Many autists choose to stay undercover in order to avoid career suicide, but they pay an extreme price in terms of the effort of continuous masking, being bullied and misunderstood on a regular basis, continuous low level anxiety, periods of depression, and at times suicidal ideation.

Given the myths and misinformation peddled by the autism medical industrial complex, the chances for employment of openly autistic people are further compromised, playing into the hands of organisations that specialise in employing or brokering employment for autistic people, often for specific roles in quality assurance, data analysis, and software development. Many of these organisations systematically exploit available government funding for employing disabled people, whilst paying their autistic staff salaries close to the minimum wage – or at best – market rates for junior or mid-level roles.

The future of W.E.I.R.D. monocultures

Like earlier severe pandemics that are no longer part of living memory, the COVID-19 pandemic holds the potential to become a major catalyst for learning and cultural change.

“The moment we become arrogant, we´ll lose”. (March 2020)
– Prof Kim Woo-Ju, South Korea’s leading COVID-19 expert

Enablement of minorities and outsiders

Regarding the future, the following observations by Oren Lyons seem highly appropriate:

How is global warming impacting native indigenous people? 

It impacts poor people and indigenous peoples are almost always poor, they’re the first ones to suffer. In Africa and Haiti, people are already suffering from global warming  and the Arctic is really going down fast. I get reports from Alaska, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Mongolia, the polar caps, it is all the same, it is going down, going down fast. So fast that there’s no transition, no transition for the ice culture to adapt and the animals are caught in it the same way as the humans are. The Inuit of Greenland say that they only give the White Bear 20 more years and the White Bear is now mating with the Brown Bear, so they know. Things are changing quickly. I would expect that in the next two years we are going to be involved in some very serious fires, bigger ones than what was seen this year, and there are going to be bigger storms, maybe one or two Katrina scale storms and that’s going to wake the people up. And then from that point, we may have a chance, but the people have to be slammed hard on the side of the head to where they have to fear. It seems to be the only thing that they’re going to respond to now. They’re certainly not going to respond to common sense. It’s going to take their own personal survival fear kicking in, and if that’s what it takes. We had a string of 139 tornadoes up the center of the United States this past week. Nobody’s ever seen that before, that’s unprecedented. Doesn’t that tell you something? If that doesn’t tell you that we need to be changing from how you’re living your life I would say something’s wrong.

Last year my colleague Dr. Pete Rive published a book titled “Worldbending : a survivor’s guide” (introduction, video synopsis).

Our company, an employee owned neurodiventure that is the main sponsor of the AutCollab.org website, offers Creative Collaboration, a service that assists organisations to navigate an uncertain future by unlocking creativity and by establishing and maintaining psychological safety on an ongoing basis.

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