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.
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.
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:
- the inability to maintain hidden agendas, and
- 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.
- 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
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:
- Visibly extend trust to people, to release the handbrake to collaboration.
- Unlock valuable tacit knowledge within a group.
- Provide a space for creative freedom.
- Help repair frayed relationships.
- 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.