Instead of the individualistic perspective, mental health can only be understood in a way that is meaningful for humans at the level of a biocultural organism at human scale. People are connected via all the many ways in which we communicate, enjoy doing things together, help each other, and share food and other resources.
The interactions between us have a direct impact on our nervous systems, cardiovascular systems, and digestive systems. The more hypersensitive and emotionally connected we are, the more pronounced the effect, and the more we notice these connections between us. There is a bidirectional feedback loop between the interactions between us and the states of our internal systems. The more experiences and stories we have shared, the more we understand our respective contexts, and the more our internal systems react when we interact.
The pleasure of pattern recognition is an important part of the Autistic sensory experience that transcends all aspects of life.
It is not an accident that many artists are Autists. Sensing beauty and the ability to make it explicit via artistic expression and creative play is at the core of Autistic experience.
Beauty is of course also part of the human capacity for love and compassion, even towards complete strangers, including members of other biological and cultural species.
If access to beauty is taken away from us, for example in industrialised mono-cultures, in degraded ecosystems, when the only recognisable patterns are life denying and creativity destroying coercive forces, then Autistic life is reduced to coping mechanisms in survival mode, which often includes obsessive and compulsive patterns. A fulfilled healthy Autistic life is incompatible with the factory model of society, which only allows for “normal” standardised functional human cogs in the industrialised machine.
The stereotype that Autists have difficulty with collaboration is the result of a fundamentally different perspective on the purpose of social interaction. The purpose of Autistic social interaction:
to learn from each other, to collaborate with others towards a shared goal.
The purpose of neuronormative social interaction in industrialised societies:
to negotiate social status and power gradients, to compete against each other using culturally defined rules.
Autistic creative collaboration can be described in terms of a Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination, Internalisation (SECI) knowledge creation spiral within Open Space, i.e. in terms of the free flows of knowledge and the collaborative niche construction that emerges in the absence of social power dynamics.
Sensory profiles and cognitive lenses, especially of people who are hypersensitive, are unique and vary along many dimensions. The interaction patterns between any two Autistic people who spend time together develop into a unique protocol and a unique language system. Taking the time to learn about and understand each other’s sensory profiles and cognitive lenses is essential for feeling safe with each other, and is a prerequisite for establishing de-powered relationships and ecologies of care.
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.
The intuitive Autistic rejection of all forms of social power gradients is simply a reflection of the innate collaborative inclinations that are the result of 2 million years of gene culture co-evolution. As Riane Eisler points out in her book Nurturing our Humanity, and as any hypersensitive Autistic person can attest, humans get stronger neurochemical rewards from caring and sharing than from winning and dominating. This applies at all levels of scale, and this basic biological fact shows the limitations and the extreme dangers associated with game theoretic approaches, including all attempts to understand and guide human decision making via such approaches.
In Te Reo Māori the NeurodiVenture concept translates to Neurodivergent whānau. Indigenous languages like Te Reo Māori have important words for concepts that have been suppressed by colonialism.
Whānau : extended family, family group, a familiar term of address to a number of people – the primary economic unit of traditional Māori society. In the modern context the term is sometimes used to include friends who may not have any kinship ties to other members.
There is an urgent need to catalyse Autistic collaboration and co-create healthy Neurodivergent and Autistic whānau all over the world.
Autists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised in hypernormative societies. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is considered “normal”. The endless chains of trauma must be broken. In mainstream society people don’t understand how Autistic people support each other, love each other, and care for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination.
There is the saying that “It takes a village to raise a child.” The Autistic translation of this saying is “For an Autistic person it takes an extended Autistic family to feel loved and alive.”
Most Autists are not born into healthy Autistic families. We have to co-create our families in our own space and time. In a healthy culture Autistic children are assisted in co-creating their unique Autistic families, but in our “civilisation” this cultural knowledge has been lost and is suppressed.
Small is beautiful, understandable, and allows mutual trust and mutual aid to flourish.
“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 good company (smaller than 50 people), everyone is acutely aware of the competencies of all the other members, and transparency and mutual trust enables knowledge and meta knowledge (who has which knowledge and who entrusts whom with questions or needs in relation to specific domains of knowledge) to flow freely. This allows the group to rapidly respond intelligently and with courage to all kinds of external events.
NeurodiVerse : human scale cultures created by neurodiversity within the human species, i.e. the universe of Neurodivergent and Autistic whānau
Autistic cognitive limits and sensitivities re-sensitise human societies to the limits of human scale, because Autistic bodyminds react viscerally when overwhelmed by super human scale expectations and delusions.
So called “civilisation” and empire building needs to be recognised as the most life denying and ultimately self-destructive social disease that can afflict human societies.
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. Many timeless observations on cultural and psychological safety don’t neatly fit with the siloed W.E.I.R.D. ways of knowing.
All life on this planet is constrained by the energy that is available to power the activities of life, which are all based on the assembly of complex biochemical molecules. Additionally human life is constrained by our cognitive limits, i.e. the limits to which we can truly comprehend the world that we are embedded in.
Paying attention to timeless patterns, and never forgetting them, helps anchor us firmly in what Riane Eisler calls the partnership model rather than the domination model. We are well advised to remember that the linear language of human speech and writing is not the most appropriate technology for nurturing and sustaining collective intelligence. All attempts of powered-up human empire building have a perfect track record of failure. In contrast, we know that rock paintings and non-linear diagrammatic representations allowed high fidelity knowledge preservation and transmission within de-powered societies across many millennia.
In his book ‘How Forests Think – Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human‘ Eduardo Kohn elaborates how humans are not only part of an ecology of care, and capable of nurturing relationships that extend far beyond humans, but he also reveals the fundamental patterns of semiosis and thought that are inherent to all forms of life, at all levels of scale.
The European conceptualisation of the individual human ego is a product of the misguided metaphor of society as a profit generating machine. A shift to ecosystems of human scale groups reduces the spurious complexity needed to support a monoculture, and it retains and even grows adaptive cultural complexity, i.e. the diversity that emerges when the human ecological footprint is aligned with bioregional ecosystem functions. Adaptive complexity saves energy – it is the result of humans engaging in collaborative niche construction as a part of biological ecosystems.
Once events beyond human control force us to pay attention to the much richer metaphors of living systems, humans will rediscover the beauty of collaborating at human scale, and that co-creating beautiful works of art is the ultimate antidote against the emergence of social power dynamics and the competitive logic of hate and violence.