A sizeable wing of the 'new young improved' transhumanists are self diagnosed "Asperger" "autistics" who rail at "neuro-typicals" and claim specifically that their lack of empathy, lack f ability to read social cues and specifically their sociopathy (they do indeed claim that specific word) makes them human+ and closer to the Great Robot. They make a lot of allusions to a "new evolution" of "mutant xmen" autistics as "homo superior." Brain damage makes a better (trans)human! whoda thunkit?I replied:
I must say I do not sympathize with the suggestion that everybody who might be posited to be on the "autism spectrum" should be thought of as brain damaged! I actually do sympathize with a measure of the politics of differently enabled folks who refuse enforced morphological norming or neurotypicality in the name of eugenic "optimality" or even as homogenizing "ends in themselves."
Much of my problem here arises from my sense of the incredible looseness of the notion of autism spectrum especially given what seems to be its growing popularity as an explanatory/ justificatory figure in public discourse. I daresay self-identification with the spectrum re-framed as super-humanizing is a compensation for abusive assignments to the spectrum that are abjecting. Neither move seems to me particularly useful.
Equity-in-diversity is a democratic virtue, and a fraught one. I default to a generous sense of consent -- where legibly informed and nonduressed citizens affirm wanted lifeways that pose no harm I tend to support them, whether they are normal or not. The legibility of consent imposes some limits on diversity itself, beyond that I think we need to be awfully careful.
This reply of mine generated a number of comments documenting the evidence of brain damage and pathology in some children diagnosed with autism, none of which seems to me to be called into question by my comment, but there you go. I elaborated:
"Autism spectrum" is also a DISCOURSE, very loosely formulated and yet generating very real effects of stigma (or worse) in its assignment, arising out of a historical context in which medical diagnoses regularly function to police arbitrary bourgeois norms, playing out in a current American context in which hyper-individualism is asserted while conformity is ferociously enforced.
I do not deny the existence of the condition, I do not deny the utility of treatments, I am simply insisting on care in judgment in the face of ambiguity. But, to be clear, neither do I countenance another hysterical public health panic from Americans driven by a perfect storm of authoritarian predilection and media sensationalism.
It is interesting that you publish this wall of evidence as if my call to recognize context and some nuances here is tantamount to denialism about mental health problems. Quite to the contrary, I regard mental health problems as rampant, and their stigmatization and mischaracterization exacerbates these problems terribly -- almost as much as lack of funding for public support does, to the extent that these issues can even be disentangled.
I will add here that as a queer person I am well aware of the ways in which "objective diagnoses" by well-meaning well-educated mental health care specialists exacerbated through what they were sure was support the misery of countless lgbtq folks, all the while seeing the misery in which they collaborated always only as more evidence of the dis-ease they sought to ameliorate. To this day, I am troubled by bio-reductionist accounts explaining differences in the brains of non-heterosexual subjects always in terms of excesses and deficiencies, smuggling pathologizing norms into apparently neutral diagnoses.
There definitely are such things as diagnosable mental health problems with objective symptoms and useful treatments. But there is no such thing as a perfect child, there are endlessly many different ways to flourish. There is no such thing as a non-problematic upbringing, maturation and socialization are always profoundly demanding, stressful, and probably ineradicably traumatic. There is no such thing as an optimally healthy individual, precisely because individuality consists in the different ends the facilitation of which demand we be differently capacitated. I am not prepared to deny all that may be described as autism in its difference its potential for flourishing or its contribution to culture, not to deny support or care where it is needed or wanted. Again, equity-in-diversity is a truly fraught democratic value, but I do think it enjoins us to resist an either-or here.
"Nothing About Us Without Us," seems to me a powerful recognition of the connection of a scene of consent as the ongoing democratic adjudication of the dialectic of equity in diversity, it is a slogan that seems to me to resonate beyond the field of disability politics (I prefer the term differently enabled anyway), just as the slogan "Keep Your Laws Off Of My Body" resonates beyond reproductive rights to encompass queer legalization and ending the racist war on drugs.