One of my readers seems to be a little “put out” that I seem to dwell somewhat on Aspergers Syndrome on this blog. I am about to come out with another one, so he is free to switch to another web site or go and make a cup of tea or pour himself a brandy. I write on this blog from the point of view of a Christian priest and a humanist. Following Christ, I am concerned about humanity of which I am a part for the time that I am in via – and perhaps also in the next world.

In the last couple of days, I have watched a couple of long videos about psychiatry and mental illness, and am appalled about the way psychiatry is given a “right” to take away human freedom, dignity and his rights to refuse medical treatment. We are not talking about Aspergers, or the autism spectrum in general but also all the ways that some individuals differ from what is conventionally called normality or being typical. From time immemorial, some individuals are different both physically and mentally. In the Gospel, the favoured ones of Christ were the crippled, the blind, the deaf, those who sought God’s forgiveness for sin, the possessed. They came to him, and on a word or a gesture, they were healed. Many live their entire lives with a handicap which cannot be cured, and have to learn to live in spite of that disability. It is obvious that one will seek a cure for diseases and deformations, but the usual prognosis is living one’s condition as a difference.

I have often commented on the contrast between the attitude based on Darwin’s theory and some of the more negative aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy that only the strong, the rich and powerful may inherit our world, and the weak must be sacrificed by being discreetly done to death in gas chambers and other available means – and the Gospel of Christ that privileges the weak, the sick and the poor. I am of the conviction that one of the few truly humanist influences in the world today is Christianity!

There are atypical conditions that fall between the condition of the strong and dominant on one hand and those who are followed by the medical profession to try to bring about a cure or help that person live with his condition. Those who are somewhere in between are simply different. If all our differences can be explained by medical categories, the assumption if given that the status quo of society is correct, and that the sick do not have the same rights as “typicals”. The real question is whether people have to be “fixed” and “made normal”, or whether there must be a new form of “tolerance” or “inclusion” by society, enabling those with differences to thrive as human persons. We see this notion expressed in a number of questions like homosexuality or gender identity. This is where we have to be very careful, because the more you try to impose some form of political correctness on society, the more there will be blowback. We get sick and tired of being told that we have to include those who are not like us, because our own freedom begins to be eroded – and we find out that the whole thing is a euphemism for a whole new kind of totalitarianism. So we are back at square one.

I would like to see a world that includes everyone and behaves in a humane and Christian way rather than bring about an Orwellian-Nazi-Stalinist hell, but is that going to happen? In the same way as Hitler didn’t invent very much in the 1930’s and up to 1945, not very much has changed since then, for as long as you have vast state and international bureaucracies, centralism and an obsession of standardisation of everything.

That being said, I think there is room for a grass-roots movement as at the basis of any humanitarian aspiration. It is a part of our religion, inspired by the example of Christ in his tenderness in regard to those who suffer. Such movements can only be of limited value, because the blowback will occur from the instant they have any effect in mainstream thinking and politics. Probably, the only way is the idea conveyed by my reader: let’s stop talking about and retreat into misanthropy. Another possibility is becoming a kind of Scarlet Pimpernel – promoting something without getting too near the nerve of the mainstream. If we stop talking about it, then perhaps we have to stop talking about anything, shut down. Then what? That is how the totalitarianism of the strong and evil will prevail. So, we have to find an original approach.

It seems to be a delicate course to steer between Scylla and Charydbis (the rock and the hard place in modern American vernacular). On one side, we have the old school attitude of the British officer in the nineteenth century and a colonial helmet shooting aborigines for sport, whipping his slaves for trying to run away and swaggering about in India. On the other side, we have “identity politics” that seek to promote homosexuality and gender identity issues and a choice to be promoted, thus creating groups and ghettos.

However we are, whether we suffer from illnesses that doctors can cure (or can’t cure) or from what we like to call differences of personality and identity, we can’t expect sympathy from the state, the Church, the mainstream of “other people”, those we don’t know and who don’t know us or care about us. This world is like the sea from the point of view of a man in a boat. It is for us to decide whether or not to put to sea and take the risks, whether we have the necessary skills for the conditions we will meet. If we get it wrong and we perish at sea, the sea has no reason to care. The sea is utterly indifferent to whether we live or die. Such is society. No amount of political or social engineering will change that. Some progress can be made, but usually at the cost of blowback. Look at feminism for example!

Many men believe in feminism until they get married!

In a Christian perspective, we carry our crosses. Some people have horribly heavy crosses to carry like being paralysed or “locked in”, for which death alone seems to be a deliverance. Something like Aspergers is a light cross, once it is understood and compensated for by learning how to “play the game” in a different way.

What we can do is to write on this subject for the sake of those are are affected, and who need to learn the skills needed to “play the game”. We are like the little boat on the ocean. We are already at sea, so we have to look at what we’ve got: a sound hull and rigging in good condition, seeing if we are using the wind and the waves to the best effect. The sea doesn’t care, so we have to negotiate with the sea. When it gets a bit tough, we can try shortening sail, taking in a reef or sailing under bare poles, using a drogue (sea anchor), calling for help if there is any in the neighbourhood. If we ride out the storm, we get a better chance of survival.

The keyword is compromise, learning to be ourselves but getting on with the mainstream in what it expects (that we don’t break the law and we earn our own living, and treat people decently). I mention the idea of a Scarlet Pimpernel again. He was the mythic character who saved people from the guillotine during the French Revolution by being clever and cunning. A real character in World War II was Mgr Hugh O’Flaherty who had a job with the Holy Office – and was really clever at saving prisoners of war and Jews from the Nazi occupation. A film was made with Gregory Peck in The Scarlet and the Black, one of my favourites. Sometimes the battle of cunning is for the sake of others, and very often for ourselves. That is the case for those of us who carry invisible things.

Also, if we expect too much sympathy from others, we come under their control. That is not an option if we are up against evil, sadistic and abusive people in positions of power and authority. We can make our “neurodiverse” condition a gift that will serve people in ways only we understand. If Mozart was indeed an “aspie”, then what a gift was his music, centuries after the death of the person! Being an “aspie” doesn’t prevent us from caring about others – and those who suffer from other conditions from being physically handicapped to being in difficulty because they haven’t learned the courage and cunning of scarlet pimpernels or lone ocean sailors. Pick you own analogies and images as you see fit.

We’re not going to change society, especially when it becomes evil, but we can educate ourselves and find freedom through knowledge. If that is so, I prefer to share knowledge and experience than shut down the subject and acquiesce to misanthropy and giving up. There is a way to beauty and light, and to colouring our world with the effects of our insight and experience.

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2 Responses to Neurodiversity

  1. ed pacht says:

    Hear, hear! Society can and must set standards of behavior, but simply cannot set standards of inner being. Nonstandard persons of all types do need to learn how to fit societal standards so far as possible, but will never fit societal expectations. Society, then, needs to find a way to accept and even celebrate difference while still maintaining order and culture. It’s a big job on all sides, and will never be accomplished perfectly, but a healthy society will attempt to approach the goal. I agree that only Christianity contains the resources to do so, but need to add that most Christians, the overwhelming majority, are unready to do so,

    I speak as a long-time ‘professional’ misfit. I am, by nature, homosexual, and do not make effort to hide it, and thus don’t fit easily into ‘straight’ society. On the other hand I am of a traditional view of sexual morality, which leaves me voluntarily celibate and distinctly out of place ln “gay” society. I am socially very awkward, but love people. I am fundamentally a conservative, but loathe the “Christian Right”, and reject much of what they consider essential. I feel far more comfortable with Liberals, but thoroughly disapprove much of what they demand as “obvious” truth. I’m a man, but completely uninterested in such ‘masculine’ activities as sports, hunting, and fishing, therefore fitting rather poorly into gatherings of men. I could go on. Perhaps psychologists might want to label some of this. I don’t. I’m me – and if that makes me a perpetual outsider, so be it.

    The important thing is that we put maximum effort into living together, accepting one another so far as possible (and a bit further than possible) and lead one another quietly toward the face of God.

  2. Tom Breschia says:

    The Magi would surely have had a good score for Neurodiversity – see this well-known passage of Evelyn Waugh. The narrator is Helena is Constantine’s mother, and in this passage from Evelyn Waugh’s novel of that name she imagines herself speaking to the Three Kings.

    ‘LIKE me,’ she said to them, ‘you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars.

    ‘How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!

    ‘You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!

    ‘Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.

    ‘You are my especial patrons,’ said Helena, ‘and patrons of all late¬comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

    ‘Dear cousins, pray for me,’ said Helena, ‘and for my poor overloaded son. May he, too, before the end find kneeling-space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. And pray for Lactantius and Marcias and the young poets of Treves and for the souls of my wild, blind ancestors; for their sly foe Odysseus and for the great Longinus.

    ‘For his sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.’

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