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Sorts of people, and conflict

March 7, 2010

Initially, I had meant just to comment on Amanda’s recent post, My sort of people, just as real as theirs. But, as soon as I started typing, I could tell that there were enough things I wanted to say for this reply to be a post of its own, without clunking up her comments. 🙂 It quickly also veered in another direction, so is getting separated into two posts.

Not long after it struck me that I might well be somewhere on the Spectrum too*, I couldn’t help but notice that my response to an awful lot of the personal experiences and other info I’d been snapping up changed. At first, reading about other people’s similar outward behavior and the challenges they were facing because of their differences was a lifeline. (The way things were going then, I still credit looking for that information when I did with saving my now-marriage, and very possibly my life. Just finding out that the sensory issues were real was invaluable.) There were all kinds of descriptions of things that outwardly looked very similar to some of my coping strategies, from people who did did not consider themselves crazy.

After that initial flush of validation, though, I noticed more and more just how much people’s reports of their inner experiences varied. As they will among any group of people. Some had more in common with my own experience than others, not surprisingly. Some, I had a hard time figuring out where they might be coming from–though I did not question whether they could possibly be having the experiences and perceptions they were describing. I noticed that these similarities and differences of experience and styles of thinking and perceiving things, beyond a certain very surface level, had very little to do with the diagnostic and functioning labels placed on each person.

That scared me a little at first. In spite of the flush of validation, I started out looking into the Asperger label, in part because it seemed less intimidating and stigmatized than (*gasp*) autism. It was easier to think of myself in terms of having Asperger traits, at first, especially coming out from under some pretty heavily stigmatized psych labels.

But, as I did more reading, I couldn’t escape seeing how flimsy and artificial a lot of these presumed distinctions looked, especially as seemingly haphazardly applied to real human beings in all their complexity. Just based on outward behavior–never mind people’s inner experiences–I could personally think of many groupings that made more sense than the ones codified in the DSM and ICD. I also started seeing how inappropriate and just plain crushing all that stigma was in the first place–having been living under a heavy weight of it for many years, a lot internalized by that point. Medicalizing people to that degree made less and less sense, the more I thought about it.

That’s one of the major problems I see with medicalizing people based on observable behavior, which is kinda what the DSM and ICD do. Yes, that’s the easiest approach for anyone not living in the person’s mind, but it’s very, very sloppy. Lots of things can cause behavior that looks superficially the same, if you have no idea what’s going on. Take jumping around and yelling; it could be motivated by anything from a bee sting, to someone just having run over the person’s foot with a car, to their getting understandably worked up over an argument or assault you didn’t see, to a delusion of some kind. (Similarly, you can get them to stop it about equally well with a mallet to the head or an injection of Haldol, but neither is going to do much for a bee sting.)

Too frequently, operating under the behavior-based diagnostic criteria, professionals don’t even try to find out what is going on. This also makes for a lot of lumping together of behavioral traits into vague diagnostic categories such as schizophrenia or the autistic spectrum, with subtypes officially recognized or not–again, based on observed behavior. They’ve suspected for some time that what they’re calling schizophrenia is really a catch-all for multiple different processes; now research is showing that some of these may really be coming from problems such as gluten sensitivity.*** The PDD, Asperger’s, and autism categories (soon to merge anyway, under DSM) don’t look much different.

In fact, I propose a new umbrella category: Unexpected Behavior-NAE (Not Adequately Explained). That would certainly simplify things.

Another thing I couldn’t help but notice while reading up on autism and related labels? An awful lot of divisiveness, elitism, and fear-based snobbery coming out of people who seemed far more similar than different in ways the wider society deems very important indeed.

It was depressing, but not unexpected. Other groups get their own versions–Your Kink Is Not OK, trans- and biphobia from pretty much everyone else, and the myriad “please don’ts”: please don’t mistake me for those crazy and disgusting furries, those federally unrecognized wannabe Indians, those Black people kept in an even worse legal position, those other POC who just won’t help themselves, those stupid and lazy white trash, those truly insane people with this and that label, those r*t*rd*d people, those people with this stigmatized disease, that fatter person, that LGBT person, members of that religious group, those women stupid/crazy enough to let themselves be abused/raped, those kids acting weird enough to get abused/restrained, and so on. They’re just Not Like Us–really!–and we don’t want to be treated like them. Never mind the ethics of how they’re being treated in the first place, just pass us by. We’re different–and harmless–honest! We’re even kinda cute, in the right light. Don’t hurt us.

This also applies to how the differences/groups assigned low status overlap and interact (intersectionality, kyriarchy, whatever you want to call it). I didn’t think to point this out explicitly, but it is important. I just ran across Kowalski’s excellent What kind of a blog is this anyway? post. This kind of thing is also why I write about a lot of different things. You can’t separate these things, no matter how hard you try.

I was going to say that this pattern is depressingly human. What I mean by this is a bit different, though. It’s “human” for certain values of socialization. It’s not somehow natural; otherwise, people wouldn’t have to put so much time and effort into maintaining the hierarchies they’ve created. They would not have to shore up those flimsy walls with other people’s bodies and souls. Just because somebody else gets something they need or want, it does not follow that you cannot possibly get what you need or want–unless someone has set things up that way. Setting up one or more “dog” categories, and then kicking said dog is not the only way to deal with frustration, nor is it going to make your own life better. We don’t have to play along with divide and conquer tactics, nor do we need to feel like we must have someone, anyone, else to look down on to either avoid being in the shit ourselves or to stake out our own personal and obviously superior patch of muck. It’s not somehow natural to bully other people who show traits you have been taught to dislike in yourself. Humans have to be taught to bully, and our society does a good job of that.

Again, cui bono? Not us variously marginalized people. The groups who really benefit don’t even have to spend much time and effort; we’ve been trained to do most of the policing for them. It’s all too easy to find another marginalized person eager to turn the spit–and even to convince them that the human roast was their own idea in the first place. If you’re busy focusing on candidates for the spit, maybe you won’t even notice that somebody else is pushing you into cannibalism.

This is very basic stuff, but an awful lot of people don’t seem to have gotten it yet. Messages to the contrary are so overwhelming that I get to doubting that we ever will.

Now I’ve got Operation Ivy’s “Unity” going through my head: “Ain’t nothing wrong with another unity song”. 🙂

Not to mention snatches from most of Blackfire‘s One Nation Under, including (from “Exile”) “Did you read between the lines, or did they teach you not to question?” Valid point, that. Not to mention another from “Exile”, “While you were sleeping they took the words from your mouth and bound your hands/So when you tried to reach out, nobody would understand”, which applies about as well here as in the original context. Funny how human rights stuff bleeds together.

Do we really want to keep snatching the words out of one another’s mouths, adding ones that weren’t there, and binding one another’s hands, when all of us have enough problems in getting understood anyway? Especially when there are enough other people (and scarily well-funded organizations) already doing this?

There is also “Level”, pretty much an anthem for the marginalized. Chorus: “You say it’s nothing, I bring it all up in my mind.” I am swiftly falling in love with the Benallys.

Nigel mentioned just earlier tonight an acquaintance in Sweden, very “high functioning” with an Asperger’s diagnosis and his own restaurant. The context? This guy felt no need whatsoever to get involved with advocacy, because he hadn’t seen a need for much of it himself. Nigel didn’t even know him very well, but this topic came up anyway; sounded like the guy wanted to complain about Those People who weren’t doing enough to help themselves. Yeah, this kind of thing is unfortunately common, and, to my mind, a colossal mistake. Not just from the standpoint of compassion, but you never know when your situation might change, including your own apparent functioning level taking a dive. Clinging onto the way you think the world should work won’t prevent this from happening, no matter how appealing a lot of people find the idea.

I doubt anybody who thinks the behavior I’ve been describing here is cool has kept reading this far. (Bzzzt, wrong blog.) What can more level heads do about most of this stuff? Not that much. People are entitled to their own attitudes, no matter how lousy. When they start actively bludgeoning other people over the heads with those lousy attitudes, however, that’s a different matter.

It’s tempting just to ignore them, but besides how well that works in dealing with bullying, it’s not much better than legging it when another kid gets attacked by a dog. You may not want to get attacked as well, but there is some ethical obligation to help. Trying for neutrality only helps the attacker. When people do start into this kind of crap, it falls into the same kind of category and racist, sexist, etc. comments: if you don’t let them know it’s not cool, both Insulty**** and other people present are likely to take your silence as agreement. If Insulty then decides to jump on you, you don’t have to engage; the point has gotten across, or they wouldn’t be responding defensively.

There is also the purely pragmatic argument: if you don’t jump in when someone else is getting attacked, you are helping to create a situation in which nobody is likely to respond when it happens to you. Normalizing abusive behavior, and even passively encouraging bullying/squashing of dissenting opinions, will do that. Things become far less pleasant for everyone involved who is not a bully.

Again, I am not trying to tell other people what to do, but point out what seems right to me.

This doesn’t even refer to a recurring pattern of attacks which has flared up again recently, in which the attackers’ motives are not even as understandable and benign as the ones covered in this post, but are outright predatory AFAICT. Initially, not knowing even the public level of backstory, I assumed it was more of the same. But it looks one heck of a lot more serious, and it’s more difficult to tell how to respond without further aggravating the situation.


* A long story. In short, in spite of living with people (and being related to more) that I knew or strongly suspected were somewhere on the autistic spectrum, I only found out about 5 years ago that there is a spectrum–and that it includes more (surface or otherwise) verbal people. Much less all the gender-based differences in outward presentations and perceptions/interpretations of behavior. Trying to learn more so as to understand Nigel (an AC, at least) better, and work through some conflict, I quickly saw that we were mostly just approaching a lot of the same difficulties from different directions. Talk about lightbulb moments.

** In some ways that this society considers very important indeed. He is a man who has little trouble doing paid IT work, and is far less prone to meltdowns and other obvious overload episodes. OTOH, he has not needed to figure out nearly as many coping skills around the house as I have. Our combined executive function and inertia there have us living in a huge mess, with a number of things that need repaired before we move–and we’re currently trying to avoid Environmental Health taking an interest in our back yard, after a new neighbor complained to the council. (Especially not fun with my extra baggage from growing up in hoarding squalor, with my stepdad. And his multiple court appearances over the piles of junk outside.)

*** I am not about to push gluten and/or casein as the One True Cause of anything behavioral, and I’ve got a non-European equivalent of celiac (same symptoms) which is no doubt under-recognized and treated as less serious than it is because it isn’t Real Celiac. This kind of intolerance may well occasionally affect people’s behavior, though, in a way that gets interpreted as “schizophrenic” or “autistic”–there’s enough confusion and misdiagnosis between those categories, anyway. If you fit the diagnostic criteria, you’re still “really schizophrenic” or “really autistic”, and will not lose the label even if what is causing the behavior stops. I would just classify this as a weird allergic reaction, but I’m not just looking at behavior. Even with the near-celiac I’ve got, you can get a lot of fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and brain fog with exposure. Other (IgA-mediated) allergies can also cause a lot of fatigue and depression, along with varying degrees of anxiety, and if you treat this as a psych problem the person is unlikely to improve.

Under rather a lot of pressure, things like homosexuality and drapetomania are no longer classified as psych disorders. Still, clear neurological and developmental variations fall under that inappropriate umbrella.

**** Unintentional resemblance to RavenBlack’s Mr Insulty, though the levels of sense they make are frequently similar.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2010 10:42 pm

    Thank you!
    I absolutely agree with the Aspie supremacy hirarchy nonsense, but I’m not sure about the umbrella term your proposing, “Unexpected Behavior-NAE (Not Adequately Explained).”
    Maybe you were joking with this, but IMO, autism shouldn’t be in the DSM at all because it’s not a mental illness.

    • urocyon permalink
      March 11, 2010 3:30 pm

      Yes, that was just me being flippant. That’s at least as legitimate a diagnostic category as a lot of the ones actually used, maybe more so because it’s very honest! I was trying to poke fun at the legitimacy of DSM and ICD codes, in general.

      Agreed. Autism doesn’t belong there any more than Tourette’s (nor the Behavior Disorder category they chuck it into), the cluster of sexual/gender identity disorders, sleep disorders, pain disorders deemed to have a psychological component (by whom?!), other developmental disorders, etc. (Wow, I hadn’t even spotted “Malingering” in DSM before this. Really objective, that one.) There’s an amazing amount of crap in there which just isn’t mental illness, including other clearly neurological and genetic variations.

      Thus the “if it might be making someone behave oddly by somebody else’s standards, it’s best treated as a mental disorder–then you don’t even have to try to find out why” bit I was poking fun at.

      I’d go further than most, and question the validity of the neat diagnostic codes which get stuck on what most people would consider clearly mental illnesses (which are rarely that neat, nor that inexplicable), but hey.

  2. November 28, 2010 9:55 pm

    This is SMRT.

    Also If you’re busy focusing on candidates for the spit, maybe you won’t even notice that somebody else is pushing you into cannibalism. made me question if most references to cannabalism included cooking methods? *grin*.

    • urocyon permalink
      December 2, 2010 4:36 pm

      Well, there is this, but I would hesitate to follow it too closely. 😉

      Maybe I go a little heavy sometimes on the cannibalism, but Jack Forbes’ use of metaphor really has made an impression on me.

  3. April 1, 2021 8:29 pm

    Reblogged this on Autism Candles.


  1. Abilities, and burnout « Urocyon's Meanderings

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