Thursday, March 18, 2010

Neurotypical Mental and Emotional Handicaps (Part II)

  (Part I)

To be clear, I do not wish to invalidate all non-rational pursuits. I do see a value in fiction and poetry. I read fiction and am even in the middle of writing a work of musket and magic fantasy. I gladly share this part of myself with other people and embrace their work in turn. That being said there is a limitation to this; when I read fiction, I understand it on my terms and incorporate it into my mental universe. Thus, when I read a book, it becomes my book and no longer the author's, whose interpretation of his own work carries no greater inherent validity than mine. Similarly, I invite readers to enter the world of Asael that I am building and feel free to let it mean whatever they feel like having it mean. My only special authority as the author is that I get to decide where I am going with this. (And believe me, when I get back to writing it, we are going to be going to interesting places.)

In my experience and to my great frustration, neurotypicals lack the sort of ingrained rationalism necessary for a "theory of mind." (Of course there are many neurotypicals to whom this does not apply. Like many mental disabilities, the neurotypical mind can be overcome with the aid of love, support and a good rationalist education.) While there are many very intelligent neurotypicals, neurotypicals are not inclined toward "rationalism" in the sense of abstract universal rules. Instead neurotypicals think in terms of relationships. (This argument has been made in the past about men and women. I think this goes to support Simon Baron Cohen's argument that Asperger syndrome is an extreme version of the "male brain.")

For example, I recently got into a back and forth with the family whose basement I board in over the amount of noise I make. (No I do not make a lot of noise.) I am perfectly willing to go along with any rules they choose to make as long as they agreed to play by those same rules. If they want me to use headphones I am okay with that as long as they also agree to similar restrictions. I should not have to be using headphones while they crank up their stereo or have loud conversations with friends. It is perfectly plausible for them to have conversations using pen and paper or even IM. Their position is that I, as their border, have to do whatever they want and if I have a problem with that I can leave. For me a law that cannot be framed in general terms is, by definition, not a law, but the arbitrary whim of individuals, ending any hope of discourse. My border couple sees a hierarchal relationship structure that must be maintained. I live in the basement by their good grace and therefore must do whatever they say. Any attempt to even discuss the matter with them is deemed rude, unseemly and an attack upon the established order which forms our relationship. For me, it is of the highest good to establish reasonable and rational laws for all to follow so we may live together in brotherhood and engage in ever more ethical actions. For them there is no higher good, at least in terms of what can be expected of our relationship, than their comfort and they will deal with issues as it best suits them and when it suits them.

The Asperger mind sees conversation as a means to exchange true and accurate information as to the nature of the world, including how other people view reality and the motivations for their actions. The neurotypical mind sees conversation as a means of establishing relationships. Usually when a neurotypical asks you how you are feeling he is not actually interested in information as to the nature of your well being. Instead he wishes to establish or maintain a relationship of some sort. By practicing a meaningless ritual of maintaining the pretense of empathy, the neurotypical demonstrates his "good manners" in the hope that you will place him in a favorable position in your social construct.

I have a difficult time imagining a situation where I would point blank refuse to talk to someone, particularly if it was about something meaningful like someone trying to explain their worldview and motivation. Regardless of how I might feel about the person, this is the whole reason I talk to people in the first place. Since I wish to better live according to universal principles, it is of the utmost importance that anyone driven by circumstance from the natural position of me treating them as I wish to treat all of mankind be restored to it. For neurotypicals, though, conversation is about relationships and, as such, it can be used as a weapon against people holding an unfavorable position in your social construct. If a neurotypical decides that he no longer likes you and holds you in contempt, he will demonstrate it by not even showing you the courtesy of hearing you out.

This is the crucial distinction between ethical duties and manners. Ethics apply to all people and in all times. Manners apply only to some people and some of the time. Manners have nothing to do with good behavior; good manners are simply the other side from bad manners on a social blade designed to win a favorable place in other people's social construction and negotiate for a favorable place on yours. It is a means of manipulating people in a self serving power game.


(To be continued …)

2 comments:

Clarissa said...

"Thus, when I read a book, it becomes my book and no longer the author's, whose interpretation of his own work carries no greater inherent validity than mine."

-This is precisely what distinguishes a good reader from a bad reader. :-) And this is also what I struggle every day to teach my students to do. :-)

Clarissa said...

" Usually when a neurotypical asks you how you are feeling he is not actually interested in information as to the nature of your well being. Instead he wishes to establish or maintain a relationship of some sort."

-It took me forever to realize that when people ask "How are you?" they are really not interested in the answer. It used to leave me completely baffled to see people say it and then start leaving without even waiting for a response. "Why did you interrupt my happy self-absorption with a question that doesn't even require an answer?", I would think.