Friday, March 19, 2010

Neurotypical Mental and Emotional Handicaps (Part III)

(Part I, II)

Neurotypicals do not think of human beings as isolated minds. They operate on an Aristotelian "man is a political animal" model. Of course, even to talk about models, when dealing with neurotypicals is misleading because their method of thinking is a rejection of precisely the sort of abstract universal rule creation necessary for models. Neurotypicals tend to only think of human beings in terms of their interrelationship with others and the society building that results from this. This method of thinking emphasizes, not abstract rules, but arbitrary codes of behavior that serve to further the desired relationship. The neurotypical does not ask whether an action is in keeping with universal ethical imperatives, but whether it is good manners, whether, given one's place in a given social structure, it is acceptable to do something to someone else who in turn occupies their place in the social structure.

It should be obvious from this that, one, the neurotypical mind sets itself up for hierarchal non-democratic social structures. There is no reason for a neurotypical to reject hierarchy particularly as he strives to gain a favorable position in it. If one wonders as to the slow progress of democratic reform it can be placed on neurotypicals. It is the Asperger mental universe that insists that the world be governed by universal rational law applied equally to everyone as much as possible. All beings capable of a certain baseline of rational thought (including neurotypicals who reject their mental heritage) are welcome to this society as equals. Equality is inherent in that one is either capable of a baseline of reason or one is not. People like Thomas Jefferson, Immanuel Kant, and Adam Smith were most likely Aspergers; whether or not they were in fact, their thinking was distinctively Asperger. Even today, most people struggle with the notion that political rights only exist in so far as man is a creature of reason, capable of contemplating universal laws and thus coming to form rules for all to live by. Modern liberalism is an attempt to force the concept of rights into a neurotypical social thought structure. Rights are said to belong to groups and defend social relations. For example, we now have the concept of gay rights and that they have some sort of right to have their social interaction of getting married recognized by the government and society. (Not that I object to gay marriage in of itself.)

The other thing that should be clear is that the neurotypical mindset is incapable of a "theory of mind." In the neurotypical mental universe, there is no such thing as individual minds. All minds exist in relationship with other minds. I have lived my life with the realization that other minds are not like mine. If I have one thing it is a theory of mind. With no hope of understanding other minds, I place my faith in reason as the only thing that can allow for the meeting of minds necessary to build a society. Neurotypicals, living in a world where people, at least on the surface, have similar minds, are not confronted with the life experiences to tell them otherwise and have no reason to form a theory of mind in the first place. Confident in the belief that everyone else is fundamentally like them they hoist their emotions on other people. These similar emotions are the product not so much of the similarity of minds, but the relationship network that passes on otherwise arbitrary sets of rules and expectations.

I would like to end with a word about emotions. Why should I not strive to be sensitive to other people's emotions? To an extent obviously, I do make an effort. To do otherwise would be social suicide. What I refuse to do is grant moral legitimacy to emotions. One has no right to consider emotional hurt as a legitimate wrong or to counter with physical actions that could not otherwise be justified. I grant that this is an extreme position, but to say otherwise would set me up for blackmail. I am outside the relational thought structure of neurotypicals and do not understand the emotions that come from it. To say that I have to take such things into account means that I have to live my life jumping at the shadows of things I do not understand and being forced to accept whatever value other people put on their own emotions. To make things worse, since my emotions run on such a different track, as they are outside of a relational thought structure, I can never expect other people to take them into account. Thus, I would find myself enslaved to other people's emotional concerns at the same time as everyone else becomes exempt from taking my emotional concerns into account. I would de facto be relegating myself to a subhuman station; my emotional concerns being of less value than that of others. Either my emotions count the same as everyone else's or no one's emotions count. Since the former is not practical, the only ethical solution is to say that no person's emotional concerns are of any value outside of their own head.

The only thing that can create meaningful relationships between people and ultimately create a just society is reason as we submit ourselves to universal laws that apply to all people in all times. This is not Asperger supremacy. On the contrary, the authority of reason comes from the fact that it is universally accessible. This includes neurotypicals. Neurotypicals, despite their mental defects, are not beyond the saving grace of reason and are welcome to join the society of reasonable and rational beings.


Miss S. said...

People like Thomas Jefferson, Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith were most likely Aspergers; whether or not they were in fact, there thinking is distinctively Asperger.


Neurotypicals, despite their mental defects, are not beyond the saving grace of reason and are welcome to join the society of reasonable and rational beings.

The choice to use the phrase "despite their mental defects" seems to defeat the conclusion of your closing paragraph.

Izgad said...


I am using a Christian model of salvation here. From the Christian perspective everyone is equal because Jesus on the Cross overturns the whole concept of better or worse. The worst sinner becomes all the greater in his former sin, because he is all the more a demonstration of the power of Christ to save anyone. Following the Enlightenment, I do the same thing but with reason instead of Jesus. Reason eliminates superior and inferior in the sense that the person who was furthest from reason becomes all the greater because of his former self as his salvation demonstrates the power of reason to save anyone. Again the power is reason is precisely in that it is for everyone.

There is nothing greater about Aspergers. Reason, which I believe comes from God, is great.

Clarissa said...

I absolutely love this post. Especially this: "What I refuse to do is grant moral legitimacy to emotions. "

With your perission, I'll print the post out and put it up on the door of my office. Give the students and colleagues something to think about while they are waiting for me.

Izgad said...

You have my permission. :)

Tobie said...

Hmm. You reject a stance that forces one to take feelings into consideration mostly because it would make your life difficult. While this may be logically sound, I tend towards a utilitarian view myself and the fact is that people often have emotions and can suffer negative utility based on hurt emotions. There it is, and there's nothing that can be done about it. I would argue that there is, to some degree, a moral imperative to avoid decreasing other people's utility in the absence of some justification (which might include your own utility). Therefore, while I am loathe to recognize emotional distress as a legal wrong, I think that it is fair to see it as a legitimate wrong, in that it is experienced by most people and thus, de facto, a harm.

This rule does not strike me as unfair or asymmetric: all persons have a duty (at the very least) to avoid negatively impacting the utility of others in the absence of justification. The differences between duties stems from the differences in utility functions, which are individual on a variety of levels, not just in terms of Asperger/Neurotypical. Justification may vary with regards to the importance of the type of utility, but I still think that any form of negative utility cannot be discounted (possibly excluding sadism, which we regard not merely as illegitimate, but immoral. But that's a longer discussion).

Izgad said...

I fully support not intentionally seeking to cause even psychological pain. Intention puts itself in the realm of physical action. For example conspiracy is an action and not protected as free speech. The issue here is to what extent I can be expected to avoid saying things that come across to other people as rude or hurtful and therefore to what extent can I be held accountable when I do. While I am a small minority, when I deal with individual people then I have equal weight and the person is equally obligated to show concern for my feelings as I am theirs. Understand that I have lived my life with the reality that other people could flagrantly ignore my emotional concerns even to the extent that I had any right to these feelings. I am willing to live by any system of rules as long as they are applied across the board.

It is an interesting question as to whether hurt feelings decrease utility. Since we are dealing in the realm of psychological harm, barring a brain scan, there can be no empirical proof. As such we must reject this claim.

Tobie said...

It is an interesting question as to whether hurt feelings decrease utility. Since we are dealing in the realm of psychological harm, barring a brain scan, there can be no empirical proof. As such we must reject this claim

Absolutely not. Utility in the economic sense has nothing to do with brain waves. We cannot measure utility but we can derive it from the actions that people take and people clearly act to avoid getting their feelings hurt and consider hurt feelings an evil to be avoided. Permanent psychological harm is irrelevant: if someone would pay (or invest effort) to avoid it, it's a negative utility for them.

As a more general rule, I would apply some principle that weighs the negative utility that I suffer avoiding harming you against the negative utility you suffer from harm. One of the sides might have a coefficient- we are not expected to be fully altruistic- but I think that some sort of balance has to be done. If people fail to assign your feelings the same value that you assign them:

1) they may be less moral people than you. I'm not sure that entirely justifies reciprocal action;

2) they may have less awareness of your needs and thoughts than vice versa. Your lack of ignorance may impose a burden on you;

3) avoiding hurting your feelings may have been a lot of effort for them and perhaps the balance just didn't go your way. Which is not fair to you, from a universal sense, but it may not change the duties involved.

Izgad said...

The problem here is that, thanks to our modern victim culture, it is in the economic self interest of every person to, after the fact, inflate the cost of any hurt feelings. I grant your point as long as you can bring some outside assessor to evaluate the cost of everything. Right now my primary concern is to eliminate feelings as a means of blackmail.

Yehudha said...

I started reading through your blog and found your post very interesting, we seem to think alike.
After reading your posts on Asperger I definitely understood why.
I always wanted to talk to another observant Jewish Aspie.
I wonder if our concepts of God are similar...

Izgad said...


Pleased to meet you and welcome to Izgad. Feel free to comment, particularly when you disagree with me. I am not sure if one can speak of an Asperger God; I know too many Asperger atheists. From looking at your blog, I think we do have a lot in common in that we are both big fans of Maimonides. My idea of God largely comes from the Guide and I like to make a nuisance of myself denouncing Haredim as pagan idolaters. You would likely enjoy Michael Makovi’s blog ( He is also likely on the spectrum and writes a lot about Sephardic thought.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting point of view and I understand what you are trying to achieve by saying things should not be run on emotions but on reason alone.

I've always known the hierarchical stuff too and that if a person is benefiting from their place in the hierarchical structure they will have no incentive to want to change anything.

There's two problems as I see it:-

1. It's one thing to say 'keep emotions out of it' but another to effect it - it can't be done in my opinion as most human beings are inherently emotionally-biased.

2. How is the reason/rational thought being defined? People are going to have their own subjective definitions of it so you will
still have problems reaching a single, universally agreed stance on anything.

Izgad said...

To be clear, I am not saying that emotions should play no role in our lives. We all have for better or worse. All I am saying is that we cannot grant moral authority to emotions. I grant you that, in practice, this is also unlikely to ever happen in our society.

As to how something can be defined as rational, anything that relies on a consistent set of clearly defined rules. Humans are not rational. We can be rational to the extent that we bind ourselves to systems of thought and follow them consistently. As a historian, I spend most of my day contemplating the historical method. To the extent I constantly follow this method in my research, my biases and emotions will be kept in check and I will be rational in the sense that my views follow a consistent pattern.