As I have hinted before, I really love to draw parallels between the struggles of racial minorities such as black people in America and the autism civil rights struggle. Whilst there are significant differences between them, there are also overlaps that have equal significance. So it is worth having a think about the manner in which minorities are discriminated against, and the lessons that autism civil rights activists can learn from same.
The Wikipedia’s article titled Racism wastes no time in pointing out a serious problem faced by those wishing to reduce the incidence of racism in our world. I will quote part of the relevant text here:
The exact definition of racism is controversial both because there is little scholarly agreement about the meaning of the concept “race”, and because there is also little agreement about what does and doesn’t constitute discrimination. Critics argue that the term is applied differentially, with a focus on such prejudices by whites, and defining mere observations of racial differences as racism.
People might not think that this is a problem. But it is. You see, if spankings for racism only get applied one way, as is demonstrably the case in places like South Africa, the people on the receiving end are given a basis to complain that the minority is in fact being racist to them. This also has a spillover effect. Organisations like the Ku Klux Klan can point at South Africa and ask potential recruits if they want that happening “here”.
This leaves us with an interesting question. If the neuro-Apartheid we live in today were suddenly abolished, and it was made a crime to even joke about physically harming the autistic on the basis of being autistic, what then? Obviously, our ability to control a government would depend on a very tricky, international, and difficult to maintain conspiracy, as we do not form a numerical majority in any sense in any one nation. Even the idea of us forming a numerical majority in a given town or city is a pretty wild one. But if we could stop fighting each other long enough and let all of the autistic be counted, not just the ones whose names should be listed next to the word passivity in the dictionary, the question is what sort of state would we form with respect for our persons as a basis of law?
The more I read about how things are going in South Africa since the African National Congress won the first universal election held in 1994, the more I see it as a mistake that the world at large can ill-afford to repeat. It is also a very good argument in favour of the position that the common definition of racism is a one-way street. Whilst not even the black people of South Africa are of one unifying race or language, the statistics that demonstrate rape to be like a national sport to the “new” rulers, and that the President himself can sing songs advocating the murder of white people on the basis of being white in public rallies without fear of repercussion are quite disturbing.
Now, I know what some people who read this are going to think. That the white people of South Africa mistreated or benefitted from the mistreatment of blacks for so long that they deserve the treatment they are getting. The insanity of this position is best described by the fact that whilst 1994 is both a long and short time ago in political terms, a good many of the people most directly responsible for the persecution of blacks by authority figures are dead. Some of them even died of old age. A theory advanced by films like Invictus and Red Sands even has it that the ANC’s first (and so far only demonstrably genuinely) elected President, Nelson Mandela, was so emphatically not about vengeance that he went to great pains to assure the outgoing white political folk of this. The latter film, Red Sands, was even about a series of hearings conducted under the name Truth And Reconciliation. Essentially, even the biggest thugs of the Apartheid era could be forgiven in the legal sense if they met just one condition. Namely, they had to be forthcoming about every wrong they did.
What went wrong in South Africa is very much a political science debate, and I am not that well-versed in political science. But one thing I know very well is that when you suddenly give an oppressed minority absolute political power with no real consequences for bad choices, the results are very predictable. South Africa is a nation that has only a limited idea of how many residents it has, crumbling infrastructure with roads that can physically write off cars among other embarrassments, and a genuine fear from outsiders that an ever-shrinking segment of its population will suddenly be reduced to nothing more than a collection of grisly photographs. And as the article I linked a couple of paragraphs ago makes clear, white South Africans have a very real sense that the entire rest of the world just could not give a shit about them.
I want to tantalise you with an idea for a second. Suppose that the white South Africans, through the assistance of white populations in other countries, took back the political power that they ceded in 1994 on the basis that the man receiving it said he wanted to give peace a chance? Do not dismiss the possibility. The thing about white people, at least in the sense of needing to be very cautious about going outside on an especially hot day, is that they are everywhere. Western Europe, North America, and what used to be the Soviet Union are swarming with them. If the wrong white farmer goes missing in South Africa, “President” Jacob Zuma may well find himself with Dutch, Russian, or even American mercenaries wading in from his shore, keen to kill anything that is darker than I am (I have Scottish and English ancestry if that tells new readers anything).
There is a lesson to be learned from this, not just by the autistic, but by the rest of the world to boot. Probably the one that sums it up best is that oppression is like a very big pendulum. You can start it moving, and you can hold it on one side for a long time, but once it swings, it takes a lot to get it to stop. And when it is swinging, like all pendulums, it has to go with a force that is somewhat reflective of the force it generated swinging in the other direction.
At the moment, the normie, or the neurotypical to use the polite, politically-correct term (actually, they are not quite the same thing, but let’s just move on), is enjoying being on one extreme of the pendulum. The law favours them entirely. As repeated court cases have demonstrated, they can even kill the children amongst us without any real fear of consequence. Needless to say, unless the leadership amongst us tries to do the Truth And Reconciliation thing with them, when the pendulum swings back the other way, they are going to be in tears and screaming questions about why.
Unfortunately, there is another parallel between the “struggle” of the ANC and the struggle of the autistic. The ANC, contrary to what it likes to tell the world, was just one of many black empowerment organisations in South Africa during the Apartheid era. One of the many reasons that the white numerical minority was able to retain majority political power for so long was because the ANC and other black empowerment organisations in South Africa were fighting each other as much as they were fighting Apartheid. And their violence against each other, sadly, resembled the kind of violence that they now perpetrate against the white farmer.
When the dust settled, and the organisations that were not the ANC were either eliminated or absorbed into the ANC, the ANC wasted no time in rewriting history. Every positive step in the progression towards black empowerment was the work of the ANC, or so they would tell you. And if you make any observations concerning what an autocratic and racist bunch of jerks they have been since getting into power, well, expect a child-like cry concerning how racist you are.
Before I go any further, please do not mistake this to mean that I believe cries of racial discrimination are universally without merit or uttered solely out of spite. Just crying out to the world that you have been messed with on the basis of an involuntary and morally irrelevant characteristic you possess takes a lot of strength of character. And there is no shortage of people who do it. Every day, thousands of cries that someone has discriminated against someone else on an unfair and frankly pathetic basis are uttered. Many of them get heard. But here is the thing: because of the one-way definition of racism I described in the beginning, and because of examples like the ANC, the flow of complaints about genuinely racist behaviour is less than it should be.
That sounds peculiar, I know, but there are a number of different ways this comes about, all of which bear consideration. For one thing, the mechanisms by which we deal with complaints of racial, sexual, or to a thankfully increasing degree neurological, discrimination involve the efforts of people. Each complaint, regardless of merit, involves man-hours to investigate. Every meritless complaint means man-hours that could have been used to pursue merited complaints are instead going to waste. And man-hours are not the only resource used in the pursuit of complaints concerning discrimination. There are others, such as paper and ink, the time of lawyers, the time of courts, ‘phone calls, electricity, data transmission, and on it goes. Whilst not every complaint that is found to be without merit is genuinely malicious, enough of them are to necessitate judges declaring people who persistently make them to be “vexatious litigants”. Examples of vexatious litigants who have been legally declared such by judges include the so-called Church Of Scientology. Act surprised.
In September of 2004, Seth Putnam-like satirist Maddox wrote an article about the fact that a web filtering company called Websense has blocked his website from their customers. Or even some people who are not their customers, as is often the case with such folk. I could go on all day about discrimination in censorship, but instead I would like to share with you Maddox‘s graphic about how Websense’s process of determining who gets blocked works:
The relevant point in this image is in the lower right corner. In Websense’s weak collective mind, and the weak collective minds of many others, true diversity comes from people who look different. Maddox‘s words, not mine. Not that I consider people who disagree with the ironic implication of the statement to have the slightest shred of merit.
Thing is, people of just about every stripe you can possibly imagine face discrimination in today’s world. I only wish I were shitting you when I say that you can turn on talk radio in Canada and hear hosts proclaim that funding for diabetes research or treatment should be cut because “those people” (we are talking about a lot of children, mind you) should not have gotten so fat. Seriously, that is said on conservative media in Canada. Yet if I were to get on the air and state my belief that such a level of ignorance should be punished with exile or gulags, I would be the one called names concerning my intolerance or nastiness. Go figure.
(That, by the way, is just one example of what I mean when I say that ignorance is only bliss for the ignorant.)
Nor is it always right to believe that discrimination is necessarily bad. Idiots who think everything should be accepted regardless of merit have a lot of sayings and catchphrases, as well as derisions towards anyone whose critical faculties actually work. Let us take for example the brief and embarrassing fad that sprung up around Chinese American Asshole contestant William Hung around 2004 or so. I do not know William Hung from Adam, I will say that much right now. From watching him on one of those shitty audition compilations on American Asshole, he seems like a fairly decent guy. Unlike the majority of rejected contestants who argue with or, in a couple of funny cases, even start walking up to the judges’ table like they are about to take a swing, Hung took all of the response from the judging panel in stride.
But here is the thing. As a profession, music is dying. And by music, I mean real music, where it takes some actual talent to do what the musician is doing. Anyone can get up in front of an audience of morons and sing the same four conjunctions of words over and over. Put a French Horn, bass guitar, or violin in the hands of your average American Asshole contestant, however, and chances are they will look at it as if you have handed them an artifact from an excavation on Mars. The conservatives that currently control the music industry do not want critical thinking, and as nice a fellow as Hung seemed, he is a symptom of that fact.
Hence, Simon Cowell was literally speaking for the entire critically-thinking world when he told Hung, straight up, “You can’t sing, you can’t dance, so what do you want me to say?”. But the crowd of morons has to paint Cowell as the villain here, and anyone who raises a critical word against talentless novelty acts as “hatas”. Thing is, acts like Hung were probably around in 1970, too. But an industry that sought uniqueness in forms like Black Sabbath would not even expend the effort to tell them what Cowell told Hung. Small wonder, then, that some musicians feel that elements like Hung are being treated favourably at their expense (you knew I was going somewhere with this). (Edit: In related matters, the one good thing to come out of American Asshole, Vote For The Worst, has announced that it will be shutting down after the current season, its twelfth. Join me for a weep.)
So at the end of the day, we are left with an incomplete definition of discrimination. We see examples of it day in and day out, but almost nobody acknowledges all of them. In fact, if I were to challenge the world to name every example of discrimination, or even just racism, that happened within sight or hearing of them, they would be hard-pressed to name ten percent of the actual total. And this is because, whatever was intended, the media and powers that be have taught us that discrimination is something that only happens to visible minorities. We are encouraged to believe that white men only do the discriminating, as a rule. When we live with a simplistic view of the world, as is the case for most children and a significant percentage of adults, this is workable.
When we get out in the real world and discover that things are rarely as simple as we were told as children, our perception of other people is changed forever. A good example of this is the Richard Donner film Lethal Weapon 2. At the time the film was made, Apartheid was still very much in force, although in its dying stages. The bad guys of choice in the film are embodiments of the white political majority from South Africa, but they may as well be cardboard cutouts. We are given absolutely no clues concerning what they might think or feel when they are not in the confines of their offices. When the heroic character called Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) responds to the boss villain’s hope that he realises the trouble he is in, he responds with “Well, as usual, you people have everything all upside down and turned around and back to front.”. Given that there are white South Africans who have been drowned in boiling water or disembowelled, and also happen to be children, I wonder how this sequence plays out to the living white South Africans now.
You see, when people are painted as cardboard cutouts that have no depth or motivations for their behaviour, it is easy to paint them to an audience as being evil merely for the sake of being evil. The problem is that in the minds of the characters, they have probably had to deal with all sorts of violent or criminal acts perpetrated by members of black civil rights organisations in their homeland, and really see Riggs as an ignorant little shit.
This in no way diminishes the evil of acts by persons in power against minorities solely on the basis of involuntary characteristics. The key to the whole thing, however, is perspective. That is why criminal and civil trials always consist of two sides presenting arguments. Because no matter how obvious or straightforward an event seems to one or even most people, someone else will always see it at least a little differently.
In order to avoid this pratfall, not only should the autistic have a strict definition of how discrimination should be remedied, strict definitions of how to identify it and the harm it does are required. Simply saying “it is bad” is not good enough. Reminding the people that curebie ads promote an environment of discrimination and fear that have verifiably disrupted the sleep of autistic adults, among many other verifiable examples of physical harm, is important. Reminding the audience of the identifiable stages of genocide is important. Reminding the audience that many autistic people do not know they are autistic, with all that entails, is important.
But it is important to also not create a situation in which people who are not autistic feel they cannot even talk about the autistic without being dragged into court. As South Africa is living proof of, equality is not stacking the deck in the other guy’s favour. And if we do that, we might end up winning all of the battles, but we will lose the war (metaphorically speaking).
And when I participate in a war of any kind, I tend to make winning my goal.