While I was approving comments today (and marking half the comments I got as spam, ugh) I came across a comment on one of my older entries, Suicide and Autism Severity. The commenter said that the person I was disagreeing with in that entry has done a lot for our community, and that the amount of people who see that person as an “easy target” therefore demonstrates an ingrained fear of success and were the “angrier” autistics.
I’ve already covered the way people mischaracterize me as “angry” as if it’s a personality trait, in a post called On the “angry” nature of my writing. But I’m not sure I’ve ever covered this interesting phenomenon whereby your contributions (real or imaginary) to a community are supposed to make you immune to disagreement.
I’m going to quote from Jane Meyerding’s excellent “snippet” called Discourse (I encourage people to follow that link and read the whole thing, it’s a really important statement):
I see this as part of the “psychologizing” of the culture. In the U.S., it used to be accepted as part of the democractic process — a necessary part of that process — for people to have and to discuss a variety of opinions/perspectives on any given topic. But now, psychology has replaced civil/political culture to such an extent that the primary objective is “do not hurt anybody’s feelings.” And if you express an opinion, you are seen as “putting down” (and thereby hurting the feelings of) anybody who does not agree with you.
The assumption seems to be that people are so fragile (in psychic terms) that they will be damaged by having their feelings hurt — and that their feelings will be hurt by contact with anything that does not “validate” them in every way.
I’ve never found anyone I totally agree with, nor anyone I totally disagree with. Given the complexity of human beings, this makes sense. To me, most people occupy some continuum of agreement and disagreement on various specific issues. Moreover, if I disagree with you on one thing, and I also disagree with you on another thing, that does not mean that the two points of disagreement are connected to each other.
I have, however, been told, in reference to many different people, “Please stop saying these things. [Insert name here] has contributed so much to our community. I don’t think it’s fair of you to disagree with things they have written or done. [Although “disagree with things they have written or done” is often replaced by “attack them”, as if disagreement is attack.] Look how much they have contributed.”
I don’t get this. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. If people are not able to voice disagreement, whether correct or incorrect, then how on earth are the mistakes going to get questioned? If all disagreement suddenly becomes an attack on the person, and people who have “contributed a lot” (in some people’s minds, since the value of various contributions can be perceived very differently depending on who is involved) are conferred some kind of immunity to disagreement, then what exactly is going to happen?
Several years ago, I wrote an article about autism “experts”. The article stimulated debate in an autism forum. Some people agreed with it, and some people didn’t. Moreover, some people’s points of “agreement” seemed more valid than others, as well as some people’s points of “disagreement”. But I was glad that it was getting people to talk about those things. That was my goal as a writer at the time, and I considered it a compliment that they were taking me seriously enough to talk about these things in a forum where I only lurked, not posted.
Then, it happened. Someone invoked, not my “contributions” to the community, but my “fragility”. They said I’d put up with enough from the NT world and that I didn’t need people “attacking” me like this.
That was the first response I took offense to. They were effectively saying that I should not be taken seriously as a writer. That it was enough that I wrote, and people should either agree with me or shut up. That seemed very wrong, and still does.
M.J. Carley said that most “low functioning” autistics are not self-aware enough to consider suicide. I believe him to be wrong. I stated my reasons why. This is not considering him, the person, an easy target.
The only way in which this could be conceivably argued is something like, “I was on the GRASP website looking to see if a particular copyrighted article from autistics.org had been removed yet. It hadn’t. Then in the same section I saw these new articles, so I decided to read them, and then I came across this statement, and responded to it.” And I have to say, that’s really stretching things. The fact that I have ongoing copyright problems with GRASP and the fact that I disagreed with a statement are not related except in the sense of how I first came by the statement. If I’d come by the same statement, made by any other person, I would have responded the exact same way.
(By the way, if any GRASP people are reading this, seriously, linking to articles is fine, copying them wholesale without permission is not fine, and this goes for anybody’s articles, not just mine — I’m talking about in particular the “Theory of Mind” article from autistics.org. One of the authors is working under a pseudonym, and two including that one have not been involved much (one not at all) in the autistic community during the time when you put up the site. You need permission from all the authors to copy it. Also, last time I checked my own articles that you’d copied are not linked, but are still available on the site and hence through search engines. I’m fine, as I said, with you linking to those articles on autistics.org, but I would prefer if you did not keep copies on your website, even without linking.)
I can see how it’s easy to see all disagreement with a person’s views, as “targeting” that person, and as somehow related. It’s just not true, though. I once ran into someone who viewed disagreement, or even questions that might indicate disagreement, as hostility. I tried to find out why, and she said that she’d experienced a lot of hostility that week, therefore my disagreement and my questions (which were mainly on the order of “Uh… what did I do wrong??”) were also hostility.
This attitude when held by or about someone with power seemed, and still seems, dangerous to me. When Larry Arnold disagrees with Michelle Dawson on whether there’s a difference between autism and Asperger’s, it’s simply not the same thing as when Lenny Schafer (who agrees with Michelle Dawson that there’s a difference, but disagrees on what the difference is) launches an all-out smear campaign on Michelle Dawson that has nothing to do with her views or actions and everything to do with proving she’s not really autistic.
It would be wrong for me to tell Larry, “Look at all Michelle has done for our community. I think you and Lenny Schafer are just angry people looking for an easy target.”
And it’s wrong (both inaccurate and questionably ethical) to tell me the same for disagreeing on a point of opinion with Carley. Nobody has a right to freedom from disagreement.