When did ‘equality’ become middle ground between ‘extremes’ that all look identical?


I hear a lot about extremes and middle grounds and the like at times, when it comes to viewpoints in the autistic community (and/or general disability community).

My question is this:

Let’s say there are two viewpoints under discussion (and there are of course more than two, I’m just trying to make a point about the way two of them are often described).

One of them says that all people are of equal value, and ought to be accorded equal rights, including equal access to a society that systematically enables some people (with certain strengths and weaknesses) over others (with different strengths and weaknesses). (Notice that “equal” and “identical” aren’t the same thing — I’m not even going to publish comments on this one that says “But not everyone’s equal because not everyone’s the same.” We’re talking equal value as human beings and identical abilities, that’s two totally unrelated things, comparing them is like comparing apples and dark matter.)

Another of them says that autistic people are superior to non-autistic people, or that disabled people in general are superior to non-disabled people. (And I don’t mean “better at doing certain things”, I’m talking value judgments here.)

Why is the second point of view considered a “more extreme” version of the first?

Why is superiority considered a more extreme version of equality? As far as I can tell, it’s just the exact flipside of the majority view of disabled people, which is to say no more or less extreme than the mainstream views.

I am tired of hearing that people who believe that certain kinds of people are better than others have a more extreme version of my (and many others’) views on equality, and that therefore my (and many others’) views on equality can be considered a midpoint between assorted views on inequality.

Not that either “extreme” or “middle ground” is inherently superior to the other either, it seems more to me that people ought to focus on what is ethical rather than how their ethics compare with the society they live in so that they can either find an extreme or take what they imagine to be the average of several extremes without any thought to whether it actually makes sense to do either one of those things. (I think that a lot of people just use “extreme” as a shorthand for “angry,” “unreasonable,” “heatedly emotional,” or “I don’t like it,” and therefore want to insist that whatever they’re doing isn’t extreme. And then others use “extreme” to mean “cool”, and therefore want to insist that whatever they’re doing is extreme. Whether or not either of those is the case when they take a good look around the society they’re involved in and compare their views to that.)

And also not that autistic and/or disabled supremacists can, regardless of the offensiveness of their views, even do all that much damage in a society that’s so entirely slanted against them. (Making the opposite more of a general threat because autistic supremacy amounts to blowing hot air, whereas non-autistic supremacy is enforced from every direction.)

But seriously.

How is equality a “midpoint” between one form of inequality and another? Is this part of my surrounding culture’s obsession with finding “two sides” to every story and defining everything else as somewhere on the line between them (and this of course passing for objectivity), or what? Because I’m not seeing equality as some kind of middle-ground position between various forms of inequality (whether disability-based or not), it’s off in a completely different direction. Equality is actually pretty extreme compared to the society I actually happen to live in. A society which prefers to always make one sort of person or another inferior so that someone else can be superior, rather than accepting that all people are equal in value and then working to make things happen as close as possible to treating people as if they’re actually equal in value.

(And now back to lying down, I caught a mild (but really annoying) bug. Just because it had to happen.)


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

46 responses »

  1. I think that people like to fit things along a spectrum between extremes. Note the national obsessoin with the IQ myth.

    Oh yes, also, might I say FIRST POST!!!11one!!

  2. As far as a lot of us can tell, supremacist types (and, really, any kind of “out-there” view, from improbable conspiracy theories to people who insist that all labels and categories are meaningless) tend to be used as the “roadblocks” for people who are actually asking for true equality. Equating such people with extreme ideologues, or classifying them as a “less extreme” extension of the same viewpoint, is a convenient justification for not listening to anything that the people talking about equality are really saying.

    It seems like every time someone is batting around ideas about the superiority of your group (if it’s one you’re trying to fight for the equality of), immediately, those people are listened to over you. You’re held responsible for their views, even if what they want and what you want couldn’t be more different, and you’re in fact repulsed by some of their views. You’re told, “How can you even think of asking for equality and acceptance with people like this on your side? How can we take you seriously when you’re saying things like this?” and shown examples of supremacists, conspiracy theorists, etc, whom you’re somehow suddenly supposed to be ideologically aligned with. You see supposedly neutral webpages describing a caricatured straw-man version of your views and then linking to or quoting an out-there type as a “typical example” of your views. And, from there, talking about how you’re just a bunch of nuts and there’s nothing reasonable about your view, etc, etc. (Then there’s the problem of supremacist types who believe themselves that your view and theirs are “basically the same thing,” or that you must sympathize with them, but that’s something else entirely.)

  3. I think that the distinction between “malicious” and “benevolent” is of more importance when estimating people, than any of their other qualities.

    As the bumper sticker has it, “Mean people suck!”

    It’s like the difference between Hillary and Barak; Hillary is mean, but Mr. Obama is a nice guy with some bad ideas.

    I’m dreading the prospect of having to vote for John McCain, a mean guy with slightly, but importantly different, bad ideas, just to keep those other two away from the White House.

    I miss Fred Thompson. I hear the real reason he quit was to take care of his aged sick mother.

  4. I think “extreme” can also be used as a short hand for “Any set of views that are completely different from anything I’ve ever been exposed to before,” or, “Any set of views I’m uncomfortable with” (though these two, of course, are not necessarily synonymous).

    I think perhaps one reason why some people persist in believing that the supposed “mid point” between any two “extremes” on a given continuum may be a case of over-applied heuristics. A person hears an “extreme” view point on a given topic (defined as THEY define “extreme”), then hears some “extreme” view point that is the opposit of the first, and finds that their own opinion conveniently happens to fall into the middle between those two extremes. This keeps happening for an assortment of other view points that they hold for other subjects. (Naturally. “Extreme” is defined in part by comparison with one’s own opinions in the first place! Even though I think most people are not conscious of doing this.) So people start saying, “The best approach is often somewhere in between two extremes” (because, in their judgment, that has always been the case in the past) and start to try applying this rule of thumb even in situations where they may not even fully understand the two supposed “extremes” (say, when they try to wade into completely new terroritory, for example if they don’t really know anything about medication at all and are completely new to the debate over using certain medications for autistic children as with the discussion on prednisone that was recently revived … they might start off with the assumption that, because people have assorted themselves into two strongly opposing camps, that the “correct” response is some blending of the two perspectives that meets somewhere in the middle).

    Of course the trouble is, as you point out, that people may not even be correctly pairing up “extreme views” as being necessarily on the same continuum (as when they try to put “equality” on a continuum between two opposed concepts of who is superior and who is inferior, rather than seeing equality as itself opposed to all concepts of superiority/inferiority); or they may be presuming two views to be “extreme opposites” without considering that there may in fact be other opinions out there that are even further up the continnuum (i.e., even more “extreme” from their perspective) than the two they’re looking at. Or, because “extreme” is often defined from one’s own reference point (consciously or not), they may think they are already at the “mid point” between the two furthest possible “extremes” when they are in fact pretty close to one end of a continuum themself.

    People don’t always consider the way in which definitions of “extreme” can change radically over time. At one time, support of (or at least resignation to) enslaving people of African heritage was considered the “norm” and trying to argue for an end to slavery was considered “extreme” and “radical.” Today, those views have reversed positions: even though racism is (unfortunately) still alive and well, you wouldn’t find many people who would (openly, at least) argue for a return to slavery, or express regret that we don’t still have slavery today.

  5. I think autistic supremacy is just a continuation of the old prejudice that having high IQ scores makes you better than everyone else. From what I’ve seen, there aren’t many autistic supremacists except among the Mensa crowd.

    And yes, it is quite strange indeed that equality tends to be seen as the average of two opposite kinds of intolerance.

  6. Laurentius: Yeah, but the question I’m asking is, why is the flipside of the usual hierarchies considered the extreme version of something that tries to eliminate these hierarchies altogether?

  7. Riel Amorpha hit the nail on the head. Our culture is deeply conditioned to see everything in binary. Even the Spectrum is seen as a gradient of value, ranging from “tragedy” to “miracle”. These beliefs cause people to lump everything into “camps”.
    Amanda, I have seen people dismiss your opinions because you have links to Jerry Lewis protests. That’s what people do.
    I found a magazine article, now I can’t remember the name, that delves into neurodiversity. She quoted you, discussed Michelle Dawson and other autistic members of the Neurodiverse community. This was the “radical” fringe for her. The extreme version of autism acceptance. It was really maddening to read.

  8. Yay, my communication device is back from the repair people, and I’ve finally got the wireless card into it. This means I can post from bed. :-) But onto my reply:

    Yeah, it was Phil Schwarz’s response to that article that got me on this rant in general.

    He assured the person that most autistic people are actually in the “middle ground”.

    And it got me to thinking whether he’d ever considered what saying something like that actually meant.

    Donna Williams describes herself as a “moderate” because she is not a “curist” or a “culturalist”.

    But her supposedly-moderate position is different from my supposedly-moderate position, and I think it’s because neither she nor I is actually positioned midway between wanting to cure autism and viewing autism as a superior way of being, nor midway between wanting to cure autism and viewing autism as a culture.

    We’re both off in different directions, that have some overlap with each other, and with assorted other positions, but that are not points in the center of a line between two extremes.

    And at any rate:

    My perspective is not in between that of someone who thinks autistic people are superior, and someone who thinks that all traces of autism must be eradicated.

    I don’t see how I can be logically considered to be part of some middle ground that draws from either of those ideas in any substantial way.

    Both of them accept the basic rules of the society I live in as just, accept the standard medicalized and individual notions of disability, and accept the hierarchies the society I live in imposes on people. The only place I can see at all where they differ from each other, is in who they place where on the hierarchy.

    There’s also another viewpoint that accepts the entire hierarchy, including non-disabled people’s place above disabled people, but who simply move autistic people (or some autistic people) out of those they consider disabled without examining their own views of what disability means. People of that position don’t speak for me either, and my views and the views of many of us, can’t be taken as identical to any of these, nor as some midpoint between them.

    My view is that the entire hierarchy is messed up, as is our way of viewing human difference. What we normally call disability, no matter how severe, being one of many forms of difference.

    Difference and disability are not opposites nor mutually exclusive, there is not even any reason to believe that all differences and forms of diversity are benign or pleasant.

    Trigeminal neuralgia is something I have never, ever heard anyone describe as pleasant or benign — before treatments were available it frequently led to suicide. But it’s still a part of human variation.

    (I’m just giving an example of one difference that I don’t mind the medical community trying to alleviate the negative effects of. As long as they’re not trying to prevent people with it from existing, nor endangering people too much with the treatments they have for it, nor insisting that it’s impossible for anyone with it to experience a good life, nor say that people with it should not be enabled to participate in society as much as possible even when treatments are not available or effective, I’m fine.)

    So my entire take on human variation is different than most people, who want to reserve these ideas only for “mild” things or pleasant things or things that cause certain abilities to be more likely.

    And then my entire take on how human variation should be viewed and handled, is very different from usual. Even when I do think the medical community should be (optionally) involved, I think differently about how the medical community is involved, and how patients of the medical community should be viewed and treated, than most people do. And then a lot of things that the medical community is currently involved in defining and in general dealing with, I think they should have either much less involvement or no involvement, and that there are better ways of handling these things.


    So basically, I come from a viewpoint that sees disability as one aspect of human variance, as the norm (across a lifetime) rather than deviation from the norm, and as something that the structure of a society is largely responsible for defining as different from the “acceptable” forms of variance, and also responsible for who it enables and who it disables. I also view all people, regardless of disability or other variance, to be fundamentally equal in value, and thus I view the fact that currently we treat a small number of sorts of people as superior, and enable those people only, to be a profound injustice to those of us who remain un-enabled or actively dis-enabled by the society in question.

    I don’t think that change is going to be easy, but I also don’t think that the difficulty of change and the impossibility of ever fully getting something right, should be an excuse for not even bothering to try, for laziness in other words. Nor do I think that the existence of certain kinds of people should be blamed for the consequences of other people’s profound laziness and apathy when it comes to how we are viewed and dealt with.

    Of course, there are many other things besides laziness and apathy that make this difficult — it’s just that the difficulty shouldn’t ever be an excuse (in general) not to try and figure out a way.

    I remember reading a quote that ran… (looking it up…):

    Teaching means different things in different places, but seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills. They constitute a national curriculum you pay for in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what it is. . . . 1. Confusion. 2. Class Position. 3. Indifference. 4. Emotional Dependency. 5. Intellectual Dependency. 6. Provisional Self-Esteem. 7. One Can’t Hide. . . . It is the great triumph of compulsory government monopoly mass-schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best of my students’ parents, only a small number can imagine a different way to do things.

    That’s by John Tayler Gatto, who I’ve never read anything by, just quotes, so I have no clue what his position on other things is but the above sums up one of the difficulties in many of these situations: It’s really hard to imagine anything different.

    But that shouldn’t let us off the hook in trying.

    Those of us who have experience in many cultures, even experience passed down by family members who were part of different cultures than the ones we grew up in, have a bit of an edge here because cultures often handle things differently. And if you can even see two ways of doing the same thing, it’s easier to begin to find more and more ways to do it. My friend Stan has lived in Ukraine, India, Sweden, and America, and has traveled to many more places, and he said that it made it really obvious how many ways there were to do the same thing, that there’s never (or almost never, I suppose there’s a possibility that sometimes there is) only One True Way.

    So, basically, I want to know how on earth my position as currently stated is in between two, three, or even four views that share almost nothing to do with my position at all.

    And, by the way, it’s possible to both support a cure for autism and take stands against bad things happening to autistic people, or even take a disability-rights sort of stance about it. Sue Rubin, for all I disagree with a lot of her opinions on the matter, has been active against torturing autistic people for years.

    Also, it’s quite common for any of the points of view I’ve talked about to be an intermediate step towards developing a point of view like the one I and a lot of self-advocates have. A lot of people, especially young people, go straight from “We’re inferior” to “We’re superior” before finally settling on equality of some sort or another. A lot of people in general go straight from “We’re inferior because we’re disabled” to “disability means inferiority, and we’re not inferior, so we’re different, not disabled”.

    I mean, I have, in my life, written (publicly):

    * Purely medical-model accounts of things, including the idea that mental patients and people likely to become mental patients ought to be medicated before we are “safe” to have wandering around loose

    * That I was different, not disabled. (I was influenced by some of the less complicated views in the deaf community.)

    * Very briefly (a period of a few months), that NTs were inferior to me. It was a heady thing to believe that I could be on top of the hierarchy for once instead of underneath it. I really hurt and offended some people close to me during this phase.

    * That I was okay because I’d been considered gifted (I had no idea at the time that I no longer qualified using official criteria), but other disabled people weren’t.

    Those are the views offered to us. Most of them are destructive, some of them are outright offensive. But it’s very common to end up with one of those views before venturing off into more realistic territory.

    But at any rate… no.

    1. I’m not midway between any of several points of view that have virtually nothing in common with my own.

    2. I’m not part of any of those several points of view. I don’t support autistic superiority in general, nor do I support autistic people climbing out of the disability basket and leaving everyone else behind, nor do I support medicalistic views of autistic people, nor do I support the self-pitying ‘support group’ mentality in parts of the autistic community, etc.

    3. I am also not a diluted or moderate version of any of those points of view.

    I’m saying something else entirely.

    So are most of us.

    But sometimes it seems impossible to break out of the categories others view us through, which includes assuming that our viewpoints are one thing or the other.

    I’m reminded so strongly of a conversation I had once with a girl:

    Her: You hate me.
    Me: I don’t hate you.
    Her: (dripping with sarcasm) Oh so you love me?
    Me: No, I don’t love you.
    Her: Then you hate me.
    Me: I don’t love or hate you. I don’t even know you.
    Her: That’s not possible.

  9. My opinion is that there are both cultural and biological (in the sense of how human brains evolved) reasons why this kind of thing happens. We (meaning here most humans most of the time) tend to think in dichotomies rather than continuums, and we tend to simplify abstract concepts as much as possible. I believe cognitive psychologists when they say that this is a human tendency which is essential in order for us to be able to function and interpret the world at all. I also wouldn’t be surprised if people do it more in regards to issues that have the potential to make them uncomfortable (i.e. issues of power and privilege).
    Thus, people see the whole mass of issues boiled down to two or three positions which are seen as opposites of each other, even if they’re not. It requires significant effort and awareness to think in a different way, but I think it’s possible for most people most of the time. Hopefully people who stumble across this blog are being encouraged to think about things in a more complex and accurate way.

  10. Actually, people seem to have no problem with continuums as long as they have something to stick on either end of it, and then put everything else in the middle, whether any of this makes sense or not.

  11. A comment I wrote this morning (a few hours ago) seems to have gone missing (maybe caught in the spam filter?). Of course other people have now raised most if not the same ideas I raised, but more concisely or in a more insightful way, so I’m not sure my comment would add much at this point, but if you’re able to rescue it I’d be grateful, thanks.

  12. In math, equality, 0, is the midpoint. -10, -9, -8, -7, -6, -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. There’s the far left, the far right, and the middle, which is 0. But that’s a straight line and any issue worth talking about is not a straight line and not a square and not a cube but something more dimensional than that. and rounder. I think life is round.

    In math 3 + 2 = 4 + 1 is equal means the same. In real life, though, as you say, equal doesn’t mean the same. Everyone should have their needs met. That doesn’t mean everyone should be treated the same because people need different things. But giving someone x and someone else y because the first needs x and the first needs y it shouldn’t be considered shameful that someone needs help with x when someone else needs help with y and that’s not shameful.

    This made me think a bit about Animal Farm. Some animals are more equal than others.

    I’m not as verbal as I thought I was right now, so I’m not sure if I said what I wanted to but I think if I didn’t I don’t think I can just now. But I agree with you.

  13. Joshua: Actually I think that alike and equal are still not the same thing in mathematics.

    3 + 2 = 4 + 4 – 3 = 20/4 = 10 – 5 = -5*-1 = square root of 25, etc.

    All of those phrases are different, but they’re also equal.

    3 + 2 is not the same as the square root of 25. They’re different operations and require different movements to get to the answer. But they all eventually add up to 5.

    There are in fact an infinite number of ways to write and get to the answer of “5”, which is part of the point.

    By mathematical analogy there would be an infinite (or at least extremely high) number of ways to write “human”, and a number of ways to get to humanity, despite all humans being equal in value.

    I remembered this concept from A Wrinkle In Time, when Meg was under a lot of duress by a monster to try to force her into a state of mindless conformity to its pattern, and she was shouting things like “all men are created equal” as an attempt to try to stop going by this thing’s rhythm. The thing told her, “Well here everyone is equal because everyone’s exactly alike.” And she thought for a minute — mathematics was the only subject she had an academic capability in — and said, “Alike and equal are not the same thing at all!” Based on, of course, math.

  14. Intellectually, I get that equal and identical are two different concepts. Equality is generally understood to be a desirable human right. (I don’t believe it extends beyond humans.) But it’s difficult to grasp this concept when in fact everyone is unique and different. And I think most people have trouble with this concept, whether they admit it or not, not only as far as disability goes, but also when it comes to race, gender and sexual orientation. I wonder if this is a problem of nomenclature and constructs. Why is being considered equal a requirement for getting equal rights? Non-equality getting translated into “better” or “worse” appears to be an entirely different problem.

  15. Joseph, when I talk about considering people unequal, I’m talking about considering people better and worse. I already made clear that I was not talking about people being different from each other. If I were to switch to talking about “not being better and worse” then people would say “Oh but some people are better at sports than others” and so on and so forth.

    No matter what language you pick to describe it, people are going to invert it the way I just described, and the way you are using language flies way over my head. There has to be some way of saying it, and “equal” is generally considered the appropriate way to describe this sort of thing, so that’s how I’m doing it. I’m not going to force my brain into gridlock here. Any way of talking about it has the same problems, so I’ve picked one.

  16. Maybe part of the problem comes from a zero-sum attitude: If equality makes things better for you, it must make things worse for them.

  17. i once had a teacher in high school who told us that the politics was not a straight line, but a circle. that the far-right fascism and the far-left communism dictatorships were really so far left and right that they met on the extreme side of the circle and then the moderate ideas were on the other side of the circle. which really made a lot of sense, to an extent.

    although, it could be why the “reasonable” politicians are not much use although they are not so terrible like the unreasonable politicians.

    because if i would put this post into the same analogy, you are talking about the better ideas or positions not even being ON the same circle with the ones that don’t work.

  18. Amanda, I get what you mean by “equal”, and I’ve had similar frustrations in discussions with people who say things like, “Well, how can they be ‘equal’ if they use more resources than we do?”, or, “Well, any reasonable person would want X, Y, and Z, so people without X, Y, and Z are by definition unequal”. And then there are folks who just blatantly admit that they judge people entirely on the basis of their economic “value” per today’s job market. I’ve run into all kinds, and I don’t know what part of the all people are intrinsically of equal value thing isn’t getting through.

    Makes me think of a discussion I had with someone a while back, wherein he was trying to convince me that being autistic meant that there were “certain experiences I’d never have” (and that this, I guess, was a bad thing). I tried to explain that, well, while that may be true, there’s plenty I can experience — some of which other people might not experience due to their not having a brain like mine. It’s never made sense to me to compare what one person “could have” with what another person could have by virtue of body shape or neurology or whatever.

    It almost seems like that whole thing where people try and argue that eugenic selection is “in the child’s best interests” as if all children are somehow interchangeable prior to birth unless they happen to be disabled, in which case the logic will get flipped around on its ear.

    I guess what it comes down to for me is: yes, different people’s lives can be both mutually exclusive and equally valid. Each person’s life is comparable only to itself in many respects, and I’ve never understood the drive to rip the notion of “lives” out of the context of the individuals and bodies through which lives are actually lived. It’s like this weird condensing and chopping-up of people into “raw materials” and then trying to pour in the exact same “quantity” of happiness, abilities, etc., into each resultant being. That sounds like a nightmare to me, honestly, but to some people it sounds like “progress”. :/

  19. I’m sorry, I just think we should stop at “Mean people suck!”

    “Mean People” is something I define the way a Federal Judge once defined obscenity; “I know it when I see it.”

    Or feel it, mentally or physically, in my case.

    There was a one-dimensional metaphor proposed above, like the number line. People are more complex than that. If we want to use that kind of metaphor, let’s have more dimensions than one, at least 3, maybe, or even more?

    I wonder if anyone is capable of visualising a 5-dimensional space?

    I also wonder if human minds and human social relations map appropriately to Cartesian co-ordinates and axes, anyway

  20. Most people place a higher value on their friends and family and care very little for people on the other side of the world – although intellectually they can acknowledge that everyone is ( or should be) equal, in fact a person’s worth is how valued they are by others.

    What about other living organisms – why should humans be more valuable than anything else? Indeed, not everyone thinks they are, but most of us value humans because we are human ourselves and feel empathy etc, but that’s an extension of why we value our friends and families more than other humans and supports the notion that equality is not absolute, but a value imposed on things by others.

    Another thing is that simply asserting that all people are equal doesn’t solve the problem – it can be got around by saying that some humans aren’t really people, especially if you hold the view that humans are more valuable than other organisms. And what about dead people? Are they as equal as living people?

  21. To the couple of people who’ve insisted on getting into tiny little degrees of definition of “equality”, “people”, etc:

    I don’t write in order to create a new set of perfectly-logically-connected and unassailable abstractions that encompasses every possible scenario, nor to get everything to a standard of linguistic perfection that’s impossible for anyone to ever get to (least of all someone who comes at language that way I do).

    If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s best to look for the sort of people who are into that sort of thing. They seem to far outnumber people who come at ideas the way I do, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find them. They are even more densely-packed than usual among academics, particularly in fields like ethics or philosophy.

    I’m not an academic. I’m not capable of holding the sort of system of ideas in my head that you appear to want. And I’m not capable of describing every possible contingency. Nor do I believe myself (or anyone else for that matter) to have either the ability or authority to do so.

    But if you like that sort of thing, it’s very, very popular, far more popular among writers than the way I do things, and you might want to seek out people who are already doing it instead of acting as if I’m either doing it or ought to be. I agree completely that there are a bunch of exceptions to anything anyone could possibly say. But I already say things with that assumption built in, instead of sitting around trying to figure out whether dead people have the same rights as the living (and for that matter whether you are talking about souls, bodies, a view of the world that is outside of time and therefore in which the dead and the not-yet-even-conceived are always alive just inaccessible to the present, or something else entirely). If I were to write to that level of precision, I’d never write (which maybe you want, I don’t know, but I intend to keep writing because I think there’s something important to this beyond whether I said “humans” or “people” or whether “people” was meant to include dead people or not… keep in mind I write in phrases, not words, and that nitpicking individual words too far would mean that I would become incapable of writing at all).

    If you’re looking for unassailable ideologies… don’t look here, because I’m not even trying to construct an ideology, let alone an unassailable one (something that doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned). If you’re looking for linguistic perfection… don’t look here, because I don’t have anything close to it. There are lots of other people out there who strive for one or both of those things, and probably come far closer to it than I ever could. And if you can’t consider that you’re talking to someone who’s incapable of writing to the degree of precision you like, maybe you really ought to save yourself the frustration and read someone else, because while I do sometimes sacrifice a lot for writing, I’m not going to make myself dizzy in order to bang out inadequate replies to something that doesn’t have much if anything to do with what I mean.

  22. So right. It really doesn’t make sense, and it is an annoying framework that one must work with in trying to convince people of your opinion in the mainstream.

    When I personally use the word “extreme”, I usually mean that they represent a set of ideas that are reprehensible, that only someone who is not thinking ethically or logically would subscribe to (perhaps this is because of growing up hearing about “Islamic extremists” in the news).

    When it comes to ideas that are technically extreme considering the mainstream (such as equality), I think of the word “radical”, which I grew up as having a positive meaning. Thus, for me, equality is radical, supremacy is extreme.

    Of course, this is only my personal use of the terms, and I agree that it really doesn’t make any sense to consider a supremacist view as an extreme of an equality view.

  23. Radical is another one of those ones that can go either way.

    It can be used to mean ‘good’ or ‘cool’ (to the point where lots of political ideas that are not radical, but are trendy, are described as ‘radical’.)

    It can also be used to mean ‘dangerous’, as in ‘dangerous radicals’. Which then often means that a person will call someone a radical as an insult whether or not it applies.

    And of course it seems to have various meanings, like “extreme,” “revolutionary,” or “getting at the root of a problem and solving it,” etc., which might or might not contradict each other at various times.

    …more reasons I loathe language sometimes (or even become convinced that language itself is a particular kind of loathing of the whole world in general).

  24. This is a fascinating conversation. I think that when society talks of granting equal access to all they still want to believe that they have some measure of control. You know “look how much we have done for them” thing. But to have the belief that an autistic person were superior to a non autistic then fear comes into play because who is granting who what? Hope it makes sense I can never write how it sounds in my head

  25. Amanda

    I note that you have changed your orginal response without acknowledging this. I don’t think you are treating me fairly.

    Asking a couple of questions is not the same as demanding unassailable ideologies. Asking a couple of questions is not the same as demanding that you cover every possible contingency. Asking a couple of questions is not the same as wanting you to produce a whole system of ideas. Please do not make these accusations. It is unfair. And saying that stops real discussion. It’s like when someone criticises the parent of an autistic and the parent flies off the handle and screams that they are being a bad parent or can’t be expected to be perfect.

    I don’t think the issues I raised are nitpicking either. Who is regarded as human does matter and has mattered. To give a couple of examples, Charles Darwin regarded the Irish and Black People as sub-human, a lower evolutionary form between humans and apes – and they were treated accordingly. People in institutions have been considered “socially dead” and that it’s therefore OK to leave them to a natural death, because they aren’t full people anymore.

    And don’t tell me what I would be happier reading, as if you had my welfare in mind. I am quite happy to read alternative points of view, and often I raise questions because I want to particpate in the discussion or clarify what is being said.


  26. I’m sorry I got frustrated. But it doesn’t make me any more able to answer either your questions or the other person’s questions I was responding to. Nor does it make me capable of writing even the answers I can write, easily, without editing them several times (which I have done to many answers on many threads on this site and you have never complained before, and I edited in this case partly to make it clear I wasn’t pointing anything only at one person despite the points I was addressing mostly being one person’s — and I edited several times to further clarify my answer).

    I try to be thorough when I can’t answer something. I put a lot of work into trying to answer your questions before finally driving myself into near-meltdown and realizing that this wasn’t useful to me or to you.

    I’m also not capable of figuring out what you mean by certain things. (And this is specifically with you, because you seem to with more frequency than usual get mad at just about any of my responses to you, and consider them unfair, or to have many other meanings that I don’t actually put into them. I still remember the last time I thought I answered a fairly straightforward question you asked about what someone other than me would think, only to then be treated as if I was the other person you were asking about, and also to be told in essence that any possible response I could write to you explaining that wasn’t what I believed or what I meant, would be wrong and/or unfair to you in some manner. So there must be something I’m missing.)

    What it sounded like you were asking me to do, was write something that would cover every possible instance of a person that some people did not consider human, and then go into the realm of dead humans as well, and also flesh out my beliefs about actual non-humans (which is a really broad category).

    I tried to do that. That’s what I tried to do before answering you. I quickly realized the task was too large and broad for me to ever be capable of answering in my lifetime, let alone on a day when I was not feeling well and struggling for language.

    I can’t stop you from thinking that I was only responding “as if” I had your welfare in mind, because it’s become clear that whether I do what you ask me to do or not, you’ll come to your own conclusions, usually negative, about what I’m doing. But, seriously, people who like things the way you seem to like them… some of my friends are like that, and I could probably get my friend who’s a philosophy major to attest to the fact that I can’t think the way she does and can’t answer certain sorts of questions, even if they seem like perfectly easy and obvious questions to a grad student in philosophy. My way of thinking has its own strengths, but they’re not the same strengths as her way of thinking, and her way of thinking is far more suited to the kind of fleshing-out you want of me.

    So, yes, I think people who need questions like that answered in order to understand something, have a right to have them answered by someone, which is exactly why I direct them to people who are capable of answering questions like that.

    People who want me to explain to a level of precise detail what I mean by “equality” (someone else on this thread) or what I mean by “person” and now also apparently “human” and “living”, as well as particular attitudes to non-human creatures and I suppose non-creatures as well, are seriously better off consulting someone suited to coming up with entire complex ideologies explaining things.

    I don’t know what else to do.

    I don’t consider anyone human non-human and I don’t consider any living people dead. However, if I say this, a person could easily question my definition of “human” or “living” and we would be back at square one.

    Which is exactly why I get frustrated trying to answer stuff like this, and that’s the part I am apologizing for. I didn’t need to make the frustration I was experiencing that obvious. But I have no idea how to answer something I can’t answer. That hasn’t changed even a tiny bit just because of how much you want the answer and how unfair you think my previous answer was. I do think you deserve to get the answer from somewhere, but apparently thinking that is only something “as if” true, not actually true, even though it is, in fact, true.

    Anyone better at answering the sort of questions you want answered, who actually knows what I think about all this, is welcome to translate on my behalf. But I will never, untranslated, be able to give answers with the degree of precision that you either want or need.

    Anna, are you out there? Because it’d be really useful to have a person with both more traditional social and verbal skills than me, and a philosophy major at that, answer these questions. And perhaps that would quell the bizarre idea that I could answer these things but am just not trying hard enough and am therefore not being fair by continuing to not only not answer these things but to explain precisely why I can’t rather than just not answering at all and leaving people wondering if I’m ignoring them.

    And I still don’t know what to conclude about your previous response to my trying to direct you (and the other guy) to people who can do something for you that I can’t. That seems to put me in a position where if I’m personally not the person to answer the question, I’m doing something wrong to you in some way, and that my attempt to direct you to a far more likely source of an answer is somehow wrong as well. And since I’m not capable of answering, it’s an endless catch-22 in which if I don’t answer at all then I’m ignoring you, if I answer with why I can’t answer then I’m being unfair, and if I direct you to another set of sources that is better able to answer questions like this then I don’t really mean it.

    Even this explanation is difficult to come up with. Please don’t accuse me of being unfair to you for trying. I have very narrow cognitive ground on which I’m capable, and you seem to at this point want me to step off of it, even though that will benefit neither of us because it won’t get you your answer and it will exhaust and overload me more than I already am right now (which with a minimum of four staff per day now is pretty overloaded, I spent a lot of yesterday unable to move).

    I don’t know that other people know where my limits are. And I don’t expect them to. But I do expect, when I state “I can’t do this,” not to be told I can or should do it. I will no longer allow myself to be pushed (whether inadvertently or deliberately) into making things up to satisfy another person’s demand for me to answer them. That has always led to disaster when it has happened, and I doubt you mean to create this scenario, but making things up is the only possible way I could answer your actual questions, and I’m not willing to do that to either of us. Please at least believe that I might be competent at discerning where my limits are and what will happen if I step across them, and that even if I answer you in a very frustrated manner it doesn’t mean that what I say therein about what I can and can’t answer as well as who might be able to answer you is inaccurate or that I must just be saying those things about finding someone who can answer it. Or should I not assume you want your questions answered? I can’t figure it out.

    Additionally, I appear not to be the only person who has trouble answering questions like this, as I got a private reply thanking me for writing what I wrote about why I couldn’t answer it. It’s something that person had been dealing with in regards to answering similar questions.

    And yes, I’ve edited this response about four times by now, in the interests of clarity. Normally I don’t announce edits until someone has responded to me. And, seriously, if I write replies this long about why I can’t answer something, it’s a safe bet that I can’t answering it. If I could answer it, answering would be far easier than launching into an explanation destined to anger people who want me to be the one answering their questions.

    And, I’ve now specifically emailed Anna asking her to come here and try to answer the questions if she can. This is her area of study and her job, I’m sure she can do a better job of it than I can. And she’s in the course of debating philosophy with me over the years (and no I’m not averse to debate), bumped into this limitation countless times and is probably better at explaining it than I am. Maybe she can do that too. She’s become very careful over the years about what sorts of things she expects me to understand and respond to, because she knows there’s a pattern and logic behind which ones I can’t respond to. I know she disagrees with me on some of the answers to these things, but she might still be better able to articulate what I believe about these things than I am.

    (And yes, I can’t respond to even many “simple” questions, such as “What do you want to eat?” because they share things in common with the sorts of questions people are asking here, namely that they require deliberate non-triggered retrieval of information on a topic I haven’t got that capacity on. And these questions additionally have a level of abstraction and open-endedness to them that I find extremely difficult, and yes this doesn’t just limit me on Internet forums, it also limits my capacity to fill in “simple” forms for “simple” things.)

    The fact that I’m posting again doesn’t mean I’m even as capable of usual as going off the territory I’m generally able to function on, it just means that I’m capable of staying on the territory I’m generally able to function on. I think there might be some kind of irrevocable clash between our communication styles and I’d love if someone translated for me (I won’t ask for you to be translated unless you want to be) because it seems like no matter what I say it gets warped somewhere along the way.

  27. I think you took my original post the wrong way. I didn’t expect you to come up with detailed answers. The questions were supposed to add to the discussion that was going on and weren’t even specifically directed at you. They were general points I wanted to raise, and I did so in the form of questions.

    When I said you were being unfair, it was not because you didn’t give detailed answers to my questions, I didn’t expect you to – I felt you were being unfair because you accused me of expecting you to come up with whole ideologies or systems of thought. I never said anything like that. And even though I tried to explain this, you still seem to think that’s what I’m doing – I’m not.

    Maybe it is a difference in communications style. I thought I had written a neutral post that was an extension of the discussion that was going on, I wasn’t even agreeing or disagreeing.

    I’m sorry if I am not clear – I have trouble with language too. I’d prefer if you would ask me to clarify if you don’t understand, rather than launching into these massive rants.

    I’m not mad, just really, really bewildered about where I go wrong.


  28. Oh, okay. That makes more sense. And I’m sorry for the rants, which now must seem to have come out of nowhere. Sometimes I take these things as questions, and then something in my head keeps triggering this “You must answer a question” thing and since I can’t, it’s like internally bashing my head on a wall. And sometimes I forget that people aren’t always expecting answers when they ask a question.

    The long rants are more a product of the internal bashing my head on a wall than anything.

    I guess the problem with asking to clarify, is that it’s not always clear to me when I don’t understand something. If I knew that it was a misunderstanding, I’d ask what was meant, but then I don’t know I’m misunderstanding, so… on and on the confusing stuff goes looping around my head looking for a place to land.

    And yeah, I imagine you have trouble with language too, I remember thinking that but somehow not typing it. Sorry about that, too.

    Anna still might come in and answer the questions you asked though, since I emailed her about it.

    I sometimes have trouble telling the parameters and level of detail a person wants, and tend to err for the most possible level of detail, and if I know that what I say will be incomplete I often don’t say it at all.

    So, yeah, now I am starting to get it and I do apologize for screwing this up even more by adding more long ranting to it.

    This reminds me in a different (sort of opposite) way of what happened to a bunch of autistic people I was with at a book signing. After other people had drifted away, we were all standing there not saying anything. And I started at that point paraphrasing Jim Sinclair about what happens when you get a large group of people with communication problems in a room together.

    (None of this negating the fact that autistic people can often read each other, but we can also definitely have interesting interactions stemming from all of us having trouble in the same area, such as initiating conversations.)

    I suspect that at times, like the trouble initiating that got multiplied into everyone standing around awkwardly and not saying anything, language difficulty can also multiply upon itself when several people who have it are trying to converse with each other. I’ve seen it a lot of times online on mailing lists, where assorted problems with expressive and receptive language collide into a big mess. (The most obvious being when people who can only easily read the dominant form of English are in a place with people who can only easily write non-dominant forms of English. I’ve seen several flamewars about that.)

  29. I’m hoping you are not so tired of this conversation that you will not like my comment. If I could throw another word into the mix acceptance. I would like to promote the concept of acceptance – of each other – of all of us – as we came into the world, as we developed, as we are.

    I recently found your site, and am very impressed. It will take me a while to read more of it than I can today. Reading ABOUT and perusing the comments taught me a lot. I hope you will visit my blog, and recommend you take a look at my essay titled: 1 Cor 1:26-28. I have much less experience blogging than you. I can only hope that the people who read what I write will benefit some. Undoubtedly, your readers benefit. I know I did (will). Thanks!

  30. I know I’m somewhat of a gadfly here, in that I usually offer a contrarian perspective, but here goes:

    1. The notion of “equality” as you’re using it in this article is completely meaningless. “Equal’ in WHAT SENSE? “Political” equality? What does that even mean? “Equality” of voting-rights? “Equality” in that the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are equally respected? You have to be more specific, here.

    2. “Equal value as human beings.” Now that’s interesting, because it presumes a worldview that’s basically a big “lifeboat scenario” where existence is seen as a “zero-sum game”, and the relative worth of various types of people carries life-or-death importance NOT just to them, but to whatever “greater whole” they’re being measured against.
    Thus (for example), a younger, fully-visioned person is seen as more “socially fit”, and the giant lifeboat known as “society” is urged to shove an older, visually-impaired guy over the side.
    The presumption here is that “society” possesses value as such. Instead of viewing “society” (and it’s institutions) as a utilitarian tool for the INDIVIDUALS comprising it, those individuals are to be cherrypicked, and demographically tuned toward whatever “society” happens to want at any given time.
    (Blond-haired white people were quite popular in Germany in the 1940s, for example.)

    Now, what I’m getting at here is, outside of the political sphere (protection of basic Constitutional rights, for example), the notion of “equality” has no meaning whatsoever, unless you’re talking about “equality” within a given context.
    For example, I’d be the first one to admit that I am distinctly “inferior” to one of those “savant” guys who can do differential calculus in their head, in terms of mathematical skill.
    Does that communicate any sort of broad-spectrum ‘value judgement”? Not unless you believe in the notion of “society” as an end in itself, which I don’t.
    Thus, I don’t go around bitching about how the world of professional race-car driving doesn’t provide “equal access” to the Blind. It SHOULDN’T, that’s why.
    So basically what I’m getting at here is:

    1. “Equality” as used in the article is completely meaningless.
    2. “Social fitness” is completely meaningless, unless you think “society” is an end, rather than a mere means.)
    3. There are a lot of contexts where “equality” is either unneccesary or downright dangerous.

    By the way, most “supremacist” type ideologies view some particular collective as intrinsically valueable. (For example, White supremacists see the “White Race” as an end in itself, and Individual white people as a mere means to the presumed “ends” of said “race”.)

    Does any of this make sense?

  31. I don’t know if it makes sense or not. I’m also not sure if it counts as being a ‘gadfly’ if you persistently respond to ideas that weren’t said, or even to the opposite of what is said.

    For instance, your “lifeboat” scenario is the exact opposite of the beliefs I describe, it’s a hierarchical scenario where some people are presumed more important than others. I don’t believe that, I think all people’s lives are important, and I think those “lifeboat” scenarios are often just ways for people to use awful hypothetical situations that rarely actually happen, to confirm that their prejudices are accurate.

    In addition to usually being about things that are neither what was said nor outgrowths of what was said, a lot of your comments seem in some way academic to me. They also seem to have heavy traces of an ideology that tells you that if one thing is said, then a second thing is happening, even if the first thing is being said over and over and the second thing is nowhere in sight.

    I don’t know how to describe it, but it seems like when you see one concept being discussed (which one varies), in your mind that concept is always the tip of a bigger iceberg. And you think you know how that iceberg is shaped, and so you start describing the iceberg in detail and everything that’s wrong with it. And you’ve got the wrong iceberg entirely.

    I also believe that acting purely or even mostly from ideologies ruins nearly everything it touches, and it seems that if I mention a principle without putting it into an ideology, you start searching around for the ideology that you’ve seen that principle used in, and then respond to the ideology you’ve guessed it must be related to. Whereas I tend to act from assorted principles that all allow plenty of shifting and changing because the world is an enormous place and I understand almost none of it, and because ideologies are inherently based in words and symbols, which destroy the world. And people who know me still tend to consider me pretty ethical despite my lack of almost any of the sort of cognitive appendages you seem to assume are (or should be) there.

    There’s a lot about this I can’t explain, but I think we’re cognitive opposites and I so far have only seen you react badly to misinterpretations of what I’ve said. I’ve had people react badly to things I’ve really said, and gave reasons that made sense before, so I know it’s not that I’m just somehow cognitively resistant to seeing your point. It’s that your points generally have to do with someone else, and I always get the weird sense you’re talking to a ghost who’s standing beside me, and calling that ghost my name.

  32. “Why is the second point of view considered a “more extreme” version of the first? Why is superiority considered a more extreme version of equality?”

    Because extreme is defined as anything or anything extremely different from what’s normative and what’s normative varies as much as it’s subject to dualism (autistic vs. neurotypical, the Forces of Good™ vs. Forces of Evil™, whatever).

    Polarized views/people usually do increasingly mirror each other in important ways. We see this in political parties, the “Culture War,” the abortion debate, religions, atheism vs. religion arguments, and things autism related. It’s a known phenomenon associated with dualism and with it people miss many processes and choices from here to there — it interferes with varied explorative discourse, cognition, and respect for others.

    People are more comfortable with mediocrity and fuzzy middles because polarized sides each aim for a new normative fuzzy middle magic bullet approach that encourages both intellectual (EQ-IQ) mediocrity and superiority complexes, and only some complexes (“ours”) are okay. Civil rights and all aside, the problem isn’t that we’re not equally advantaged or disadvantaged; the problems lie more in the dysfunction of taking sides when reality can count higher than two, hence ranges like the autism range than are **part of** the range of human existence.

    Speaking of dysfunction, yes, people should focus on ethics/virtues, but that is an area that has the most ‘noise,’ historically. That is the area we kill each other over the most. That is one of the trickiest areas in human emotional-social intelligence. Its roots also lie in dualism and historically people of different faiths are taught to identify by faith and see virtues, character, and ethics as religiously/culturally proprietary and normative, the result being that those who do not believe, think, or act in normative ways are often viewed as lacking virtues, character, and ethics and there you have that dualism and superiority complex with resulting marginalization…again and again and again.

  33. There’s some quite interesting debate here, but I actually thought the original concept was quite simple and well-put – that someone advocating for autistic rights and support services is not in the same category as someone saying “autistic people are better than ‘normal’ people” in any way, but that others try to put the two groups in the same bunch.

    The “what does equality mean?” debate is a very complex one, with a whole heap of different dimensions – it’s probably not going to be possible to work out how to apply the term to real life experiences without narrowing it down to a specific area. In any case, it doesn’t really apply here.

    Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like people that aren’t sure what the word “equal” means in this context would find it easier to think of the first group as “people who advocate rights and support services”.

  34. I think the idea that all people are of equal worth is more radical (in the sense of being a *change* from the usual) than the idea that autism is not a disability or is superior to NT or whatever.
    The radicalness to me indicates nothing about the goodness or badness of your view, just means that your view doesn’t share several assumptions that all the other views share – namely that there is a hierarchy of most to least valuable people. The other views argue about the order of the hierarchy, you say ‘why should there even *be* a hierarchy?’

  35. But seriously.

    Camp A: “I think there should be hierarchy among people, and it should look like this.”

    Camp B: “I think there should be hierarchy among people, and it should look like *this*.”

    Camp Amanda (for lack of a better name :P): “I don’t think there should be hierarchy among people.”

    Really. Not middle ground. Not the same thing at all.

  36. I say screw hierarchies for the simple reason that…..they take up valuable brain-memory. Any kind of thought does, but why waste brainpower on useless things?

    We hate language too at times because things like tone of voice……..how a word is used in a sentence……..hidden meanings and other complete abstractions…………get in the way of comprehension.

    I love reading this blog because so often I come across things and start thinking……..”I’ve thought of/can relate to this, and this, and this, and………etc.”

    For the long posts I have to watch out for hyperlexia….but for the most part, I dig it. Really.


  37. B”H

    I like Zakkie, so I’ll probably just agree to be agreeable. Seriously, I do not come across a genuine Spectrum elitism. What I come across is elitism directed at our “LFA” friends, if you will pardon the term. And, this elitism is really not in opposition to NT exclusionism, but a cousin to it. In some ways, the two partner together.

    Personally, I have always been in favor of alliances with non-elite NT’s. I think that a broad approach will get us more than a narrow approach. To get what we want, we must be willing to shake up hierarchies, not perpetuate them.

    I am glad that you see Quantum manifolds in your head. However, if any of you have disdain towards others on the Spectrum, then I do not consider you a fellow “Aspie.” That is harsh, but you can change it by mending your ways and your thoughts.

    All the best,

  38. I don’t write in order to create a new set of perfectly-logically-connected and unassailable abstractions that encompasses every possible scenario, nor to get everything to a standard of linguistic perfection that’s impossible for anyone to ever get to (least of all someone who comes at language that way I do).

    If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s best to look for the sort of people who are into that sort of thing. They seem to far outnumber people who come at ideas the way I do, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find them. They are even more densely-packed than usual among academics, particularly in fields like ethics or philosophy.

    …to tell the truth, I think this touches on why we’ve been so shy about posting about certain subjects in our Livejournal. We want to write about certain things in particular and make those posts open to be read by the general public, but LJ and similar services, at times, seem to harbor a lot of the types of people who will run by or pop out of lurking and begin shaking you down on the technicalities while demanding an unassailably perfect ideology and set of language definitions from you. (Even the more scientifically-minded people in here regard this as futile, also: “it works in the laboratory because the laboratory does not reproduce the real world.”) There are places– there are places we’ve been in, online– where one can’t even make mention of what are usually considered to be “weighty philosophical topics” without being pounced on and torn apart by the very ideologically inclined, and those who are *not* prone to or good at making enormous, all-encompassing ideological mechanisms in their heads are simply bullied into a corner with semantic games by those who do. And a fair portion of them consider it a mere intellectual exercise (at best; or, at worst, all in a day’s fun, in the cases where it borders on trolling) to rip apart anything which is not universalized and precise enough to meet their standards of a “proper” philosophical or moral view. Or looking for loopholes, or claiming that certain of your views can “logically” be extended to ridiculous extremes which almost no real person would ever, in practice, agree with, etc, etc.

    I really wish that there were some way to denote, up front, clearly, that one doesn’t do ideologies, and is not interested in entering into debate or discussion with people who insist that every viewpoint must be grounded in a broad, detailed and categorizable ideology rather than in observation of reality and perception of patterns over time, besides simply saying it over and over again.

  39. You just have to ignore the trolls, as hard as that may be at times. If they get really obnoxious, you can ban them…….I think, I cannot remember if livejournal has that option….I have an LJ account but I don’t use it anymore….I just started another blog at wordpress. Try not to let the trolls “lock up” your truths, creativity, writing, feelings, etcetera, inside of you all, if you wish to show them to people. I’ll be the first to say that’s MUCH easier said than done. But if you make the decision to share or not to share as YOUR OWN decision, not influenced by the prospects of trolling, you all might feel better about it later on.


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