So apparently this month is Ableism Month? I don’t follow this kind of stuff all that much, but with some thought, I do have something to say.
This post was originally going to be an angry rant, but after some thought, I was able to think of a way to inspire people, a lesson I may pass to people who mean well but whose actions have unforeseen consequences. Perhaps I can reach people who are not so well-intended and convince them to change their mind and act in a better way. I won’t know unless I try, I suppose.
What I want to do is give a message of caution to those who profess to be on my side.
If I were to take social justice at face value and not investigate the actions of those who preach it, I could understand why it has so much traction and can even agree with it. The problem is that the way people act is important too, as are the consequences of their actions. When social justice takes the Marketplace of Ideas that is university and changes it into something else, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed just to let them take the university environment I love and turn it into the complete antithesis? The answer is no.
In its crusade, social justice has lost track of what makes a person a person. Ultimately our physical characteristics are irrelevant. We are all human beings, and my understanding of biology suggests to me that we are all more similar than not. What truly differentiates us is our ideas and our skills. It will not do well for us if the side that is trying to combat prejudice succumbs to prejudice. We do not beat fire by fighting with fire.
I am an autistic individual, but that is just one of many characteristics that add to the sum that is me. I have a unique combination of skills and ideas, and I express my skills and ideas in unique ways. It’s what makes me special, and your skills and ideas are what makes you special. Let us not forget that in our efforts to improve the world.
When we forget what makes us truly special, we focus on our labels. When we focus on our labels and the labels of others, and when we decide that one set of labels is to be favored over another, we get the problems I have with social justice. When in an attempt to fix the past we simply take a mirror to the scale, we do not fix anything.
It also just makes for boring interactions when the most interesting things about you are the things that happened by chance. I did not choose to be autistic. I was lucky that I can function well in society, but I did not choose that. I was given hand. Perhaps it was a fortunate hand in certain areas but in other areas, it was not. The content of my hand is irrelevant. I do not spend every moment of every day dwelling on the fact that I am an autistic individual. I do not dwell on my social difficulties and other struggles that come with the autistic condition. I focus on what I am good at and take some time to improve on the things I have difficulty with in case those skills are necessary. I took the hand I was given and did my best with it. That is what matters in the end.
I chose to study science in high school. I chose to go into engineering and then biology in university. I chose to use those skills in interesting and unique ways. What I choose to do now is to work to become a university professor. At this moment, I want to become an educator in the fields of science and technology. I want to teach people to understand and appreciate science and the scientific method, and to be interested in making their discoveries. It is the choices I make that make me who I am.
So what happens when we forget this? Well, when it comes to mental illness, those who want the attention of mental illness uses it as a shield or crutch. When someone fakes mental illness so that they may get attention, it is called Munchhausen. It seems rather despicable to me that people would fake mental illness. The way I see it, no one should want to be mentally ill, and yet Munchhausen exists.
If there are people who fake the autistic condition, let me say to them that growing up autistic was not easy for me. I was not always as highly functioning in my condition as I am today. Growing up autistic was a highly alienating and fickle experience. I had few friends, and I understood very few people. I did not understand how to ask for what knowledge I needed to understand the world.
Today, I fear that my ignorance I am a burden to others. I have never wanted to be a burden on others, nor do I wish to be a burden on anyone today. I do my best to be independent so that I need not burden others. My self-worth comes from my skills and ideas, from what I can provide to others.
For a long time, I depended on others just to understand the world and to develop a sense of coordination around an alien environment that everyone else seemed to be able to understand faster than me.
It is hard enough to convince people to take the autistic condition seriously without unaffected people taking advantage of it for personal gain. If people do not take the autistic condition seriously, then autistic people will not get the help they need to adjust to society so that they may be contributing members. I can understand someone whose only perception of autism is its negative characteristics. I’d rather have to try to show such a person that it is possible for autistic people to adjust if they get the help they need as opposed to having to deal with someone who is faking the autistic condition for their benefit.
So what is the answer to this kind of thing? Well, that is another thing I need to discuss, telling another tale of caution.
I want to say that one the answers are education, but I almost fear these days that the word education is slowly taking on the guise of indoctrination. To me, education has always been about giving people the tools they need to come to their conclusions. It isn’t about shoving an idea down one’s throat, but presenting the tools required to consider fairly new ideas.One of my favorite quotes is by Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
People who are educated on a topic are not of a single mind, believing one thing and unwilling to listen to an argument. Educated minds are open minds, minds capable of allowing an idea to swim without necessarily taking root. They consider “What if X is true? What if Y is false? What are the consequences of Z?” I find it hard to believe that the majority of people using the word education these days are open to considering other ideas. They are only interested in getting other people to believe, but they are unwilling to have their mind changed. These are individuals who do not have the mark of an educated mind, and yet they think they can educate others.
I have some challenges for those who read, each having to do with a subject I discussed.
- Come up with a list of qualities about yourself or ideas that you have obtained from your worldly experience (at least three qualities and/or ideas). They should be things that you can control to a certain degree. Features such as gender, skin color, mental health conditions, and other such do not count. I want to know the ideas and skills you have that make you interesting and unique. Tell me who you are and not what you are.
- List an idea that you have that you consider to be obviously true and show me that you can be open to the idea that it could be false. Listen to arguments from people on the other side of the argument. If you post one of these arguments, do your best to accurately represent the argument so that your counter-argument will be effective and not an attack against a straw-man. You do not have to change your mind at the end, but you should at the very least be open to the possibility that you could be wrong. I’d also be interested in your thought process. “I considered the possibility that I was wrong about this subject, and when I did I thought ______.” Show me that you have the mark of an educated mind. Show me that you can consider the side of others and that you are open to the possibility of being wrong, even if in the end you believe you are still right.