Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What about....

Rather than viewing autism (and its attendant autism spectrum disorders) as a defect which needs to be cured, perhaps there should be more insight into why autism appears to be (I say "appear" because the evidence for the so-called "epidemic" isn't ironclad, but subjective) sharply on the rise? While perseverating on the causation of autism, perhaps they're missing the boat. Assuming that autism is genetic (and there is ample scientific evidence to back this), could it be that autism is not a scourge of society, but rather, a reaction to the toxicity of the world we've created, and even an antidote to it?

  • The planet we live on is overpopulated. Natural disaster, disease, and everyday mortality have taken their toll as usual, but not so much as in the past. We find ways to outfox the boundaries imposed upon every other species; we manage to impregnate and perpetuate people who are naturally infertile, to allow those with serious or terminal genetic diseases to survive to reproductive age, to control the natural disasters as much as we can, to stem disease even though disease plays a valuable role in strengthening other species, and we tortuously prolong deaths that would have taken hours or days into months and years, as much out of obligation as of actual affection.
  • Our social structure tends to be intense, but toxic. This isn't a new phenomena (see the bible, Greek mythology, and Shakespeare), but it is exacerbated by the sheer numbers we've accumulated. Contrary to what we would like to believe, humans are not benevolent, or cooperative, except for when it benefits us in some way. The more crowded the place gets, the less benefit there is from other people, and the more cost, hence less incentive to play nicely.
  • With the advent of computer technology, strong in-the-flesh interpersonal bonds aren't as necessary as they were a hundred or even fifty years ago. This is an extremely dramatic change for such a short time. Neighbors used to help us build barns or bring in the hay or sew quilts, now we often don't even know their names.
  • The rising tide of violence, crime, drug abuse and what I would categorize as "toxic behavior" causes many people to attempt to move away from others. However, this doesn't work either, because the natural resources are limited, and if we exterminate many more species, the results are likely to be disastrous for the planet as a whole. So, escapism is not the answer either. Besides, most socially oriented people want their friends and families to escape with them, so pretty soon, they have a new pocket of human growth, bringing with it the same old problems in due time.
  • People who have a family incidence of autism or eccentricity, or what we would term "geekiness", tend to have autistic children at a higher rate than those who do not.
  • Autistic people of all ranges tend to: dislike eye contact, physical touch (especially by strangers), prefer one on one interaction with known people to meeting groups of new people, be sensitive to allergens, strong artificial scents, and other extreme sensory input, mate or marry at a much lower rate than non-autistics, and to focus deeply on subjects which interest them. External rewards such as social approval, material possessions, and status often mean little to them.

In other words, if the whole world were autistic, the population would drop, and you would have small communities of people intensely interested in subjects (probably one or two interests per community), with a total disregard for materialism and acquisition for its own sake, and the people would tend to be avoidant.

In light of the current state of things, I'm not sure this would be negative. It could even be what we need.

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