Too red or not too red

We try to capture difference. It provides us a sense of certainty in a world of uncertainty. But, as the world is one of uncertainty, our attempts at classifying always wind up killing something of value. So here I am, at a loss because caught up in a need to capture what is different about people with Tourette.

This will probably all sound terribly self-absorbed. The truth is, I think, that one can only appreciate difference if one is open to what is shared. It seems that the one thing to keep in mind is that we are all human and thus, in a sense, the same. Difference and sameness are anything but opposed. In trying to understand those who are different we are asking who we truly are. My struggle therefore (at least also) is to understand myself, faced with a difference which seems so categorical it cannot be bridged.

So this is an attempt to see the red in me in order to be able to see what people see as too red in others or in themselves. Here goes: attempt one in a series that can never end.

The common element in all our ‘disorders’ is difference, more specifically in psychiatric ‘disorders’: neurological difference or, with a word that sums up the way we have come to bring certainty in a world of uncertainty, neurodiversity. What this word captures is at the same time what it destroys. Indeed, each of us is different, even within the difference with which we are categorized (or with which we categorize ourselves). Each of us is the product of an accumulation of initial and environmental difference working of – and on – each other to the point that there is no disentangling the one from the other. That’s when we become ‘us’. Not just when I become ‘me’ as there is no becoming without others. That is where we are all the same: we all became.

Maybe this sounds too fuzzy so let me bring home one consequence: the idea that we are ‘born with’ a difference is fatally misguided. Either it means nothing at all: that we are all different, which we know. Or it means something which simply cannot be true: that it is possible to reduce our difference to a category, to being either too red or not too red. The evidence for such simple genetic difference is zero. The counter-evidence for it, whether we want to see it or not (whether we can still see it or not), is entirely overwhelming. So, why then do we insist on finding common pathways to pathology which neatly divide the psychiatrically ‘vulnerable’ from the norm of mental strength?

Is the correct question not how humanity always finds its way despite differences?

The point, let me be clear, is not that we have to get rid of understanding individuals by appeal to common patterns in the ‘gene by environment’ grid. The point is that the latter are mere explanatory hooks and handles in the service of the highest goal: to make sense of one’s self and that of the others. These patterns are not end points. They are just ways to get a grip on one’s reality, to find some common footing – however transient – in order to start the dialogue that we all share if we keep our minds open to each other. After all, one person’s too red is another person’s not too red. These patterns are just the minutest of detail of a fractal of differences that is the source as well as the point of all dialogue.

Think about it. Previous generations shaped a niche where we could live as comfortably as possible. This was only possible because they escaped the niche which was previously thought comfortable. This escape, in turn, was only possible because they had brains that could leave traces that irreversibly changed the niche in ways that could be picked up by other brains leaving traces & so on & so forth. The different are those who bump into the restrictions of the niche. They are in a completely non-pathological sense crazy. In order to survive they create new niches making things awkward for those well adapted to the the current niche. These react, denouncing the new niche as restricting their freedom, as (for instance) political correctness gone wild. The less determined the brain, the more it’s going to bump into the restrictions of the current niche. There is an obvious parallel here in the human brain being the less determined of all animal brains in needing the longest child rearing time and yielding the best adaptive strategy, despite all difference.

That is why change is hard and change is – at the same time – freedom. Conserving is here as important as progressing. Change is unavoidable but too much change at once cannot but destroy the very basis of what we share. Here, as always, it is a question of striking a balance between too fast and too slow, between too red and not too red. Understanding, I believe, then is appreciating that what we share is the ability to work things out based on what was, however imperfectly, already worked out. Explanation and classification have a part to play in all this but if they start determining everything, to blind determination, they arrest the play which is essentially ours. They become dogma and the measure of all things good and bad (or they split is in too red and not too red).

It was never survival of the fittest individuals but always environmental fitness in order to best survive. At least: that is the original virtue of the human animal, to transcend the sickness of being closed of mind. It would be a loss if I could capture the difference in the people with Tourette. After this musing I’ll just start by trying to capture what we have in common and take it from there.

I’m certainly not too red but I can try to see that color too.

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