My research starts from a tension between a disorder view of autism, as codified in DSM-5 , and a positive identity view of it, as advocated by the neurodiversity movement . In the DSM-5, autism is defined behaviorally and at the same time coupled to an innate developmental disorder. For a diagnosis additionally the criterion of dysfunctioning has to be met. From the autistic point of view (specifically in cases, like mine, of being diagnosed with autism as an adult) this means getting entangled in a moral dilemma, in the Catch-22 mentioned above: “If I accept to be autistic I am considered crazy, but if I do not accept to be autistic I go crazy.” I argued that going beyond this Catch-22 requires taking into account the ethical dimension when trying to answer theoretical questions as to ‘what autism is’.
Below is a short (well, 1000 words) English summary of my Master’s thesis in Philosophy, the full summary can be found here and a summary in Dutch is published here.
“When he’s always asking me” the a detached from the sentence flew away like a ball in the field. is the best I can do to translate the second sentence of Kafka’s diaries. I have no clue whether that comes close to the original: “Wenn er mich immer frägt” das ä losgelöst vom Satz flog dahin wie ein Ball auf der Wiese. Does it matter? What is it to be close? Why am I pretending to be anywhere near the same ball park as Kafka?
Such constant questioning leads to a detachment in which a thought separates itself from its context creating a new trajectory most probably just to fall flat on its face somewhere out in left field where it perishes unattended. The urge to write is however stronger than the frustration with not being read, so here goes: a musing on why peer review processes do not always eliminate the bad and, more importantly, not always discover the good.
You want to feel my pain and you want me to feel yours. I suffer from chronic back pain. I am autistic. I am also a middle-aged white male born from middle class parents. You do not feel my pain. You cannot know how it is to have an autistic perspective. And I cannot feel what it is like not to be privileged. All we can do is try to understand each other. And to do that the first thing we need to do is to accept what the other reports and accept it at face value. Literally at face value. Because when you say (or I say) that we feel the other’s pain we deceive ourselves into knowing something we cannot know. We are frauds. And, no understanding can come from fraud whatever good intentions we may think we have.
Now you may say that the word empathy doesn’t exactly mean that. You might be right. It is a word and therefore something that needs to be understood in context. Like you need to understand me in context, I need to be give you the benefit of the doubt. That said, you cannot feel my pain, you cannot take my perspective for that would simply be arrogance, and arrogance never leaves room for self-doubt. “What then?”, you might say (if you feel for me enough to be open for my perspective, otherwise just leave this – and me – be).
It’s hard to write an autistic history of philosophy. History is such a conventional concept. I don’t know whether I really get it. Maybe history is the product of philosophy instead of it being the other way around. If so, good riddance to the Kantian idea philosophy has to make progress just like science does. Science only makes progress in the room created by philosophy in the first place. There you have it: an autistic thought that makes a problem of its own starting point. Like a dog chasing its tail I have already condemned myself to a project that can have neither start nor end. A project that as well could have been called an autistic philosophy of history.
It’s hard to write an autistic philosophy of history. Philosophy, according to Descartes, is about clear and distinct ideas, but whether there can be such a thing is a matter of fierce debate. Maybe ideas are just a product of history instead of universal and timeless things to be discovered. I don’t know whether I really get that either. It would seem there are as many ideas as there are histories and that surely makes ideas too shady to be of any use at all. For instance, why not say that the tail is chasing the dog? Or indeed that the kidney of the dog likes to swirl. This project could then as well be relabeled as ‘history of autistic philosophy’ being apparently about brains, like mine, that are prone to swirl.
You might fear this may go on endlessly. This presumably is why some philosophers, like Hacking, deny any reality to autism. And one can also obviously deny that, if there’s such a thing, I am it; because whatever the status of the concept autism, it was not meant for a person attempting to articulate why he fails to be able to articulate his idea in a clear and distinct way. So at this point I can only ask for your trust in charitably trying to interpret, with a mind open to the possibility of fusing our horizons, what I’m trying to convey. This betrays Davidson and Gadamer, respectively, as my historical philosophical inspirations – and my conviction that any true philosophy should be a philosophy of trust.
The question for me then becomes why so much philosophy is preoccupied with fear. As an autistic I know a thing or two about fear. And so I have stumbled on my method after all: meticulously collect the dichotomies produced by philosophy and inspect how they’re the truly productive element of history. Making problems to enable new solutions, if you will. As an exercise I start with trust and fear (or certainty and uncertainty for those who prefer analytical parlance) as they are items of a specific phenomenological relevance in my lived experience as an – if you allow me – autistic person.
What was first? This is the question Derrida tries to expose as one that misleads us in the West into imposing our tradition as one that is to be deemed universal. He does so in 450 pages of not always very readable prose. Maybe that is not a coincidence because it is not easy to pull of a Houdini from within a tradition to expose his tradition as just a tradition whilst not getting caught up in a new entanglement (for instance by becoming a Houdini who is caught up in constantly performing ever more tortuous escape acts). Obviously he doesn’t succeed. Succeeding would defeat his point. He winds up saying:
Said differently, it does not suffice, it is not – really – about showing the interiority of what Rousseau thought exterior; rather it is to give as food for thought the power of the external to generate the interior. p. 441 (my emphasis)
The operative word here is ‘really’ (in French: ‘au vrai’). It shows Derrida circling back to the question of what was – really, truly – first. It exposes the universality of that question – the question of firstness. In exposing dichotomies he imposes his new dichotomy: instead of matter and mind, nature and nurture we get thinking and writing, the interior and the exterior, origins and inscriptions, intuition and traces, assimilation and difference. And it is a truly inspiring dichotomy; one which summarizes 20th century philosophy as well as should inspire 21st century philosophy. Let me briefly say why this is so.
This is a train crash. I am the train. Born awkward, sickly, with a curved spine I wanted it all. And I got it. Unfortunately I am insatiable. So I kept on going. And going. And going. I kept on going despite pain in my back. I kept on smoking despite being short of breath. It was my body that failed first but I kept on going until my spirit broke. And then I kept on going because I did not want to admit I could not get it all. Could not get it all my way. It’s a matter of keeping afloat since then. Slowly deflating and realizing I am going under. In no way is this a train crash and in no way am I a train. It’s a sizzle not a boom.
What I got is people I love and what is happening is that I alienate them by what they are perceiving as me acting increasingly like an alien. Neither the one confident to get things done even it it took applying force, nor a one that can just be tranquil facing his bad luck and coast along accepting the force others apply to him. I am a loser. I act as a loser. I feel like a loser and the question is: can they love a loser? Can they love that man in the same body that once ruled supreme and that now hosts the man that just wants to give up? It’s a genuine question to which I have no answer. I say to myself this will be a last blurb of a darkness I need to exit. It will not be. Maybe it’s therapeutic. Then again maybe not.
Here are some facts:
Posted in JoB
Tagged autism, personal, self
“A race of such men of ressentiment is bound to become eventually cleverer than any noble race (..)” F. Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morals.
It went well for a while until – after some sleepless nights and doubts that weren’t picked up by others – it went steeply downhill. Deeply downhill. It was 5 AM and, as self-defense, my self was attacking me, I started writing to create the illusion I was talking to someone else. I always try to stay connected to the external world because if that connection fails I fall back on an internal world that is just noise; a ringing inside my ears, a brain buzzing with the effort of making sense where sense cannot be found. I get my rhythm from that external world and that keeps up the inspiration from my inner world. Without rhythm I fall back on a grimness that only wants its own end. I try – here comes the resentment – to convince others to respect my need for rhythm. They want to even if they find it a rather obsessive/oppressive streak in me. They’d call it pride, an internal conviction that things would be better of they were simply my way. And they kind of would be because when I am in flow I am a brute force of nature, a noble and commanding spirit sensitive to even the slightest disturbance of my rhythm. There is then no internal and external anymore – every dissonance is a scream directly picked up by my brain; something I lie awake of. It is beyond me how people have the nerve to disturb the rhythm I invent. They destroy my world and, failing the energy to destroy them, the only thing left is to destroy myself.
This is a piece about the connection between pride and resentment and where Nietzsche got it wrong when separating them and got it right when not separating them. It’s a piece on the pride I take in trying to deal with the power of my resentment.