The Freedom to Offend

There are plenty of reasons to avoid the internet--so many unsafe spots, so many places to be made aware of just how awful or clueless people can be.

Simon Baron-Cohen started the inevitable comparisons between autism and psychopathy with his Zero Degrees of Empathy book and theory, but at least he had as much empathy for those with psychopathy as he did with autism (although some would question his degree of empathy for those with autism). The latest person to really decide to step in and then be self-righteous is Amanda Marcotte, who started on twitter and continued on Slate.

Psychopathy and Autism have almost nothing in common, despite Baron-Cohen's attempts to theorize both as conditions lacking entirely in empathy.

Bad as this is--that it could lead not to parents of budding psychopaths gaining more EMPATHY for their situations (Marcotte assumes sympathy is something any parent of a child with a neurological condition wants--screw her "mental illness" terminology), but to the public conflating psychopathy with autism and causing our autistic family members even greater rejection and difficulties, it's not the worst that's out there.

Marcotte is arrogant and ignorant, yes, but...she's not intentionally being an asshat. On the other hand, the people who own Bald Guy Greetings are willfully mocking those with intellectual disabilities and then defending their right to not be "politically correct" in their choice of words on a birthday card: "For my special friend on your birthday...Part of me calls you my special friend because you're special to me.  But part of me also calls you that because it makes you sound retarded." Now that's just freaking hysterical, isn't it?

Certainly the owners of Bald Guy Greetings and Marcotte have the freedom to say what they like in their own spaces, and the right to maintain their beliefs and their words despite the criticism and feedback they receive. And we have the right to not purchase from places that sell those greeting cards, as well as the freedom to rebut those who choose to exercise their right to free speech in ways we find offensive or, gasp, politically incorrect.

Except this isn't about political correctness gone amuck. This is about basic human decency. This is about getting the facts right and being sensitive to those individuals who are directly harmed by one's words.


Emily said...

The problem with Marcotte's comments is that she's got this really good point--a basic tenet of neurodiversity to work to understand ALL forms of neurology--and she buries it in a bunch of poorly worded garbage that she tweeted, to wit:

"I know it's painful to accept, but autism & psychopathy have similar causes: A disconnect in the brain. It just manifests differently" and "Well, it's similar in that the brain shuts down a part of your emotional response, even if it manifests v. differently" and "I think part of it is autism causes the inflicted to suffer, but psychopaths don't seem to worry about who they are" and "Psychopathy is structurally similar to autism, yet most people have much more sympathy for those with the latter."

There's this great point hidden away about neurodiversity in all of its forms, but the language and condescension and misinformation are unacceptable. It all started with a NYT article about childhood psychopathy, one that really made you think about children who have these issues and their parents and what needs to be done for them. And then... the NYT article dragged in autism--can anyone write anything anymore about the brain or behavior without doing that?--and that's where this all got started. But Marcotte's interpretation and treatment of it are the most unfortunate and uninformed I've seen. Given her "reach," I see her conflations, like those above, to do no good service to anyone.

K Wombles said...

And to then use the feedback she received as proof she's right--unfortunate, indeed.

Can psychopaths help that they lack empathy? No. But they are in control of their actions and make intentional choices to hurt people--not all psychopaths are violent offenders, and the original point of the NYT article was that early intervention might help teach empathy or at least redirect the individual's actions in a more socially safe direction.

We are products of our neurology and our environments--let's work to make the most supportive and helpful environments for all neurological wirings, so that everyone has an opportunity to live a life of value and meaning. Marcotte may have started somewhere around that idea--but, yes, it got badly muddled.

Emily said...

She doesn't seem particularly interested in a deeper discussion of what she's really getting at, which is that inborn neurology deserves sympathetic treatment, no matter how negative it may be or be perceived.

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

It seems we are raising a generation of "monsters", particularly aimed at boys. Is wiring really so predictable of future choices?