Thursday, June 5, 2008

Asperger's Self-Discovery Chronicles: Cultural Evolution

In previous postings (here) I have grappled with trying to explain myself as dependent on a certain cultural and environmental ambient. Basically I had claimed we are on different evolutionary tracks.

That claim about different evolutionary tracks gets a little more subtle, and loses connection to racism, by adding the ideas put forth in a Kevin Kelly blog posting (here). He brings up a central thesis of Joseph Weizenbaum's book "Computer Power and Human Reason", which basically argues against embracing computer use due to society eventually becoming overly dependent. From the book here is the general form:

"The computer becomes an indispensable component of any structure once it is so thoroughly integrated with the structure, so enmeshed in various vital substructures, that it can no longer be factored out without fatally impairing the whole structure. That is virtually a tautology. The utility of this tautology is that it can reawaken us to the possibility that some human actions, e.g., the introduction of computers into some complex human activities, may constitute an irreversible commitment. . . . The computer was not a prerequisite to the survival of modern society in the post-war period and beyond; its enthusiastic, uncritical embrace by the most "progressive" elements of American government, business, and industry quickly made it a resource essential to society's survival in the form that the computer itself had been instrumental in shaping."
-Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum

Kevin Kelly goes on to do a semiotic experiment. In the above text and reasoning process he replaces "computer" with "printing". He then goes on to do the same with "writing" and "the alphabet". What emerges from these word replacements is that societies have committed this act of transformation many times over the last ten thousand years. (Think of the US Constitution, it has "freedom of the press" in its forefront assumptions of human enterprise.)

Now let me place myself in this historical narrative: If I was plucked from this electronically networked, literate, secular, and morally ambiguous society I operate within....I would become of these :

  • dead ( excuse the drama-agitprop )
  • become less effective (which could escalate into less employable or divorced)
  • become politically evil/malicious as a fight response to less positive environment.

No wonder I'm so sensitive about where I live, and when I think back to my earlier years in the Bible Belt south I was a less effective and politically evil person. Since moving to Seattle, with a few years also working in Alaska, I have felt a deep sense of coming home. The city has a default literacy ( highest per capita of bookstores in the US), computer proficiency, secularism , and love of big nature (mountains and ocean) embedded into the cultural ambient. The ubiquity of these defaults works in my favor, and I contend that I was born with some hardcoding that depended on these defaults.

In the last year I've started putting the pieces together to understand my neurological type ( Autistic: Asperger's Syndrome). I am starting to understand why some places, and some ideologies, can make me extremely comfortable and happy or extremely uncomfortable and go on the offensive/defensive.

Starting in 1996 when I was in places ( Antarctica, Seattle, Alaska) that offered the ambient culture/environment for my neurological type to succeed, I did. During my tenure in schools (Evergreen State College and Antioch U) where an anti-intellectual and eco-anarchist Primitivism strongly informed discourse, I became many kinds of unhappy. While I support any type of lifestyle choice, most of the discourse in these schools was embedded with real intent to topple the technologic, rational, intellectual and literate world and replace with something more biologically bounded.

Eliminate me in the process. Eliminate my neurological type in the process. Eugenics.

I remember an experience in class with the instructor, Farouk Seif, pursuing an incremental part of the program to eliminate my neurological type. He demanded that our projects to be turned in for the class reflect a certain criteria for creative process. That process needed to access a pre-intellectual level. A place without language ( thus by implication without logic ), a place totally visual and fluid. I do not have moving images in my head. My memories are totally void of movement. When I remember places I've been, I remember the buildings, hills, trees, streets without people, because people move. I also have a blank in my memory concerning time. I have a diminished sense of sequence or duration (my wife noticed this in how I do not know the last things agreed upon in a group discussion). For me, the use of logical constructs is essential in managing reality. It is also key in being creative, I mix and mash-up things based in logical categorization, without this I am as lost in creating as I am in interpreting reality. My instructor, who had a political agenda in which all this anti-cognitivism served, was trying to turn back the clock on humanity and our technological dependencies, and kill me in the process.

No wonder I wrote a meme designed to kill Primitivists.


BFGalbraith said...

Though I have to say this is a bit like attachment disorder, in that I wonder if it's something everyone has more or less of, rather than something that is on or off.

Ryan Hawkes said...

My only thought on this besides wanting to know about your Asperger's is to say that I think very very few of the students in Seabeck cohort and in the Antioch C3 are primitivists. Primitivists basically want the dismantling of civilization since it is killing the planet. Students in our cohorts believe that civilization is killing the planet but a very small minority were/are actually interested in the dismantling of civilization. Primitivists think civilization is inherently bad. C3 students think it is inherently OKAY and malleable to changing social situations. Hence the focus on social change.

Not sure, again, the connection though to eugenics from a primitivist perspective, though depending on the primitivist you speak to Eugenics might not be out of the question (if the trait is one that is at odds with the natural world, such as the desire to cut down every tree you see).

The Farouk experience. I was there and I took him at face value. I basically accepted many (though not all) of the frames given to me in the program, including Farouk's. It's too bad he couldn't design himself a better teaching methodology that didn't alienate students with a different perspective than his. An ongoing problem in those classes.

I just picked up a book on meme's that I plan on reading soon. Comments on this to come from me.

Ryan Hawkes said...

I just had another thought. That 'social change' in discussions were about how to 'change' people's minds to fit a certain perspective. It was very difficult for people to talk about change emerging from eclectic and diverse places. The closest reading on this was Follet and those discussions couldn't get very far because they were not much more than a philosophical waxing and waning on the new 20th century perspective.

It makes sense than, your perspective that if you don't fit the mold than you are going to be 'changed' right out of the picture. Giant hole in the dogma of the program that was continually whitewashed. Again though, not primitivists.

LanceMiller said...

You are absolutely correct in saying C3 students are not Primitivists. I would classify the WSD faculty
as anti-cognitivists, anti-rationalist, and anti-realists
( authors of the assigned Hierarchy Theory book declare the book antirealist) All these anti's are not in the Primitivist's reading list, but are part of the same
bedrock of social critique that aids the Primitivist stance.

BFGalbraith said...

Two more thoughts here:

1) I forgot to say something nasty about the Primivitist you quoted, so here goes: like we ran into in the C3 with Video Games, people mistake their technophobia for some kind of extraordinarily-socially-significant epiphany all the time. Who knows what this guy would have to say about digital TV broadcasting or PDAs, but he definitely needs to be stripped and left at the base of Mt. Olympus (in WA state.)

2) There is a school of thought that says Asperger's is the next stage in evolution, since they tend to have fewer offspring, and because they merge with the internet well since they tend to think in long lines of text (literally: A communication challenge with an Asperger's person is that they listen to your words you are using more than the intonation of your sentences, least bit your body language. There are prolific Asperger's bloggers to spare because of this, and you generally can't tell if an e-mail is from an Asperger's person.)

LanceMiller said...


On Asperger's being a next stage in evolution, I would agree it one many neurological types that will probably perform more strongly ( have the skills important to succeed ) in the present and future. That's why I don't consider it a handicap in the least. The "normal" neurological type seems fine for herding sheep in Ireland in the 1800's, but is more likely to be room cleaner in a Motel 6 in the 21st century.

The Primitivists, such as John Zerzan, that speak about modernism eliciting anomie in them, are just jacking off about there own inferior adaptations.
They speak of the wildness of nature as a harden and tough thing with inherent meritocracy built in, but they miss the joke their own terms play on themselves. They are adapted to an environment that is either long gone, or never was. How pathetic to bring that up and then be proud of it.

They will, or more precisely their rhetoric and reasoning, will be dead before 2100.