I want to be frank about neurotypical beliefs that I find shocking. I attribute my reactions to having a “real world” factual and concrete Asperger brain, although I can’t say that every person diagnosed Asperger would share my reactions. We are individuals, with our own ways of seeing and interpreting the environment.
These strange beliefs have to do with death, revenge and punishment.
An jetliner vanishes over an ocean. Exhaustive searches take place long past the time interval that any passenger could survive under the best of conditions; the possibility is zero. Speculation goes on and on for months. Miracles are deemed possible: soon the airplane with everyone alive will materialize “out of the blue” due to supernatural intervention caused by prayer. The families cannot accept that their loved ones have died. They become angry if they don’t receive a body; they must have a body to prove that the person is dead, otherwise they can’t achieve “closure.”
I’m not indifferent to suffering; I’ve lost family members and it has taken years to reexamine my relationships – this process toward understanding will continue until I die. “Closure” is a strange idea.
What baffles me is the state of limbo in which dead people remain for an extended time, that is, in the mind of the survivors; as if the person is in limbo in a quantum state: is he or she dead or alive? Only Schrodinger’s cat knows. It’s as if the person doesn’t die until the wreckage is found and bodies are identified, despite the overwhelming evidence that all on board died weeks or months ago. These traditions and beliefs run deep. The “quantum dead” effect is simply strange.
A closely related belief is that “the remains” of a person contain an “essence” that can be recovered if the bones can be located and returned to descendants, or to a specific location. The act of placing the remains in a designated cemetery where “the person” can be visited, is believed to “honor” the dead and to confirm an event that happened decades before. This is an old tradition based in magic: bones are believed to possess contagious magical power. The Middle Ages were awash in the relics of saints, Kings, Queens and other powerful folk, and existing shrines are mobbed by pilgrims to this day. This tradition as deeply human, but I think it is healthy to accept that when the body dies, the person dies. What remains are memories.
What shocks me the most is that nations make a great display of “honoring” dead soldiers, but fail to honor living soldiers who have paid an enormous price in physical and mental trauma.
Any person who dies unexpectedly, due to an accident or a crime, immediately becomes the “best person who ever lived.” This story-making is repeated over and over again, and I think much of the blame goes to the media’s intent on ambushing the victim’s family just as they receive the tragic news.
Regardless of circumstance, according to family and friends, the dead person was a great humanitarian who loved the world, was kind, helpful, generous, and if religious, a dedicated member of the faith. Pretty remarkable life history for anyone, and in some cases attributable to expected social exaggeration, but by repetition these fictions become true in the minds of many. What if a long history of drug abuse, criminal activity, domestic abuse or a willingness to “con” family members emerges? The person remains a saint: is this denial, face-saving, shame? Does a social “law” exist that says only “good people” can be mourned (only good people count.) Why must people lie about loved ones?
As an Asperger, I believe that everyone counts; each human life ought to be acknowledged and absorbed into the pageant that is humanity.
Revenge and punishment = justice. This is a tough one; revenge is an impulse that can destroy a fair legal system, and needs to be recognized for what it is: magical thinking. The American system is highly variable, with laws, criminal prosecution and periods of incarceration in a “correctional institution” determined state by state. Other crime and punishment is controlled by the Federal courts. It is not these idiosyncratic systems that I can address.
Revenge as a driver of human behavior is familiar, and is a major cause of wars large and small, and drives conflict between ethnic, cultural and religious groups; between families, businesses etc. The resolution of conflict in many cultures was/is a matter of payment in kind: your uncle looses control and kills a man he suspects of cheating him. That man’s family vows revenge – kill the uncle! But an arrangement is made to “pay for” the death. This may seem cold or unfair to the victim, but the victim is already dead. Nothing will bring him back. Why should the living be dragged into an endless cycle of violence?”