The lives we kill

“The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can’t believe the whole universe exists for our benefit. That would be like saying that you would disappear if I closed my eyes.” (Stephen Hawking from an interview with Ken Campbell on the 1995 show “Reality on the Rocks: Beyond Our Ken”)

Brainwashing is something that happens to all of us. Often we are brainwashed to the point of blindness. Letting go is immensely difficult. My religious beliefs, cultural beliefs and common-sense beliefs have all needed pruning. In the Mormon church members are taught that humans may one day become as gods, creating worlds of our own. Culture taught me that humans have a Right to nature. From common-sense lessons, I learned that humans were much more intelligent and complex than other living creatures. One after the other, these flawed and dangerous beliefs have been revised.

Letting go of the idea of my own importance was intimidating at first. I had to defy the advice of Mormon leaders to NOT seek outside sources. Ready access to information on the net made that possible for me. Today information is accessible to a degree I can barely comprehend. Some of it is garbage, but much information on the net is verifiable and valid. Learning Truth has been amazing, beautiful, freeing and mind-opening.

Now. Now I believe that I have no more or less right to exist than any other living creature. By life, I mean any collection of atoms that enables a creature to consume another. Everything from single-celled life to the collection of cells, bacteria and fungi that make up my body. My cells are no more significant than other cells that exist. Except to me, that is, and a very small circle of family and friends. Understanding that plants have their own form of communication and discoveries about other animals‘ helped me realize that intelligence, as humans define it, isn’t a valid definition for all life-forms. After all, we humans seem to happily destroys vital life-sources for short-term gains, and that seems pretty stupid to me.

Right now, in North Dakota, the US Government is deciding whether it will break another treaty with Native Americans. The Dakota Access Pipeline will trek across vital food and water sources. We shall see how corrupt the judge making the decision is. Wars (conflicts) about water are likely to become more common as clean water becomes scarcer. At times it feels as though the only reason countries, organizations or communities go war is short-term gain, yet long-term consequences for current life may be dire. Western culture pollutes to an unprecedented degree. Air-pollutants, water-pollutants, land-pollutants and light-pollutants are all a symbol of our consumer-addicted economies. Humans are committing species’ suicide and ecological murder. Most of us probably don’t even care. Empathy for future generations and other life-forms is sadly lacking in our evolutionary development. In more than one way, Hawking’s description of humans as self-important “chemical scum” seems fitting.

Enduring bullying – one of my heroes

This post has been moved from my book-blog to this one

Hans Petter som liten

Man, I’ve re-written this article so many times. Who knew something like this could be so difficult.

My little brother. The baby of the family. A baby who is 195 cms worth of length. I think that translates to about 6’4″ for those of you who have not yet advanced to the metric system.

We go back a long way. In fact all the way back to the time when I was about 6,5 years old. I have no memory of him being born. In fact I have very few memories of him as a very small child other than the fact that he was really cute, I wanted to bite the top of his head and we would swing him between us down the long hill from church. He loved that.

My memories of my youngest brother do not really amount to much until the time our family moved to the US. He was around 7 years old at that time and his life was about to get really tough.

You know how some kids take to bullying like ducklings take to water. Well my baby brother had the great misfortune of meeting up with some of those kids. As a seven-year old boy my brother had three things that made him stand out. The first was that he was a gentle kid (he is now a gentle man) who did his best to avoid trouble. The second was that his English was poor due to us just arriving in the US. Finally, he has dyslexia. Three gifts for a bullier. Some kids and their parents I just want to beat to a pulp.

Five years of hell ensued. How did he respond to the bullying? For one thing he never changed from being a gentle person. He just wouldn’t give in and give up. He was fiercely protective of those he loved. At one time he even took on another kid for something that kid said to me. I didn’t stop the fight. In fact I figured it would probably give him credit with the other kids. But that was and is the kind of brave person he is. If someone he loves is being hurt, he will do his best to protect that person even if it means getting hurt himself.

It’s one thing to do something like that if you are good at it – whether you fight with words or physically. But my brother has never been one who has quick come-backs or been a good fighter. Granted, all he has to do is sit on you now and he’ll probably win, but still. Fighting with words and body has never been his strength. He has paid for that a great many times.

Why would that make him my hero? It’s all about love. His love for people is so great that he is willing to risk himself (and he knows he is risking himself) for them so they might hurt less.

The illusion of empathy?

Tame people/non-autistic people/illogical people seem to think that they possess the gift of empathy and that ASDs/wild people/logical people do not. But do neurotypicals actually have the gift/curse of empathy?

NO!

The Oxford dictionary explains empathy:

Empathy means ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’ (as in both authors have the skill to make you feel empathy with their heroines), …”

There are certain conditions that have to be fulfilled to understand and share the feelings of another.

  1. You would have to become that person, ie. have their genetic background, grown up with their propaganda, lived in their family and lived their lives.
  2. Or, you would have to be an empath – their feelings would be projected into your brain and correctly interpreted by you.

Out of 7 billion people there may be some who are empaths. But psychological experiments seem to indicate otherwise. I know that I have never had another person understand and share my feelings. People have certainly claimed to know what I was feeling. Through manipulation they have even made that claim come true. Most likely, the other person projected their own values, feelings, thoughts and ideas on to me.

What would happen if people actually experienced empathy? For one thing most of us would go completely insane. The above pictures illustrate why. To understand the other person’s pain we would actually have to experience it. Evolution has wired humans to survive in any way possible. Because we have become so many stuffed together into smaller and smaller places, we unavoidably cause damage (whether they be our own breed or not). Being jostled by the emotions of others would overwhelm our sensory systems over and over and over. For those of us who already struggle to filter out unwanted material, adding being able to sense emotions would be torture.

The idea of being in empathy with another person falls into the same category as magic.

Empathy once more

Credit TV2
Credit TV2

I’m still working on this empathy thing. As I am going to turn 50 next month, I figure it is about time I get some kind of handle on what empathy is. Perhaps something clicked inside my head these last couple of days.

Norway is something of a cross-country skiing interested nation. Sports aren’t my thing to watch, but my husband likes it. I managed to catch the last minutes of the winner, Marit Bjørgen’s, race along with her interview afterwards. This is when the click happened. If you take a look at the link to her interview, you will see that Marit is all teary-eyed about this victory. No wonder. This woman has worked intensely for years and finally she won Tour de Ski. Plus she is tired after the run. So, of course, she is going to get emotional about it. But she wasn’t the only one.

My husband also got a bit teary-eyed and so did the commentator and other television crew. Because my husband got teary-eyed, I’m just going to assume that other Norwegians watching the race also got teary-eyed. I did not. But something in me wondered if this mass phenomenon was a part of empathy as non-autistics think of it.

Credit: Momtastic
Credit: Momtastic

On facebook people place a lot of clips where they tell me (and others) that there will be need for a handkerchief. Somehow, I have never needed one. But others may have. I am wondering if this is also part of the empathy phenomenon – this getting weepy while watching something about helping others.

I remember telling a group of people about the abuse I had experienced as a child. Some of the people in the group were even angrier about the abuse than I have ever been. To me that seemed really uncomfortable at the time and somehow fake because the abuse had not happened to them or another person that they cared about. They were angry because it had happened to me as a child and it was for that child that they were angry. I’m still confused about the logic while writing this. But maybe this also has something to do with empathy.

Here is another definition of empathy:

the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. (Dictionary.com)

What I am wondering is if it is possible to have empathy across neurological differences, such as AS and non-AS people. Because I’m not seeing it.

Credit: Cuteness and consequences
Credit: Cuteness and consequences

I’ve read blogs and postings by non-AS parents with AS children and blogs and postings by other combinations of AS and non-AS groups. What I have seen is a willingness to try to understand the workings of the other party’s brain but an inability to actually vicariously experience what the other person is feeling or thinking. Somehow it seems that crossing the line between AS and non-AS only brings confusion and a sense of the other being illogical and unfathomable. Add to that whatever conditions either party may or may not have in addition to their AS/non-AS and understanding becomes even more difficult.

One thing almost 50 years has given me is the realization that empathy is not a requirement for acceptance. Accepting other people for who and what they are without constantly wanting to change them into something else is something we can all strive for whether or not empathy is part of our neurological make-up or not.

Are autists capable of feeling empathy?

Artist: Chelsea Osgood
Artist: Chelsea Osgood

Empathy : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feeling Webster’s online

This definition is talking about two things. The first is pretense. Pretending to understand a feeling or experience another person is going through. Your feeling is telling you that you are able to share another person’s experience.

Let us pretend that I fall down and hit my knees. That hurts, I might cry and even be sad because it happened. What if another person fell down and hit their knees in the same way? This is where it becomes tricky.

89 Comforting a Friend in NeedTrue empathy (see above) would mean that I could truly feel what the other person hitting her/his knees felt. Perhaps there are people out there with this ability. If there are, I imagine they are few and very far between. For the sake of this post, I am ruling that true empaths do not exist. Therefore, we are stuck with this “feeling” thing.

What I have is my experience. When I see another person falling down, all I can do is extrapolate from my own experiences and use that to do whatever it is I do. If the person shakes their fall off, I might become confused. My projection of my own feelings onto that person tell me that the other person is supposed to be in pain, crying and needing comfort. But nothing in the situation indicates that is happening.

Parrot comforting rat
Parrot comforting rat

As it often does, my extrapolation failed. To me that is what happens during an empathic experience. People project their own feelings on to another person and expect them to behave in the same manner as we did. If the above definition is a valid one, it is highly likely that autists might not be good at empathizing.

A lady I know had a husband who was sick for an awfully long time before he died. I’m practically 50, so some rules in society have been knocked into my head. I also have my own experiences to go by. As death got closer, and my parents were talking about her pain and sadness (and her missing me in church), I figured I could text her every evening until he died and maybe a little after. I did not have a clue as to what she was feeling. Because of my own sadness when people and animals have died, I figured she had to be having a rough time and took a chance on my sms’ working. A while after his death, this lady told me that those texts were part of what kept her going through her difficult time. That made no sense to me (which is probably a lack of empathy) but I was glad my intention to help worked.

Comforting a friendAt her husband’s funeral I figured there would be PLENTY of green stuff. I didn’t bring any. Instead I thought about what gave me comfort when I was sad. For me that is hugging something really hard. Now that her husband was dead, she needed something else (at least that is what I extrapolated from my own experiences). I got her one of those soft dogs that you can get at a toy store. A big, huggable one. You know what? That dog has been held and cried at and been the recipient of all sorts of emotions (not only hers).

This time my attempts worked. Often they do not. But people generally don’t seem to mind those attempts to help. And just as my projections onto people often fail, so do theirs onto me.

From American Horror Story

Let me present you with another situation – not mine. No, not mine at all, but another autistic person. Someone I am very worried about when I remember that she exists. She has one of the more painful stories I have come into contact with.

My friend writes some of the most touching posts I have read. Sadly, this beautiful person struggles with severe depression. My friend also has arthritis to a degree that causes extreme pain and a severe sensitivity to touch. Neither illness responds to treatment. My friend is also autistic. Unfortunately, in the eyes of some health personnel the combination of these three make my friend less than human.

One time when things were at their worst, my friend asked for help. In spite of my friend’s previous experiences with health services, that friend needed help but when help was requested something completely was given. This friend has records that indicates that no force should be used and my friend’s doctor is very clear on that matter. However, this was placed in seclusion and restrained. It turns my friend had the gall to beg for toothpaste.

After restraining restraining my friend, health personnel and others present  made fun of my friend. I believe they call it bullying when regular people act the same way. Severe bullying in this case. Every single cautionary note in her file was ignored. Her arthritis, her sensory issues, her fear of restraint and so on. It is highly likely that none of the bullies were autistic. Therefore, an empathic ability should have been present in them all. My friend did not come out of her experience a healthier person. Quite the opposite.

Whether empathy is a true ability in non-autists is not something that matters to me. Nor does my so-called lack of it. What does matter to me is how people treat other people. In my friend’s case, I am extremely worried about the outcome. A lack of empathic compassion caused what is likely irreparable damage of several kinds.

The Pendejo Game and Autism

Body mould - woman
Credit: AAA Cosplay

I was introduced to something Aida Hurtado calls the Pendejo Game by a friend of mine and wondered how it related to me and my autism:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51XFxNcwpoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgTrick Number 6: The Pendejo Game

When you, the outsider, come close to subverting my power through the sheer strength of your moral arguments or through organized mass protest, I will give you an audience. I will listen to you, sometimes for the first time, and will seem engaged. At critical points in your analysis I will claim I do not know what you are talking about and will ask you to elaborate ad nauseam. I will consistently subvert your efforts at dialogue by “claiming we do not speak the same language.” I will assert that many of our differences, if not all, are due to our different ways of communicating. I will ask you to educate me and spend your energies in finding ways of saying things so that I can understand. I will not do the same for you. Instead of using your resources to advance your causes, I will see you like a rat in a cage running around trying to find ways to explain the cage to me, while I hold the key to open the door. At the same time, I will convince you that I have no ill intentions toward you or those like you. I am simply not informed. The claim of ignorance is one of my most powerful weapons because, while you spend your time trying to enlighten me, everything remains the same. The “Pendejo Game” will also allow me to gain intimate knowledge of your psyche, which will perfect my understanding of how to dominate you. (Aida Hurtado, 1997)

Listen!
Listen! by Twin72

As someone explained it to me, the person maintaining status quo already knows the answer/solution ahead of time and is using their questions to keep you in your place. They have no intention of listening or letting you share in their power.

It would be fair to say that autists belong to a minority group in society. We are considered atypical, abnormal, deviant, diseased and flawed by the majority. Neurotypicals (or non-autists as I call them) consider themselves the template for how a brain should be. In my case, I also belong to two other minority groups. One is my X-chromosome and the other is my walking and sitting challenge. Growing up in a fundamentalistic church certainly taught me a lot about gender imbalance. Society in general taught me more about the imbalance that follow with being in perceived flawed groups.

Bullying has been one arena where I have been exposed to the Pendejo Game. And that set me to thinking about myself and how I have treated others.

There is this “game” that parents often play with their children when their children are fairly young. This is not a true game, where there is balance, but it is an introduction to power imbalances. The parent has something that the child wants. They ask the child if she/he wants it. Of course, the child tries to communicate their yes. Then the game begins. The parent asks several times in various ways if the child wants and adds a certain tone to their voice. As the questions continue the child becomes frustrated. Once a tipping point is reached and the adult has achieved whatever reaction they wanted the child is given their object of desire.

Bullying eggs
Bullying by Kung Fu Plum

I cannot remember if I did this to my children. Most likely, I did. In this so-called game, I see the beginnings of learning the Pendejo Game. Bullying carries with it the same sort of painful communication. We have all seen it. Perhaps we have been both victim and perpetrator in our lives. While writing this memories of unpleasant old interactions between fellow pupils drop into my thoughts.

As an adult, I find it more difficult to recognize when someone is using me in their Pendejo Game. Not until afterwards, do I realize that I have been played the fool. My sincerity met their insincerity and lost.

Recognizing when non-autists are being insincere is incredibly difficult. Their emotions are so chaotic. Insincerity seems to be the main ingredient in the Pendejo Game. Insincerity and fear of having to share. Whether or not autistic people are able to feel empathy seems to be one such area that non-autistic people are afraid to share. Why that is, is completely baffling to me.

According to Wikipedia:

Empathy has many different definitions that encompass a broad range of emotional states, including caring for other people and having a desire to help them; experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions; discerning what another person is thinking or feeling; and making less distinct the differences between the self and the other.

It also is the ability to feel and share another person’s emotions.

Credit: Health Psychology Consultancy
Credit: Health Psychology Consultancy

All of the autists I know seem to have this range of emotions. Speaking for myself (and only for myself) I care deeply about a great deal of people and objects. Because I know how certain emotions feel, I am able to guess how another person might feel. But I also know that I will never be able to put myself in their place, because I am not them. No one is truly able to empathize, we are only able to project and use those projections to our best ability. Then I act – most likely in an unconventional manner, but the person knows that I am trying to be there for them.

Sometimes I feel as though non-autists are the ones who lack empathy. They want autistic people to express their emotions in a manner that fits whatever definition the non-autistic person has created. When that does not happen, we seem to lack empathy. This desire to see autistic people as non-empathetic becomes extremely problematic when so-called experts become stuck in a non-autistic definition of what and how emotions are. Defining the autistic world in this manner does not fit with the definitions of empathy that I have seen.

Repeated questions that seem to do their best to keep me (and other autists) in the mold of atypical, abnormal, deviant, diseased and flawed only serve to prove that the other person somehow sees autistic people as a threat. In answer to those questions, my only alternative ends up being to leave, thereby proving their hypotheses once again. They win.