Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Limits of Diversity

I've been thinking a great deal lately about someone I've encountered online. He is, to put it politely, quite atypical. He appears obsessively focused on a very narrow subject. His language is overly repetitive and pedantic, and he seems to have a hard time grasping what others try to tell him. He comes across as cocksure to the point of arrogance, so sure of his rightness that he won't even consider any other options or opinions, except to try to argue them into the ground. Many say that he seems utterly self-centered, as if he doesn't give a hoot about other people's thoughts and feelings, or is unaware of them.

Some people think he's nuts. Others think he's just a conceited jerk.

I've started to think ... Asperger's Syndrome?

A lot of people with Asperger's are seen as socially awkward, even cold or rude. It doesn't help that two of the classic symptoms are problems with eye contact and vocal inflection. Add to that the tendency to be incredibly logical, literal and rigid in their thinking, and you can see why so many feel isolated, even bullied.

Perhaps because of that isolation, many "Aspies" have developed their own sense of community, even challenging the traditional notion that they are disordered. They've even coined a term for non-Asperger people: neurotypical. And from that, the concept of neurodiversity, - that so-called "normal" neurological makeups are just one part of the continuum of healthy human variation.

I can see that ... up to a point. Many people with Asperger's, ADD, dyslexia and so forth have been able to adapt, function in and contribute to society. On the other hand, what happens when someone's "neurodivergence" is so extreme that it can lead to serious harm, to themselves or others?

Much like how our view of sexuality and sexual diversity continues to evolve, and to be challenged. If being queer, kinky, polyamorous and asexual are just different forms of healthy erotic expression, then why draw the line at other "differences"?

Diversity to me is about more than "embracing difference", because some differences are not worth embracing - sociopathy, for example. Diversity is about recognizing one another's gifts and shortcomings, and working together so that each can give and receive from one another. And with that in mind,...

Aspies like the fellow I mentioned above have gifts to bring. So do kinky and poly folk like me. Each of us has gifts to bring, cultivate and share with the world. We also have shortcomings, blind spots and weaknesses which we need to be aware of and work on. And sometimes those shortcomings are such overwhelming obstacles in our lives that no amount of tolerance or social change can help.

So yes, we need Aspie pride, just as much as we need GLBT pride, kink pride, poly pride, and so on. But we also need to be careful to balance that pride with humility, lest that pride cross over into arrogance and hubris.


  1. To paraphrase something from many years ago, I'm not proud to be bisexual or poly. Why should I be? It's like being proud of having redish hair, or brown eyes. I am proud of being open and out about both, because that I control and decide. So I agree, there needs to be poly/bi/Aspie pride -- but there should also be some thought as to what exactly we are being proud of.

  2. Are you talking about this guy?

    Actually, I was specifically referring to someone else, a fellow on an online discussion forum.

    Regarding the individual you're referring to: I could see where some people look at his behavior and see how Asperger's might be a contributing factor.

    Note I said: "contributing factor". Frankly, I don't have enough background or expertise to say conclusively why he does what he does.

    Going back to my original point: Asperger's might explain his actions, in whole or in part. That could and should inform how to best respond to those actions. But it also does not necessarily excuse such actions.