I’m somewhere on the autism spectrum. So, it was never obvious to me that people with Asperger Syndrome lack empathy. Simon Baron-Cohen thinks that people with Asperger Syndrome have an extreme male brain, which means, they have low ability to empathize. To begin with, we have a direct, blunt way of speaking. This is not the only reason why he thinks so. But I will not get into all that here.
I think I know what this means. When I was a teen, no one could make a loose statement within my hearing distance without my expressing my disapproval, usually with detailed arguments. I found it hard to believe that people found it offensive because this would not have offended me. For long, I did not even know that this offended people. Continue Reading
When people ask me why I do not write for the mainstream, it reminds me of an incident that happened over a year ago. I mailed Psychology Today’s editor Hara Estroff Marano, saying that I would like to write on Asperger Syndrome. I am sharing this exchange, to illustrate why—much as I would like to—the effort is often not worth it for me. Contrary to what people believe, editors do respond (This is not true of Indian editors. They have poor personal standards.), and are not prejudiced against unknown writers at all.
May I write an article for Psychology Today on why direct communication is a great virtue, in people with Asperger’s Syndrome? As a man somewhere on the autistic spectrum, it was never clear to me why the direct communication style of people with Asperger’s Syndrome is considered harsh and insensitive. Some psychologists like Simon Baron-Cohen think that the people with Asperger’s Syndrome communicate directly because they have an extreme male brain, and hence, low ability to empathize. But, if directness makes people uncomfortable, this is perhaps a problem with people and not with direct speech. People are indirect when they are not fully comfortable telling you what they really think. An Aspie can easily claim that he finds it more exhausting to interpret the indirect demands of people, defend himself against their implicit accusations, and meet the indirect demands others impose on him.
I often notice that people are unable to put themselves in my shoes and understand that my disagreement does not indicate a conflict, or personal enmity. This is a classic case of failure of introspection. I suspect that this means that the neurotypicals are deficient in the cognitive component of empathy. They are also unable to be nice to Aspies despite the disagreements they might have. I suspect that this means that they are deficient in the affective component of empathy. Now, is it the people with Asperger’s Syndrome who lack empathy? If someone is willing to defend true, unpopular positions even when most of his peers disagree with him, I think he is a dynamo of self-responsibility. I think literalism and disagreeableness are the fountainhead of human progress. The triumph of the disagreeable over the agreeable is what the progress of humanity is all about.
Here is a published work on mine. A book review emphasizing the autistic cognitive traits I noticed in Warren Buffett. And on why people like Buffett thrive in the information age:
Jinnah was quite clear about the role of Indian politicians. They must never mix religion with politics: one was a private matter,
the other public service. Political differences should be settled by debate and not taken to the streets to create mob hysteria. The right to vote should be restricted to the educated tax payer and not be extended to the illiterate and those who do not contribute to the cost of administration. Primary education should be compulsory. What is truly amazing is that he found many takers for his ideas and was acceptable to the Indian National Congress as well as the Muslim League. Unlike most other Indian politicians, he was not overwhelmed by English governors and viceroys: he spoke his mind to them without mincing his words. He carried on verbal warfare with Lord Willingdon, Governor of Bombay and then Viceroy of India. In short, he was for a time India’s top political leader, till Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the scene. Gandhi not only infused religion into politics (!) but also took politics to the streets through his call for non-cooperation and boycott of government-run institutions, including schools. Jinnah found this distasteful and difficult to digest. Besides these, Gandhi showed a marked preference for Jawaharlal Nehru as the future leader of the country. Gradually, Jinnah was pushed off the centre stage of Indian politics to become more and more a leader of the Muslims. As The Manchester Guardian summed him up: ‘The Hindus thought he was a Muslim communalist, the Muslims took him to be pro-Hindu, the princes declared him to be too democratic, the British considered him a rabid extremist—with the result that he was everywhere but nowhere. None wanted him.’
—Khushwant Singh, The Good, Bad And The Ridiculous
I don’t believe in this freedom struggle business. I think Indians shouldn’t have kicked out the British. But, for someone in his right senses, it is hard not to read this and say, “What a decent fellow!” When compared to the mushheaded freedom fighters, that is.
“Rothbard was a wonder. At the conferences he would rarely appear until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. He would then give a great lecture on economics or history. Long after the other faculty members had retired for the evening, Rothbard would remain going strong. I remember one time when around midnight he declared that he was hungry. “Let’s go!” he said with his infectious enthusiasm and he, myself, and a handful of other students hopped in cars and proceeded to a local restaurant where we talked and debated for hours. At the time this seemed natural but in retrospect I am amazed that a man with such knowledge would be willing to spend so much time discussing ideas with quite ignorant people. I should add that Rothbard never encouraged sycophants and his manner was such that no one was ever afraid to debate with him.
I learned later one reason why Rothbard was pleased to talk with students at the Mises Institute summer conferences. He had no students to speak of during the rest of the year. As a naïve young person seeking out a university for graduate studies I immediately thought of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute where Rothbard was then teaching. I remember vividly the day I called BPI for an application to the graduate economics department. “But Sir, we don’t have an economics department,” the secretary told me. “What,” I said incredulously, “you must have an economics department; you have one of the world’s best economists on staff.” But sadly it was true. I still find this a damning indictment of my profession and the American university system.”
When it was published, I missed this essay of Alexander Tabarrok in Walter Block’s “I Chose Liberty”.
It was two years ago, on this day, I wrote my best blog post:
The “editor-in-chief” of the Magazine is Mr. Marx (Mahesh Sarma). When I joined the office, he said in a tone that barely betrayed his effort in faking intellectuality: “I am not a hard-core Marxist, but I admire Marx. But, more than Marx, I am a follower of Polanyi.” Marx said cheerfully: “The staff in the magazine is dead slow. I want to sack all of them and hire a new team. I am happy to have you here because it is not possible to have a meaningful debate in this Magazine.” Struggling to suppress my laughter, I thought, “He looks like a dud, but he has already started giving me hints. He is trying to tell me that I will also be sacked if I turn out to be as incompetent as the unfortunates who will soon be packing their pretty little bags.” I sat there silently. I was amused because he cloaked the threat in a strategic compliment.
The edit meets of Mr. Marx were really hilarious. The first edit meet lasted hours. I heard “Yes, boss” several times from many different corners in a low, ritualistic manner. I noticed that I was yawning throughout the meeting while others were laughing. Is it plausible that I am not evolved enough to enjoy such humor? But, it was hard to miss that there was no way an average teenager would have gotten away with such jokes, irrespective of his friends circle. Something was truly amiss.
While walking out of the “conference room” whining that Marx bored me, Michelle said: “The edit-meets are boring, and everyone knows it. The tactless Marx does not know when to stop, and these sycophants push him on.” I did now know that these people were pretending to live a lie. This is not too complimentary to my intelligence. As an economist would have put it, it was “reminiscent of Alice’s Wonder-land: Everything seemingly is, yet apparently isn’t, simultaneously.”