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:
I am not a fan of George Orwell’s novels, but this quote in 1984 capsulizes my novel better than anything I have ever read:
“To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.”
Bryan links to a public choice paper on George Orwell:
“There really ought to be a paper on George Orwell and Public Choice. Thanks to Loyola University senior Michael Makovi, there finally is. He’s done a great job – “George Orwell as Public Choice Economist,” forthcoming in The American Economist, is history of thought you can really sink your teeth into. Here are some highlights.”
“I am bogged down with this hourly need to consult you, and with the practice of selecting articles on the basis of whether you’ve been addressed as “Malini” or “Ma’am” in the covering letters. I am also sick of this constant play of yours: to pitch one person against another for one week, and then reverse it in the next. One is also tired of your changing goalposts. The Sunday Anchor has to be reportage-driven, and then suddenly it becomes policy-driven, and then suddenly, depending on what you hear or get impressed with, it has to be made reportage-driven again. I quit because the journey had become too pointless. I had differences over editorial autonomy with the editor, Malini. There was hardly any excitement and it became too boring for me. There is freedom to pursue stories, but inside, there is no autonomy or freedom for the editors. But that is also because the majority of editors are pusillanimous and do not have the courage to stand up for their rights. It is the responsibility of every editor to tell the owner-editor where he or she may be wrong instead of agreeing to everything with a “yes ma’am, yes ma’am”
Haha. This is an excerpt from an editor’s resignation letter. I do not have a particular opinion about this guy. I suspect he is one of those brainless idiots who imagine themselves to be principled. But, he said something every editor ought to think. But, why do they behave the way they do?
Let me try to understand this. Even if people were angels billions of years ago, when they were hunter-gatherers, many conflicts would have emerged. But, of course, they were not angels. We descended from risen apes and not descended angels. Resources were very limited. People were loyal to their tribe—at any cost. When people disagreed, the price they paid was often their life. Over billions of years, people developed strong instincts to see disagreement as a reflection of lack of personal loyalty. But, at least some people were tempted to disagree with others, or correct others, as put-down tactics, or to condescend to them. Even today, the people who disagree with their colleagues or correct their bosses are the people who do that at the cost of their own jobs. Truth doesn’t mean anything to *most* people. So, why do they do that? Perhaps because these truth-seeking “traitors” do not like them. Otherwise why should they, or so they reason. Genuine respect for truth, fairness and principles is an evolutionary novelty. Most people, especially people with low intelligence do not comprehend such evolutionary novelties.
They do not know that there are some strange fellows who really do care for the truth. But, the modern, comfortable society produces more such people. The modern society also produces many people who spend more time with books or machines, and develop more respect for facts of reality than group loyalty. Such people (Writers, thinkers, scientists, and the nerds who grew up reading them), have developed strong norms against being a fence-sitter, or living a lie. They also verbalize these norms. The nerdy kids spend more time with books or computers, internalizing verbalized norms, while the normal kids mix with their peers, internalizing the intuitive norms of human communication. The verbalized norms are more respectable than the intuitive norms, because at least on the surface, they sound noble. The intuitive norms, if verbalized, would seem unspeakably ugly. Now, it is true that even normal folk are aware of the verbalized norms of their betters. They are dimly aware that these norms are “respectable”. But, deep inside they suspect that this is bogus. They are philistines, and cannot imagine how someone can be so deeply attached to ideas, or their own prose. So, when someone brings up these norms, or acts according to it, they feel that they are just being difficult. Or playing fool. Or blackmailing them. Not surprisingly, consistently defending the truth is harder than almost anything. If you have a valuable piece of information, it might do more harm than good if everyone responds badly to it. This piece of information might have great value. But, if people respond so badly to it that it would outweigh any benefit it might have, it might be better if you keep that to yourself. But, if people respond well to it? The point is that it should start somewhere.
So, the people who care for the truth might air those truths hoping that it would change others for good. But, it *probably* won’t. Perhaps they should accept idiocy, cruelty and wastefulness as a necessary price to pay for being part of a group. But, there is a problem. 1) The people who care for the truth are incredibly bad at predicting how others might respond to the truth. So, where do they draw the line? It is not clear. No one will tell you this. It is culture-specific. It is context-specific. Normal folk know it by some seraphic intuition. 2) If the truth-seekers become cynical panderers, they will sound like fakers. They will find it exhausting to the point that they cannot pull it off. This might do more harm than being plainly blunt. People might stand disagreement, but not condescension. 3) But, for artists, scientists , thinkers and other innovators, going along to get along is disastrous. If you are creative, going along to get along will never get you anywhere in the long run. If you do not know why journalism is so disappointing, this is the reason. Journalists are not intelligent, creative folk.