A lady who thinks that there is always a touch of Aspergers in high IQ men was describing a friend of hers: “He is able to walk, speak, write and care for himself. He is a wonderful writer. But, he does not make eye contact. He cannot read social cues. He does not understand sarcasm. He tells inappropriate jokes. But, he is very kind, and assumes that every one is honest.”, she said.
Many years ago, an extraordinarily smart boy who added me on Orkut started gushing over my blog in my scrapbook. He used to write poetry, and unlike many of us who became libertarians in our late teens, he was a libertarian since the age of 15. He said that my short stories are among the best that he has ever read. He was soon embarrassed, and removed those scraps hoping that I would not have read them.
“I don’t want to see too much. Who suffers in this world? Those who lack something? No. Those who have something they should lack. A blind man can’t see, but it’s more impossible not to see for one whose eyes are too sharp. More impossible and more of a torture. If only one could lose sight and come down, down to the level of those who never want it, never miss it.”
“The sound perception of an ant does not include thunder.”
“Howard, You must learn how to handle people.” “I can’t.” “Why?” “I don’t know how. I was born without some one particular sense.” “It’s something one acquires.” “I have no organ to acquire it with. I don’t know whether it’s something I lack, or something extra I have that stops me. Besides, I don’t like people who have to be handled.”
At some point she realizes that Unni is standing in the doorway and watching. She smiles at him. “What are you thinking?” she says. “I was thinking, you may never see what I see.” “What do you see?” “I see things that are beautiful. And I was thinking, Mythili will go through her entire life without ever seeing what I see. Mythili will never know what she is meant to see.” “You are mad, Unni.” “What if I am not?”
“Unni Chacko, who appeared to possess a superior detachment, apparently also had an unnatural curiosity about the world around him, as if he could see something extraordinary hiding in plain sight.”
Once when someone asked me about the Magazine I had worked with, I said, “It is very hard for a small magazine to find decent writers.” And then I thought,“You know, this is just another way of saying that not one among those drooling dolts knew how to write a decent sentence. A month back, I would have said just that. This perhaps makes me more likeable, and less interesting. I do not know why all this matters so much to people, but now I know that its does.” I have become softer over years, and words like “Whatever” have dropped out of my vocabulary.
“A preferred strategy for communicating or coordinating is simply to say what you mean, and that can do a great deal of good for communication and coordination. You also could say it is a focal point, among many self-aware autistics, not to be so offended by any perceived directness from the other person. So it’s wrong to think that all the communication and coordination problems lie on the autistic side of the ledger.”
“Think of India, a feudal country. Imagine a RBI Governor in a room. The Governor is glowering at a subordinate. Will the subordinate be able to disagree with him? I doubt it. And The RBI governor is basically a bureaucrat. He cannot stand up to the Finance Minister beyond a point.”
“My best guess is that Ben Bernanke simply didn’t have the backbone to tell people like Paulson and Bush that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Contrary to my expectations, Bernanke’s been a disaster. At the same time, though, I can’t honestly say that his successor will be any better.“
“If politicians want to interfere with the monetary policy process, it is easier to pressurize one person (the governor) than to pressurize seven persons in a committee. This motivates the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC). Think of it like a bench of judges. But for this to work, the individuals in the bench should be fully comfortable disagreeing with each other. As an example, In the UK, while there is a MPC structure, it almost never happens that the MPC votes against the governor.“
The point is that there is no escape.
These are just instances of fear of direct confrontation blocking progress. Remember that the UK and the US are developed countries where economists involved in the monetary policy formulation are more likely to be aware of diverse positions, and be far more tolerant of disagreements. But, the problems involved in formulating monetary policy in developed countries are just the tip of the iceberg, because they have reached solutions that have worked reasonably well.
Imagine the worst forms of political correctness like patriotism, and how it has resulted in so much blood shed and poverty through wars and immigration restrictions. Unlike monetary policy, these are issues in which even ordinary men are blinded by envy, resentment and ignorance.
The agreeable nature of most human beings is the primary reason I think that there are no easy solutions for the woes of mankind. There is no escape from such conformity because we are the sheep.
PS: People apply their lame standards to everyone, but they apply higher standards to people they do not identify with. When a reporter once asked an Indian Cricket team captain why the performance of his team is so pathetic, he retorted, “If you can do it better than me,why don’t you be the captain?” Many people found it insulting. He was just being Sarcastic. Funny. And he probably would not have expected that much hostility when he said that. Much of what we call social norms are about that. When a minister once said, “cattle class’, referring to economy class, I think he lost his job. That is crazy. People do not think that all this is fundamentally immature, though they imagine themselves to be serious. It is my theory that if you pay attention, you would see such behavior too often—In almost everyone. When people talk about maturity, and sanity, they have no idea of what they are talking about. They are just sick.
Tyler Cowen says that his professor at Harvard, Nobel Laureate Thomas C. Schelling was a great story-teller:
“When he encounters an idea he usually responds in a roundabout manner. You might hear a story about how he tried to quit smoking, what his grandmother used to tell him, or why terrorists won’t want to use any nuclear weapons they happen to acquire. Typically, at first you think that Schelling didn’t listen to what you said because his story seems so off base; a minute later you realize that maybe he has a point, albeit a wrong one; five minutes later you understand he was well ahead of you the entire time.”
When I once launched into a monologue on how people are wolves, after listening to me for long silently, Krishnapriya asked: “So, you mean to say that people are up to no good?”I laughed. A normal person might think that she is not listening to you, but she might be watching you like a hawk. She even has a child-like voice, and sounds somewhat helpless and flustered, but she would have passed a million judgments on you before you even notice that she is paying attention.
The first day we talked, I argued with all my power and passion that happiness can only be achieved by being perfectly logical and rational. She asked: “Are you logical and rational?” I nodded cheerfully: “Yes”. “Now, are you happy?” I was silent, because in my teens, I was anything, but happy.
When I argued endlessly for my positions, listing my premises one by one, she would say, “Once in a while, you should take your fingers off the keyboard and pay attention to what I say too.”
When she asked what I look for in a girl, I said that I want someone with whom I can discuss philosophy all night long. It is such philosophical discussions that turn me on, I said. She said, “I knew a sixty year old man. I still miss him, and the philosophical discussions I once had with him. It still turns me on.” And then she sent a smiley that resembled a scooter driven by an insect. It was only after many years I understood that she was kicking my ass.
She was leagues ahead of kids of my age in intelligence and maturity. “But, what is the point in being smart among all those dumb people?” she once asked me.
When I once said, “People tell me that I am the coldest person on earth. But, you sound colder than me.”, she replied, “It is for my own safety.” She said, “I am too mean to people, but they still like me. I am not nice to you because otherwise you will stop loving me as much as you do now.”
“When a young friend quoted an excerpt from a novel which convinced him that it would be one hell of a read, I did not know what it meant. It read: “If there were ever a sudden almighty silence in marine drive, you would hear a thousand bra straps snap.” When I once read that “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why it evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.
When I once read in a Magazine that physical intimacy begins with a kiss, I wondered apprehensively: “But then, how far would they go?” So, it is hard for me to not like the twelve-year-old Thoma in Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People.
Thoma is glad that he is not a woman, because unlike his elder brother Unni, he does not know how to decipher clues. When Gloria Miss stands in front of the class with her arms folded, Thoma felt sorry for her. He wondered how women go through their lives—how they handle this shame. He knows that if he were a woman, he would have spent his whole life missing all the insults hurled at him by other women. To people who do not know how to decipher clues, there is an aspect of reality that is incomprehensible-an aspect of reality that involves people.
Thoma’s father Ousep trusts the editor who asks him to reveal his sources in the name of “journalistic tradition”. It seems odd to him that plain men, simple men, men who are not writers too can make their wives laugh. He is convinced that his father-in-law was mesmerized by his prose. He is surprised when he suddenly finds himself unemployable because not long ago, publishers who had read his short stories wanted him to write novels. Introspection often fails the cognitive elite. Ousep also wonders how humiliating the honest compassion of fools is. But then, Introspection fails everyone else too.”
Tyler says that this is the age of infovores in which autistics can thrive. See a book review in which the autistic way of functioning, and how they could have thrived only in the information age comes through.
“There were times when brawn mattered more than brain. In the battle between nerds and jocks, jocks always had the last laugh. But the second half of the 20th century witnessed the rise of nerds. Bill Gates was consistently on top of the Forbes list of billionaires for long. The investing career of Warren Buffett is so successful that Fortune has had an expert on him since 1966. Jocks should be worried.
Mr Buffett spends much of his time reading and thinking. He has been reading books on investing since the age of eight. He does not split his stock. When Mr Buffett was once asked when he would sell his Coca-Cola shares, he replied: “Never.” He rarely travels beyond Omaha. He does not venture beyond his area of expertise. For long, he refused to use an electronic computer. He is not swayed by the latest fads in the investment arena. He has a schedule free of meetings. Listening to stupid people gives him “blinding headaches”. He would not do business with people he dislikes.
Mr Buffett loves his work. His unwillingness to compromise the integrity of his work enraged a Fortune editor, Daniel Seligman; at one point, Seligman wanted the magazine to not publish the great investor’s article. When he was 19, Harvard rejected Mr Buffett because he had the social skills of a 12-year-old. In other words, if the jocks in the pre-industrial age needed a punching bag, Mr Buffett would have been the most obvious candidate. But, as Ms Loomis points out, in the information age, few jocks can afford a stock of Berkshire Hathaway. Today, it sells at a hefty price of $134,490.
In a conversation in this anthology, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett admit that if they were born a few thousand years ago, they would have at best been an animal’s lunch. Mr Buffett says that, being rich, he can easily avoid dealing with people who would make his stomach churn.”
The narrative form can be so powerful. I think one of the most talented story tellers I have read is Jeff Kinney, the author of The Wimpy Kid Series, but most readers would miss that what they are reading is highly sophisticated entertainment. They would miss that they are reading one of the greatest minds of our times.
But, Tyler asks an interesting question: Autistics are not very fond of story telling. But, should you always embrace the narrative mode or the story based approach to writing or should you be suspicious of it? Telling stories is always not the optimal way to educate, or put across your view point. This is true. For instance, a Magazine or newspaper article on inflation would have everything from the woes of a dim housewife to the grim, joyless predictions of the grubby Finance minister. But, it would do a terrible job of explaining what causes the prices to rise.