[extropy-chat] fiction and autism

Anne Corwin sparkle_robot at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 24 17:02:39 UTC 2007

Mike: I'm indeed offended by slogans like "Think Autism, Think Cure" -- but I don't necessarily fault the people who use them, at least not when those people aren't informed of non-mainstream views.  Culture informs most people that autism is a bad disease we need to cure, and many people never even question that -- I think they should question it, but first they need to be exposed to something that encourages them to question it because they're not going to "get it" by default unless they're very unusual.  
  My position on neurodiversity (and disability rights, for that matter) is based primarily on morphological and cognitive liberty (in addition to the notion of the necessity of informed, nonduressed consent).  This isn't exactly a mainstream or widely-known view; in fact, some of what I feel are my best pro-neurodiversity arguments have been informed in part by hanging around transhumanists.  :P
  The idea of not defaulting to a "let's cure it!" position on autism is as weird to a lot of people as the idea of radical life extension is (and I'm in the rather interesting position of not wanting to cure something a lot of people think should be cured, while wanting to cure something most people think is normal and okay!  I honestly don't understand that, actually...shouldn't the thing that kills you be the thing we'd most want to cure?).
  But I digress.  Anyway, I don't see much point in just "feeling offended" about anything...if someone has a "cure autism!" sticker on their car, that doesn't tell me much at all about them or the reason why they have the sticker.  It could be that they're just trying to support the "Cause of the Week", it could be that they think the government is conspiring to "poison our children" through vaccines (a scary number of people actually think this -- talk about an existential risk!), it could be that they are angry that they didn't get a "normal" child, or it could be that they love their child and want to help them and figure that "cure" is the only possible option.  
  But in any case, the only way to change people's minds on a large scale is to educate them -- if there's anything we do need a cure for (besides aging) it's ignorance.
  And I would also like to state for the record that I am not opposed to the existence of a "cure" (e.g., a way to make autistic people nonautistic) -- I think that people should be able to choose their configurations according to their own, nonduressed goals and aspirations.  If someone wants to be neurotypical I wouldn't stand in their way, just as I wouldn't feel threatened if I knew someone who wanted gender reassignment surgery (e.g., FtM transpeople don't make me feel devalued as a woman).  
  But a lot of this whole debate starts to go very interesting places when you start getting into the concept of what the self is, what identity is, and to what extent a person can change how their brain works whilst retaining what they think of as "the person" -- in other words, totally on-topic for extropy-chat.  
  I'm concerned that if a "cure" existed right now it would not be applied under conditions of informed, nonduressed consent, and I am extremely concerned that autistics who don't mind being autistic would be forced to take this treatment on economic or social grounds.  And I'm also concerned about the idea that some people would gladly "cure" their children even if the net effect of that "cure" would be that you had an entirely different person than you had before.  Is that ethical?  Is that the same thing as effectively killing someone and replacing them with another -- or is it different because the "person" still has access to the same memories?  Are memories all that make a person?  And if that's the case, is it okay to simply change those around you according to however you'd rather then be so long as you don't touch their memories?  (I would say "no, it's definitely NOT okay", which is part of the problem I have with the notion of defaulting to a cure for autistic
 children -- as much as I know that parents need to make decisions on behalf of their child's best interest, I think that in cases where the stakes are as high as the possibility of destroying everything about an established person except their autobiographical memory, there's much in the way of discussion to be had).  
  If autism is somehow inseparable from what a person thinks about, likes, dislikes, pays attention to, is motivated by, etc. -- then how is making someone nonautistic really any different from, say, downloading that person's memories into a robot configured like a more typical person and starting "from scratch" with regard to personality development? 
  Just some things to think about.
  - Anne

Mike Dougherty <msd001 at gmail.com> wrote:
  On 4/24/07, Anne Corwin wrote:
> It's not so much of a chip as an acknowledgement that society has a long way
> to go before it actually manages to acknowledge autistic citizens as full
> and valid persons. I'm sorry if I sounded overly defensive; that's what I

I have been reading this thread (without anything useful to add) so
maybe I was just more alert to the issue...

I saw on a car today one of those magentic ribbons with a slogan,
"think autism, think cure"

Was I right to feel offended on behalf of autists? If sales of that
'ribbon' are helping increase understanding of autism, I guess it's an
overall good thing - but that slogan struck me as being the exact
opposite of understanding.
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