The cruelty of strangers
That feeling of paranoia
Any autism parent will tell you about the feeling of paranoia when out in public with their kids. The problem we all face is that autistic behaviour in kids often looks almost identical to naughty behaviour. So when our little treasures are being their autistic selves we feel the sting of the disapproving glares. Now all parents can relate to this feeling I’m sure. All kids act up in public from time to time, showing their parents up and I think most parents have seen those scathing looks from Mr and Mrs Joe public. Well this is kind of standard fare for every trip into the “real world” for an autism family.
So autism parents develop a pretty thick skin pretty fast. Rhino skin is one of the first special powers we tend to develop along with an extreme reserve of patience. These skills are essential to one’s mental survival along with booze and caffeine. Nevertheless, in our darker moments we worry about what strangers might think, how they might judge us as bad or weak parents. We fantasise about what we would say if we were to confront these judgemental anonymous antagonists of our paranoid imaginings. I have spent many a day dream rehearsing in my head the dressing down I would give to some random who dared to voice their criticism of me. I imagine how I would explain the autism parenting reality to them in such a way as to make them feel so wretchedly guilty for their ignorant assumptions that they would visibly wither and slither off under a rock, sobbing with heart felt grief for their own stupidity. I’m sure many autism parents have had similar fantasies of a righteously justified berating of some hapless member of Joe Public.
It is worth noting that these fantasies of giving someone a really good talking to are a self-indulgence that most people allow themselves. We all have internal dialogues from time to time about how we are really going tell someone what for. It’s perfectly natural but, as we shall see below, sometimes these little bits of narcissistic thought can spill out into reality with bad consequences. Sometimes, if indulged too much, we humans can believe our own bullshit and the fantasy becomes a reality in our own minds. This is the root cause of what I am really going to discuss below, but we will get to that in a bit.
For me these fantasies have remained just that, fantasies. Whilst I’m sure many of Joe public who have observed the Bean’s more, how shall we say, “energetic” displays of autistic behaviour have indeed judged me and my wife as being poor parents, none have ever said anything to our faces. Sure we have seen the looks but it’s never really come to a verbal confrontation were I have had to use my well-rehearsed arsenal of cutting diatribes putting my detractor firmly in their place.
On those rare occasions when I have felt the need to explain the Bean’s behaviour to a member of the public, all I have seen is sympathy and understanding. I have seen the look of disapproval on faces melt away to become one of concern and compassion. Far from the angry confrontations of my self-righteous fantasies all I have ever seen really is a willingness to help. This warms my heart greatly and restores my faith in humanity.
Indeed this compassion is mirrored by pretty much everyone I have dealt with. From shopkeepers, to teachers, to waiters, to swimming pool attendants. As soon as you mention the A word all seems to be forgiven and one no longer feels judged. So whilst there is certainly much work to do about autism awareness there does seem to be enough awareness that most people can empathise enough to know that it isn’t the fault of the parent and that seemingly naughty behaviour might not actually be any damming indictment of parental prowess.
So why the title of this post?
But, I hear you say, the title of this post is about the cruelty of strangers, so what gives? Well, there has been one exception to this almost universal dairy load of the milk of human kindness. Or, rather, there have been several exceptions but from one category of people. These people have treated me and other parents with cruelty and a total lack of compassion. I have been called; a bigot, evil, vile and pretty much every name under the sun. The people I am referring to are the Social Justice Warriors of the internet.
Now for those of you unfamiliar with the term Social Justice Warrior (SJW) allow me to explain. An SJW is someone who fights for social justice by blogging, commenting and debating on-line. They take up many causes; feminism, anti-racism, gay rights, disabled rights and of course autism rights. This may sound like a good thing. What’s not to like about all these “rights” movements? I would agree entirely these are all worthy movements but where the SJW sets themselves apart from normal decent activists in this area is the way they conduct themselves. And, more importantly, what their actions reveal about their true motivations.
Despite what they say, the SJW isn’t really in the business of trying to effect real change for whatever minority they purport to be supporting. All an SJW is really interested in is feeling morally superior to their fellow humans. What they have done is spent far too much time indulging in the narcissistic, “revenge” fantasies I discussed above. They have started to believe their own bullshit and now see oppression and bigotry everywhere they look. Indulging and acting out those fantasies becomes addictive particularly when it can be done so by sitting safely behind an internet connection without any risk of getting punched in the face. The anonymity of the internet makes everyone very brave it seems.
Offense is never given its always taken and boy do they know how to take
What we see from SJW’s is an uncanny ability to take offense at the slightest thing. The mental gymnastics that go on in working out just how they can be offended by some harmless looking statement would shame any overly prickly Muslim fundamentalist. The hissy fit of offense taken at drawings of Mohammed are nothing compared to the self-righteous frenzy SJW’s work themselves up into over the most innocuous of things. Anything can and is deemed offensive and they really don’t give a fuck whose feelings they trample over when they express their faux moral outrage.
Throughout my whole autism journey the only time I have truly been made to feel like shit by my fellow humans is when engaging with these fuckwits. They tend to lurk on various autism facebook groups and forums, eagerly waiting for someone to come along who says something that they can be offended about. Needless to say, the skilled amongst them can work out a way to be offended by pretty much anything so there is no shortage of meat for the grinder. Once they have figured out how they can take umbrage they attack, often on mass. And it gets vicious believe me.
Some of them are autistic themselves (or at least they claim to be autistic) and use that fact as a shield to deflect any criticism. They say things like; “You need to shut the fuck up and listen to us autistic people” or “you need to check your ableist white male privilege and shut up”. Anyone who disagrees with anything they say is being “ableist” or “bigoted” and trust me they are well versed in the slippery arts of mental contortionism to justify any such charges with 101 nonsensical arguments. If a fellow autistic disagrees with them then, of course, they have “internalised ableism”. Basically they can never, ever be wrong about anything ever and anyone who says differently is painted as some kind of evil Nazi.
Now I have much sympathy for the plight of autistic people and the shit they face in life but being autistic does not excuse anyone from being a dick. I also feel the need to add that this seeming lack of compassion and empathy for others has absolutely nothing to do with being autistic. The myth that autistic people lack empathy is just that, it’s a myth. So the abhorrent behaviour of some autistic SJW’s is bugger all to do with them being autistic. Furthermore this SJW attitude is by no means exclusive to autism rights. Indeed it is far more prevalent in other “rights” movements indicating that this is phenomena much wider than autism or disability rights.
A dire prophecy of doom
Looking at how SJW’s affect other movements they supposedly support gives us some dire warnings about the future of the autism rights movement. They are perhaps most prevalent in feminism today. If there are any sensible old school feminists reading this, do yourselves a favour and spend a bit of time on some of Tumblr’s feminist blogs. You will see the phenomenon I describe above. It will, or should, make you cringe. Read some of this claptrap and understand why feminism is rapidly becoming a dirty word.
The very vocal antics of these narcissistic social justice warriors, hell bent of showing everyone just how morally superior they are to everyone else, is ruining feminism. This is a shame, because all the while the Tumblr feminists are fussing about sexism in computer games, banning porn and worrying about whether the latest Avengers film is a product of the patriarchy, in the real world women in many countries are actually being oppressed. The SJW’s have made third wave feminism become a parody of itself. If anyone remembers the Viz comic strip Millie Tant then this is basically what Tumblr feminists are like. Reality has caught up and overtaken parody.
click on the image above for full size
So why do I care?
Well I care because I do not want to see the cause of autism rights become a joke in the same way that feminism is becoming. For women in the west the battle for equality is largely won already (despite what the professional victims of Tumblr will tell you). For autistic people the fight has barely even started. If the general public are exposed to the self-righteous, overly sensitive and often openly hostile bullshit of the SJW’s brigade then those people will be turned off from the autism rights movement. The danger then is that the movement will not be taken seriously.
The phenomenon of SJW’s thus threatens to weaken a movement that has yet to achieve many of its goals and this is a tragedy. More worryingly though I have seen on many occasions SJW’s alienate my fellow autism parents from the very cause they purport to support. Every time one of these morally superior halfwits attacks a parent for some imagined insult they immediately drive that parent away from the cause of autism rights. These parents will probably end up getting their support and information from other sources and these sources may not be the right ones.
The biggest autism charity in the US is one called Autism Speaks. It is run by parents and mainly caters to the needs of parents. They preach a message of curing and preventing autism. This is not a good message as it perpetuates the lie that autism is some kind of medical condition. But for all their faults Autism Speaks will treat parents with compassion and kindness. They have the wrong message but they deliver it in a way that is attractive and welcoming.
So every time I see some SJW autistic self-advocate or parent verbally abuse some other parent I cry inwardly because I see another parent driven towards Autism Speaks and their ilk where they will be welcomed with love and compassion. This is a lost opportunity to make a real difference to an autistic child. For every parent driven away to organisations like Autism Speaks there is an autistic child that will have to contend with a parent that thinks there is something “wrong” with being autistic. This being the case SJW’s are more damaging to a movement like autism rights than say feminism.
The antics in feminist blogosphere just means many people find modern feminism laughable. It means only 20% of women today in the UK identify as a feminist. It’s a shame, but because feminism has already won most of its major battles this damage to the image of feminism is not really a massive problem for women. But, as described above, this is not the case with the autism rights movement. The antics of SJW fanatics are harmful and damaging to the movement, to parents and above all to autistic people.
There is hope
But not all social justice movements are infested with these self-obsessed cretins. We can all take heart and learn from the gay rights movement. No one can dispute the success of this movement over the last 20 years or so. It has been phenomenally successful and all the while has remained largely calm, non-judgemental and, for this very reason, has brought main stream society round to its way of thinking. Sure we get some SJW types within the movement but they are very much in the side lines.
Most gay rights activists have understood, it seems, that if you want to get the public to change their minds about something the very worst thing you can do is insult and alienate them. Instead we have had a largely reasonable and rational debate over the last two decades with the only shrill, foaming at the mouth and hateful talk coming from the other side (mostly the religious right). The side of reason and calmness has won. This is what the autism rights movement needs to mirror. Let’s not become a laughing stock like modern feminism. Let’s learn from the astounding and rapid success of the gay rights movement. Let’s be cool, calm and win people over with the power of our arguments rather than trying to bludgeon them with the stick of self-righteous, overly PC clap trap.
So I guess the purpose of this essay is threefold Firstly, it is a warning to parents about the potential dangers lurking on the internet. If you spend any time on-line in the autism community you will run afoul of the SJW’s at some time. When they attack it can be really upsetting and this particularly stings if the person doing the attacking identifies themselves as being autistic. It causes one to doubt oneself and being told that you are a terrible parent is the last thing any autism parent needs. My advice is simply to ignore these people. You cannot argue with them because their position is not based on reason. No matter what you say your words will be twisted around and used against you. Just walk away.
Secondly this is a shout out to the autism rights movement to distance itself from the SJW’s amongst us. There are plenty of smart, compassionate and very active autism self-advocates, parents and carers out there. We are the people that will make a real difference to autistic people like my son. The SJW path can be seductive, as noted at the start of this essay. Those fantasies about righteously correcting those that wrong us are very tempting. This temptation to preach is all the more alluring when we have at our finger tips the opportunity to reach a global audience in complete anonymity. I have committed this sin myself, I confess, but I would urge anyone engaging in activism to try and remember one’s own humanity. Try to empathise with people that you disagree with and calmly show them another way of thinking. Shouting and getting angry really does not work.
Finally this is a vain attempt to reach the hearts of SJW’s themselves. I know that some of you mean well. I know you have convinced yourselves that you are doing good work. But really you are not. You are harming the causes you say you care about. It’s time for some honest introspection. When you berate some poor parent on-line what are you really motivated by? Are you really trying to change their mind? Are you really trying to convince others that your position is correct? Or is it really just an acting out of pent up frustrations like the imaginary conversations I have with those fictional mean spirited Joe Publics? The problem is that despite the miles of Ethernet cable that separate you from the people you are shouting at they are still real people with real feelings and most importantly real autistic kids who need help.
Coming to terms with an autism diagnosis for your kid is no easy thing. Transitioning from societies default position of “autism is bad” to a paradigm of “autism acceptance” is an even tougher step. Most parents, sadly, do not make that step, but with love, care, compassion and gentle persuasion many more will. So think before you shout. If not for the feelings of the parents then do so for their kids.
PS – SJW’s before you even type a reply I don’t give a flying fuck if you think I am “tone policing”* you. The truth is that I am and your tone needs to be policed, deal with it.
*For those not versed in SJW speak. “Tone Policing” is a term they use to dismiss anyone who calls them out on being rude and offensive to their victims. The argument is something like; “As a victimised minority, no one has a right to tell us not to be angry and not to use angry words.” Sorry SJW’s, but if your anger is damaging an important movement, if it is driving parents towards Autism Speaks and thus harming their kids then I do reserve the right to call you out on your bullshit.