Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Am I Missing?

It's a very strange feeling reading blogs by psychopaths*. As an autistic person, I've gotten quite sick of my people being compared to psychopaths, simply because researchers made the unfortunate choice to use the phrase 'lack of empathy' to describe both groups, even though they're talking about an emotional difference in psychopathy and a communication difference in autism.

But even though I'm nothing at all like a psychopath, I keep resonating with what they say.

SociopathWorld has a blog entry titled A Prosthetic Moral Compass? in which the author poses a question to other sociopaths - if there was a cure for sociopathy, would you take it? (He mentions the cochlear implant controversy, and in other blog entries he's talked about the autistic rights movement as well.) The following reply looks like it could have been written by an autistic person just as easily:

"But seriously, would you change if you could? I wouldn't, not today although that hasn't always been true. When I was much younger I really hated it a lot and would have gladly changed and tried to do so. But today I am done with all of that and quite happy with who I am and what I do to people." 

If I could cure my autism, there's no question about it. I would refuse. Amanda Baggs once said (unfortunately I couldn't find the quote) that for her, the times when she wanted a cure were the same times that she was suicidal. Dying and being cured would both involve destroying who she is.

It seems many psychopaths feel the same way. Another psychopathic blogger, Zhawq, shows on his blog a gradual evolution from denying that he's a psychopath and trying to prove his diagnosis incorrect, to accepting that his diagnosis is accurate, to challenging some of the mainstream ideas about psychopathy. This evolution is something I've also seen in many autistics, including myself (though my acceptance of autism predated my actual diagnosis, it came after others had suggested I had a neurodevelopmental disability).

So I can understand how they feel. But on the other hand, I'm a victim of abuse. Though my abusers were most likely not psychopaths, they did things that psychopaths are statistically more likely than non-psychopaths to do. I have seen in myself the damage this caused. And when I read accounts by people who were hurt by psychopaths acting psychopathic, I can understand how they feel as well.

If I were a psychopath, it would be easy for me to decide that since morality doesn't make sense to me, it's not really important. I've certainly felt that way about many other things, such as sexuality or embarrassment, that I don't feel the same innate drives around as others do. And I can understand the resentment that comes from everyone else insisting something is important that you don't see the need for. And it's not like people's philosophical ideas about what differences are acceptable and what differences aren't changes the feelings that growing up different provokes in people. We all travel down the same paths, whatever the specific symptoms our differences cause. We see the options of 'sick' or 'bad' and we don't like either one, neither of them gives us the self-respect we need. In that way, psychopaths and autistics aren't so different after all.

And yet - what about the people who are hurt by psychopaths? I can't forget them, either. And I can't see how to compromise between the need for all neurologies to be accepted and the need to protect people from abuse.

And all this makes me wonder. Is there something autistics don't see as important that is as central and important to non-autistics as morality is to non-psychopaths? That thought makes me worry. Certainly, there seems to be a sticking point for many non-autistics when they encounter the autistic rights movement, but I've never gotten a clear sense of what it is.

* I use 'psychopath' and 'sociopath' synonymously. Many people, including many who are described or describe themselves by either term, see a distinction between the two, but it seems to me that everyone who describes a difference between the two draws the line differently. Same sort of situation as Asperger Syndrome versus High Functioning Autism, and I'll do the same thing as I do there - use one term for both categories.


Blogger Maya M said...

Most autistic people, as well as other disability activists I know have what I regard as extreme pro-life views. This isn't a problem as long as they are few, but if allied with other pro-lifers (e.g. religious extremists), they could form a pressure group strong enough to take away the right to legal abortion, a highly unwelcome development IMHO.
I am OK with psychopaths and pedophiles being who they are, as long as this remains in the fantasy world only, without hurting real people. Unfortunately, both groups want from society to let them do whatever they wish, as if other people are things. For that reason, I hope that society will one day develop reliable mechanisms to protect innocent potential victims by curbing the freedom and happiness of psychopaths and pedophiles. The current mechanisms are unsatisfactory.

1:43 PM  

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