Personal responsibility and individualism are a thorny topic when it comes to physical illness, mental illness and disability.
Sometimes people may be tempted to say, ‘it was the medication speaking,’ or ‘it was the IBS speaking,’ or ‘it was the autism speaking,’ or ‘it was the BPD speaking’ or ‘it was the anxiety speaking.’
The difficult here is that although that may be, in a way, true (insofar as our truest, highest self can fall under a cloud and we become, as it were, beside ourselves), and yet…
Nevertheless, it is a complete insult and affront to human dignity to deny ourselves agency, and to make ourselves the tools and slaves of any internal or external force.
Saying ‘it was THIS that was speaking’ is tantamount to saying, ‘these actions of mine had a cause.’ But what action doesn’t? Giving a causal account of something does not in itself constitute a moral argument: all wrong deeds are caused by something, and so it is important to distinguish the fact of cause and effects from the value judgments of personal responsibility and even moral culpability or guilt.
We all act under constraint of some kind; but even the ISIS caliph (to take a very extreme example) acted under ‘constraint.’ So did all dictators. So do serial killers, murders, terrorists and sex offenders. The point here of course is not to fundamentally liken those of us who suffer health problems to the worst people on earth; but merely to point out that nobody has the monopoly on acting under constraint, and that furthermore, acting under constraint is not a get out of jail free card for people who don’t believe in a healthy, mature individualism that eschews excuse-making and values personal responsibility.
In a sense, it is indeed correct to say ‘it was THIS was speaking.’
But it could not have spoken unless you chose to let it speak, and to give it a voice, and to let it speak through you.
Unfortunately, we all have to live in the real world, and the world doesn’t stop for snowflakes! If you regret things you have done or said, then it’s better to man up, woman up, grit your teeth and take it on the chin! And wherever necessary, to apologise in whatever manner or context deemed best, or even make some kind of suitable restitution. Too much guilt is counterproductive, and this insight of pearly wonder is a silver thread running from the heavenly-minded Church Fathers and rabbis to the dystopian Aldous Huxley; but blaming all your moral faults on medical imperfections and challenges is not something a mature adult should do.
And worse still, it is a shameless and reprehensible denial of moral agency! Because nowadays, in the current phase in the eternal and temporal unfolding of Capital and Spirit, so many of us really do live in a society, and in a world, where ideology and discourse focus almost entirely on moral patients; i.e., purely on those to whom something has been done. But not on moral agents, or those who are actually doing something!
And in such a case, if you and I really want to challenge today’s culture of victimhood and entitlement, we’re going to have to make damn sure we do the right thing, and we don’t blame our illnesses, disabilities, medication or other factors for our own hurtful or distressing words and actions. Threatening to kill or mutilate yourself, ranting, venting, flaming, or even speaking abusively and cruelly to others; none of these things are purely medical matters. They are moral matters too!
The medical is the moral.
Understanding this is of crucial importance for demolishing the culture of entitlement and victimhood around autism today. And so, even if you are already opposing the social victimhood of those who claim autistic and neurodivergent people are ‘oppressed’ by some Vast Neurotypical Conspiracy, and who are being somehow violently and cruelly excluded by ‘society’ (“and I woulda been equal too, if it hadn’t been for all them pesky normies!”), you can’t allow yourself to fall into biological victimhood and entitlement either. Moral consistency is as important today as it ever was; especially in a world, and in an age, where it is so rare to find.
The world of Neurodiversity and of the Social Model of Disability is indeed a true dystopian nightmare. And yet, as no less a figure than Bilbo Baggins has already told us (and ever will continue, had we but ears to hear and eyes to see!)….
Those who are exiting the forbidding kosmos of Simon Baron-Cohen, Steve Silberman and Social Justice Tumblr must beware escaping the goblins of social justice victimhood, only to be devoured by the wolves of biological determinism!
Autism does, in a sense, determine us.
But how much power we are prepared to give it, is up to us.
The law of guilt and of fear shall have no power over us.
For like Abraham, Moses and David, we shall learn the perfect grace that casts out fear.
Godwin in Cambridge is a series of contrarian essays on autism, first sparked by an inflammatory tweet Professor Simon Baron-Cohen made about those who support an autism cure. I intend one day to make a book of this, along with my other essay series, ‘The Risk of Israel,’ (see my Times of Israel blogging profile). Life is a bit challenging right now, but I am ploughing on; a little bit of patronage is more than welcome wherever possible!