For the many “high-functioning” autistic people, we often have some relatively universal experiences. Not accepted the same way in social environments, difficulty holding a job, discrimination implicitly or explicitly in various settings. However it is more rare than it should be that we as autistic people, have a self-run organization not created by allistic people for us; specifically of a political rights nature. We get propaganda from the tech world about how we could be the next Elon, or a capitalist who has made it out of the rut; or maybe someone like Temple Grandin who said “In an ideal world the scientist should find a method to prevent the most severe forms of autism but allow the milder forms to survive” (Grandin, 2006). Fighting within our community about the fundamentals of what should be done seems more common than shared collective objectives. Allistics or even autists themselves, who claim to help autistic people often do so with eugenic undertones and a conservative foundation. Grandin encourages people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get an apprenticeship, or do anything to make themselves more integrated even if it’s potentially problematic. Essentially the message is “to stand up straight with your shoulders back… accept the terrible responsibility of life” as Jordan Peterson says. Never question compulsory self-selling, or the workplace “team-work” ethos.
So what is the problem here? A critic may say “How could this be bad? These influencers want to encourage young people to pick themselves up and accept the tragedy of life.” Well, I was one of those fervent Jordan Peterson fans back in 2017. He “helped” me the way he says people who support him profess on the streets, I went to one of his lectures in 2018, have his books, was in a fan club Discord group and even had talked to his daughter on Instagram once. What changed? I realized that what he spoke about and the way he drew me in, was through a self-defeating ableist tendency in myself that was based on ignorance. Not too long after disowning his philosophy, I was diagnosed with OCD caused by blaming myself for years of trauma related to being an undiagnosed autistic. His claims regarding “hierarchies of competence” as the foundation of Western culture spoke to me because if I could find some way for other people to view me as being capable, I could finally view myself as being that too. If competence was the way to it I wanted to find a way; even if it meant being a repressed, cold, and an overly conservative person. When paradoxically it was that mindset implying I should compulsively change myself to be “a respectable human being”, which reinforced most of my repression and made me disrespect myself. I never got accommodations, I had never felt cared about by most people in public communities, I felt I wouldn’t be accepted the way I am so therefore I blamed myself; even when that was unconsciously perpetuating the mistake OCD I had developed to become worse. The things that were an inseparable part of my character as autistic symptoms which Jordan berated, ironically became what I loved his thinking for despite the suffering I held from clinging to it.
Is it so bad to be someone who has different abilities or needs a different way to fluidly function? Definitely not if you were to live in a society that accepted people the way they were, regardless of their ability to contribute to the labor market. Unfortunately though, America and a large portion of the capitalist world assumes that our role-playing games of lawyer, janitor, and doctor should be the unit by which we value our lives. Even to the point where prejudiced eugenics is encouraged as a form of “cure”; a hatred of the vita contemplativa (contemplative life), unless of course you’re a philosophy or humanities professor. Implicit is a belief that restless doing should determine whether we can move, live in an apartment alone or with 10 roommates, or if we can have any free time to spend with family or loved ones. It is rooted in a deep despising of idleness/stillness. In order to keep “the people ‘’ satisfied in the world of objects and materialism, normal people have to constantly be producing more, buying more, incentivized to do so by credit scores or going broke. These views are founded in a disturbing synergy: fearing nature (like Hobbes preached) so using authority to push people a way to prevent “brutishness,” worshiping good human nature (like Rousseau) by expecting people to act a certain way unconditionally, or some relation of the two.
The professed unified will of “the people” is a fallacy; in order for a social contract to be mutual, each individual participating in the relation must have an option not to participate? I suppose “our” pundits wouldn’t go this far in striking the relation. There are so many wills conflated within “the people” that it is like the concept of an average; an abstraction used to make a point, but even less real than that. A convenient identity for making any given person believe they are represented even when they are discarded in their immediate environment. Are we willing to stand by, even if real people everyday are made unfree due to the so-called “free market” or “freedom for all” double-speak? Unless you are free not only to buy what you want, or work where you want, but completely drop out of the relation all-together you are not free to decide any fundamentals of the lifestyle. Maybe if you become a forest nomad or vagrant. That is unless you get other servants to do the tasks for you, but all that does is put you in the capitalist class and does nothing to challenge the problem; it puts you in a bubble but keeps people unfree who do not have resources. It is like Adam Smith’s invisible hand still pushes each person to sell themselves, become an instrument to a company, then pretend they always were free to do otherwise all in one package; the digital age is a refinement of this method not a challenge. The unintended consequences that are potentially good qualities (scientific/technological advancement, more stuff to buy, ability to become rich), are coupled with the bad ones (destruction of the plant/animal world, worship of ability, economic fundamentalism). Now there is less space than ever to decide against selling oneself to the market, becoming useful but self-mutilating for people who potentially do not care at all for your emotional needs. unless of course, you become a freedom-taker who is instrumental for the invisible hand of forced labor. The relation is so engrained though, nobody really feels they can retain leisure or comfort without giving into the dialectic.
The problem is that autistic people are particularly affected by the umbrellaed term the UN defines as a “human right” which is pure euphemism; when such formal dispositions (shared by many organizations) may actually be a fundamental rationale for the toxic labor relation perpetuating rather than a proclamation of freedoms.
“Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination” (United Nations, 2023).
Do governments have the right to justify killing in the name of an empty phrase? No matter whether you agree or not, they have the power to do that, and to claim that it’s in the name of rights as well; although on the surface human rights may seem like a yipee! I can work no matter what kinds of groups I identify with or am born into but there is an underbelly to this do-gooder attitude given by the bureaucratic leg of the international morality-market. It is commonplace for partial slavery in the American environment, in the form of a wage. What is done to ensure this is acted out against in any revolutionary (in the way the civil rights movement was revolutionary) way by a sizable number of citizens, is by banning alternative currencies that are not convertible to the dominant ones, making extreme incentives for selling yourself for a portion of time even if the big-picture effect is killing entire ecosystems, and that each job no matter how exploitative pretends like they are your saviors, some quasi-family, and that you must act like that’s true to participate. How many more empty phrases should we “the people” get stuffed down our throats before we pull them back out? The UN also posits the value “productive employment and decent work for all” (United Nations, 2023) in another implication everybody in their protected classes should or even must work excessively because they can be units of production according to their rights.
To begin this more mildly, a right to liberty in our behavior would be the right not to work at all or be entirely unproductive in our lives. So if there would have to be a conscious choice either to give people the liberty to remain unlaboring (ensuring no wage slavery or full slavery) or be uninvolved in the capital system at all without being disparaged or without being under the surveillance thumb of bureaucracies for government aid. This would not necessarily entail violence, but could be encouraging people who choose to remain in the labor market for their decision and not implicitly torturing people who cannot provide “productive labor” to a company. So if “your rights are someone else’s responsibility…” and we should “trust those who speak of their responsibilities, not of their rights” (Jordan Peterson, 2016) when rights such as these are clearly double-faced and are irresponsibly enforced, who should we trust? Adam Smith’s mythological faith in them, or the experiences more recently showing their limitations? The freedom to define yourself as unwilling to work is clearly not as welcome as freedom to “productive employment” in this society. Governments use reserve currency, GDP, and sophistication of weapons to gloat, compete, show power, and expect respect from other countries. That’s a central reason why they are reluctant to have potential labor not participate and have the power to do so. It may lower their images which are projected, and this is not just for America.
Not being in the workplace would not necessarily mean that people who wish to not identify with a capitalistic professional role would be non-social. Quite the contrary; it would allow people to associate because they want to rather than pretending to want it, when usually there is significant sales pressure to deceive in the form of compulsory people-pleasing (whether for bosses or customers). Mythos as a micro-physical power pushes to try and change people to be good servants within the workforce even when they do believe in it; it becomes a problem of belief rather than in physical reality just like a religion. The mythos is clear when economics professors appeal to the overgeneralized ancient time where hunter gatherers could not trade well (double coincidence of wants) like religious people see Adam and Eve. What about when they talk about the currency as a value in-itself as if it is a Kantian end in itself to accumulate; even when such beliefs lead to the deterioration of millions of peoples’ lives, is that for “the people” too?
Instead of producing a meta-narrative here I want to pose some simple questions which could help dismantle the issues here then go into them; what relations are by choice for any person regardless of their wealth or status, and which are reserved only for people who participate in capitalism full-force? Obviously where you live is not a choice equal for everyone (due to rent and lack of public, free land to live off of), driving or affording safe transportation is largely determined by capital. Whether you eat is more independent of wealth due to non-profits that give away stuff. Regardless of the direct things money can solve by having it there are deep issues that are justified purely by the desires of the market.
Nothing speaks to this problem more in my opinion than animal slaughterhouses. We could also understand well how Nazis legitimized or had influence for their methods modeled by the holocaust for killing those they hated, so we could look at how society justifies the slaughter of animals to understand utilitarianism of other kinds too. If you want to get a real systematic critique of this there are plenty of philosophers who are masters on the topic so I will not bring the whole kitchen sink. I will sum it up with, if you would not kill your dog to eat it, why would you kill other animals for your pleasure? Overall it comes down to the attachment one has to eating processed bodies of the animals as food (desire for production), and the lack of sensitivity or detachment from the process that slaughters and packages the bodies (self-deception toward the toxic relation). Is this not what we do with our employment, whether it is justifying the person working a job they hate or the capitalist managing their employees? The ends are different but the rationale operates like much of utilitarianism in a similar phenomenology.
It is simple, and I will explain it from both perspectives. The person is compelled by their society to either work, or be cast out to non-status; it works in the same way mythology/religion worked in the past to shape people into the forms of an ideal adult (ex. Caste system, excommunication or herem for heresy, burning of witches). We want to feel like adults, and not working is painted from a young age to be childish rather than mature. So we become attached to being somebody, to having a fixed identity, to making a public name for ourselves. So we pride ourselves on being strong for enduring things we hate, to get things we need other people to justify that identity by believing that it is great or honorable. Whether what one identifies with is a religion, economic system, music genre, or sporting team it can have similar effects. For the capitalist identity, people are also pushed into the same type of delusion. Instead of priding themselves on doing work they hate, they aspire to do work they “love” and are passionate about as the rite of passage to being somebody who is capable; they feel strong due to the hard work they put in not for doing what they hate to get what they need, but for pushing much harder than the the incapable with their dedication, style or intelligence to overcome the rat-race. Both views are dependent on each other for their ethos, and base their professional identities on either being slaves or masters of their fates. Modeling it like a hero in a movie for their own self-narrative, judging other people’s lives on those standards, and then seeing the market as a force of nature that pushed them towards overcoming to become better. There is a third which will not be gone into further because it is only passive energy.
There is a third type. Those who have no self-concept in regard to public labor, work endlessly in it anyways because that is what is expected of them, but take no pride or identity in it at all. Through their triumphs and identities, get squashed in a way that infuses neither pride nor expression; just pure loss of spirit and infinite exhaustion. Believers in variations of these two moralities can end up unconsciously being drained by it in their personalities, even if they take pride in what they do as capitalists or laborers. At the end of the day people want to feel they have a purpose, but often need other people to see it, and a shared belief against idleness or unemployment unifies people towards a market generated purpose even if many jobs lead to killing millions of animals, destroying entire ecosystems, and leaving any dissent forced to adopt their morality as a veneer at least.
A simple way to counter this would be to emphasize the right to not participate in markets, rather than force it as the only way. But as religious and general history tells over and over again, one of the most pervasive power-grabs is the need to bludgeon “our way or no way” without any space for variation in the name of universal morality. That is exactly where we are now, and most likely could be for a while. I hope someday though that autistic people can come together and work towards the goal of freeing ourselves from these forced delusions. We are particularly affected by the problems I have explored here. I believe more than other groups, we do not need these social constructs internally to define ourselves but work towards our interests out of love. As Mark Fisher said “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” (Fisher, 2009) so if we can’t imagine that, maybe we can imagine more voluntary association instead of labor game-rules at the expense of our moral choices forced by circumstance. But not just for the neurodivergent but for anyone who would choose an alternative way of life other than capital accumulation.
When I gave up Jordan Peterson’s ideology it opened me up to a whole new realm of options that meant no longer chasing to be someone I am not. I may in the future still struggle with mistake OCD, with the burnouts of autism, being ordered around by people who would replace me in a day or two; but I have hope that someday people who are neurodivergent aren’t looked down on by the culture surrounding them as if they are childish or inappropriate. I am sure neurodivergent people can relate, hopefully others too. For some of us that maybe even preferred the COVID days or time where we were allowed to get personal space, instead of being forced into toxic spaces; someday we could get the choice to not sell ourselves as if we are objects without material renunciation. Peaceful co-existence while not being coerced to participate in their games. Have the responsibility to care for others and ourselves authentically, instead of the compulsion to please people with lies who discriminate and only acknowledge on their terms. That variation in ability is not labeled as a lack of value, or as justification that we need to change our personalities to appease people disinterested in our suffering. Those who see us as patients to be cured rather than beautiful variations, objects to be used rather than being capable of having our own way; if we had more of a culture to thrive in, we could and most likely would, thrive in our own ways. Maybe someday we can band together to create a microcosm of a society that is structured by us, to accommodate for us, without having to disclose medical information to be treated according to our personal needs. For those who would not want to be indentured, employed, or in service for a certain time period or indefinitely without needing a reason the government must authorize. Instead of people being told to not discriminate against us by force of law, we could have an environment where at least us autistics can treat each other with respect without being put hurtful spaces molded by an allistic-centric ethos; where we can be who we are, whether capable, incapable, willing, or unwilling to toil in the processes of production or the empty phrase. Things in the world will never be perfect but things can change.
Readers may see me as a dreamer. But if we will never speak up for ourselves without the filter of the allistics, without a “competence hierarchy” determinism narrative, things won’t get better collectively. Neurotypicals will act as our saviors, we will never have a culture or be seen as capable of any institutional or social independence. We may be disabled in some ways, but that does not mean we have no responsibility to become advocates of our own, by our own, in our own space just like allistic people have done for their own culture; but it dominates unceasingly, and makes us externalize every value with the simple “I need an accommodation” discourse as a systematic authority rather than trusting the words and experiences that pour from our spirits. Not even most progressives view autistic difficulties as a central part of their agenda. That is the problem with conflating the autistic experience, or neurodivergent experience, with other liberation movements. If institutions can’t trust our needs as true without their psychometrics and externalizations (which are quite unreliable and overpriced), then it is our responsibility to build spaces that are healthy for us and different from the pseudo-saviors’ institutions; more action for autistic people, by autistic people. Psychology hasn’t made any real changes to their discourse’s structure, they want to be our healers even when they change nothing in the society’s labor expectations that consistently wound us. Should we submit to their “yes, you are disabled” papers and systems in order to get “reasonable” accommodations which claim to help but this negates the roots of the problem altogether? Their appropriation of our experiences into their desire to save or see themselves as giving us freedom when they do nothing substantial. As if they are our Platonic guardians adorned by their capabilities, so can define us and lead us around however they see as good. Let us be us, and when we are exhausted by their allistic culture, let us be free without expecting us to give more than we can by sucking us dry (specifically autistic burnout not allistic burnout). It’s that simple. If that can’t be met, autistic people will continue to suffer in silence until we take responsibility to do something together as a community. Freedom not in platitude, but in the actual physical variation available to people in how they choose to spend most of their time. Jung said “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate” (Jung, 1953). Really when an outside-in oppression is not made conscious by the individuals being oppressed, it happens internally as shame. Do we want our fate as a community to be suffering in silence and unconditionally living lifestyles that tear us apart from the inside-out due to overcompliance forever? That is the question we will have to have an answer, together and individually, otherwise we will never organize enough to be heard in any significantly helpful manner. The meritocratic, competence hierarchy totalitarianism can be met head on if we choose to do so or it can be ignored; that is the choice.
Jung C, Aion (1953), Christ: A Symbol of the Self, Pages 70–71, Para 126.
Fisher M. (2009). Capitalist realism : is there no alternative? Zero Books.
Peterson, J. (2016, December 22). https://twitter.com/jordanbpeterson/status/811983625843404800?lang=en. X (Formerly Twitter). https://twitter.com/jordanbpeterson/status/811983625843404800?lang=en
Grandin, Temple. 2006. Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports From My Life With Autism. New York, Vintage Books
United Nations. (2023). Goal 8 | Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations. https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal8
United Nations. (2023). Human Rights. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/human-rights