Creation of Dreamspace
“All forms of violence are quests for identity. When you live on the frontier, you have no identity. You’re a nobody.”
—Marshall McLuhan: The Education of Mike McManus, TV Ontario, December 28 1977
Humans, like the other mammals, are imitative creatures. Once upon a time, alienated teenagers only fantasized about mowing down their classmates. Nowadays, there’s more and more “space” — social license — for disenchanted and disenfranchised youths to make such morbid fantasies come true. At the same time, if there is a growing sense of unease, mistrust and fear being directed at such youths – if in short they are expected to act in extreme and anti-social ways — this is likely to provoke such behavior, or at least increase the possibility of it.
The way I “see” it, not with my outer eyes but with my inner or intuitive vision, is that a kind of dreamspace is being created that is slowly being filled by actual events. This may sound like an idea that belongs more to the realm of metaphysics or gestalt psychology than to sociology, so to clarify, I’ll use a personal example. As a boy and teenager, I had a propensity to steal. By and large, I stole only from businesses, and never from people (i.e., never personal items, though my parents were not protected by this “code”). However, if I noticed, for whatever reason, that someone suspected I might steal from them, even if it had never crossed my mind, there was a much higher possibility I would then do so. The fear and suspicion of others reinforced the tendency in myself, so that, to a degree, their suspicion provoked the very behavior in me which I was being subtly accused of. (Suspicion, after all, is a kind of accusation.)
By the same token, if alienated, Aspergerian, or just plain “weird” teenagers are regarded by their parents and teachers, the mainstream media, and even their peers, as “time-bombs waiting to go off” (as Adam Lanza was described by witnesses), this creates a psychic atmosphere — a dreamspace — in which, even against their will, individuals may find themselves picking up the (spoken or unspoken) fears of those around them and acting them out. Simply put: if, due to lack of understanding, a person is treated as a threat, eventually they will become a threat. Why? Because, by being perceived this way, they will feel threatened.
Autists do not respond well to socialization; or perhaps better said, they are resistant to culture. They are poor at imitative behavior, and so do not learn the basic social cues of language and gesture (to put it mildly). They are misfits in the profoundest sense of the term. Because of this resistance to socialization, they are perceived as anti-social. But a herbivore is not opposed to eating meat (or to carnivores); it simply does not engage in that behavior. Since socialized behavior is seen as the only natural, healthy kind of behavior, however, autism is perceived as an aberration and a threat to society (a “plague”). And while the threat is, in a certain sense, real (society does require individuals to submit to socialization in order to continue), it is not a literal threat any more than vegetarians are a literal threat to the meat industry (though the meat industry will fail if they become the norm). Since this subtler fear remains beneath conscious awareness, while the feeling of a threat remains, society’s fears are then projected onto autists and people imagine them capable of the worst kinds of neurotypical behavior, e.g., of violence, insensitivity, and psychopathology. Autists, or otherwise alienated, misfit kids, as the “other” of the social group, become unwitting receptacles for that group’s projections. In a word, scapegoats.
I’d have to agree. Reminded me of when I was adopted by a big-time criminal in my teens. He was a master of manipulating people. When he spoke, which was all the time, fast and constant, it was mostly a steady spew of projections. He’d easily make a saint appear as a devil. He could make his jokes about rape, sadistic/aggressive violence and murder look normal, and make you laugh (mostly through fear). He even influenced a peaceful vegetarian like me to turn violently against my father, which I regret. It was just amazing how living with him would change my view of reality, in a bad way.
Yes, rings true. As a parent I see all the time the degree to which expectations actually work like suggestions, or definitions of one’s role. I’m reminded of how, at age two, I overheard my mom worrying that I would bite the button nose off my Snoopy toy. It never occurred to me that I would want to do such a thing, but since she mentioned it, I decided there must be a reason and promptly followed the suggestion. The younger the target, usually, the more powerful the influence, and of course when the expectation is of violent behavior, it does read as a threat in itself and therefore increase the chance of violence. Not an aspie thing, but a generally human thing.
We certainly aren’t immune to culture, though we may be resistant to it. Perhaps the “programming” that does get through tends to be more influential for lack of surrounding noise, and the imitation more obvious when it happens because it is less a blend of several influences and more a case of modeling oneself after a few individuals.
I know I consciously modeled myself after David Byrne (Talking Head) in my formative years, despite being overall (like most aspies) fiercely individualistic and rebellious against social values. It seems logical that if an adolescent is resistant to culture and feels like a misfit, they might consciously look for a model to imitate, someone they see as successful or otherwise powerful. The more anger, fear, and hostility there is, the more the chosen model would need to allow for an expression of those feelings. (As an adolescent I was more alienated and disturbed than consciously hostile, tho I did have a fascination for serial killers and a taste for sadistic imagery in movies.)
Most people are constantly comparing themselves to how they think other people see them and adjusting their personalities to gain social acceptance. It’s easy to see how people, especially those with weaker personal identities (i.e. teens), can or will adjust their behavior to match an outer model. For someone with a weak personal identity, it’s easier for them to adjust themselves to an outer model than to try to independently generate their own.