Autism & Species Existential Crisis (Perceptual Warfare 25)

While the luxury of civilization hasn’t done anything to reduce the causes for stress, it has caused the shutting down of human senses as our awareness is increasingly taken up with the more abstract or “soft” signals of living in a heavily mediated environment. The continuous sensory overload, both of city life and a constant barrage of media, oblige the human organism to filter more and more sensory data out of awareness simply in order to cope. At the same time, this deadening of the senses leads to ever more desperate attempts to self-stimulate, whether it’s by sky-diving, smart drugs, or, for the vast majority, ever more sensational forms of entertainment (including news programs).[1]

While the senses that enhance our survival capacities are closing down, the predatory program of the reptilian brain remains active, and in fact is being over-stimulated. This combination of over-stimulation with under-employment is leading to more and more pathological behaviors — and social normalization of these behaviors. With all this in mind, I think it’s fair to say that the neurotypical perceptual mode, with its overreliance on the reptilian brain, is the single greatest threat to the survival of the human species at this time. (It may not be overly poetic to say that the drive to survive is driving us to extinction.) One counter measure to this, probably the primary one, is an increase in affective empathy and a re-opening of the senses, as typified by the autistic perceptual mode. From the neurotypical viewpoint, however, autistic perception is seen only for its dysfunctional (non-survival-oriented) qualities, and hence as a “plague” to be fought and defeated at any cost.  The autism question, then, or more properly the question of neurodiversity, is the most compelling question of our time. It offers (for me persuasive) evidence that the human species is on the verge of unprecedented crisis. The crisis in question is not environmental, economic, or social, however, but existential.

The reason people are talking about an autism epidemic is that the rates of diagnosis have gone up over the past few decades from something like one in ten thousand to something like one in fifty. While these numbers may not represent a rise in autism, per se, they certainly reflect a rise in awareness of how prevalent autism is. Either way, such large numbers of individuals who are intrinsically resistant to culture would seem to spell the end of culture, whether we see them as the cause or the effect. The prevalence of American, “democratic” culture is something that’s taken for granted, as if, as so many Americans believe, democracy was the expression of universal values and not open to question by sane people. Yet the propagation and enforcement of “democratic values” has been behind a foreign policy more in keeping with Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun than those values which the policies claim to be in service to. The reason for this is politically complex but perhaps psychologically not so much so: fanaticism is always the result of insecurity, and if America feels the need to “convert” the world to its ideology, then it must feel that its ideology is under threat. Since there has been no major external, political threat to democracy (including Communism and Islamic fundamentalism), the enemy, as I hope this piece has made abundantly clear, must be located within the borders of the homeland itself. If there is a coup d’etat in the works, it is not the kind that relies upon weapons of war to attain its ends.


[1] As Morris Berman paraphrased Octavio Paz, “Americans are so big on pornography because they don’t live in their bodies.” (A Question of Values)

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