Ramsey Dukes is the pen name of a magician and well-respected British writer on occult subjects, Lionell Snell. I’ve known Lionell since around 2004, when I first sent him copies of Matrix Warrior and Lucid View. We’ve met AFK (away from keyboard) only once, in London, but kept in touch since then. I sent him my long essay on autism recently, and he wrote me some responses via email. I encouraged him to turn them into an essay, and he compiled the thoughts and added to them.
While I am busy tunneling deeper into the Strieber/SRI/Quatermass Pit, rather than leave the blog inactive, I thought I’d post Ramsey’s response here, in two parts. Most interesting to me, perhaps, is how quickly and gracefully he recognized himself as possibly being on the autism spectrum himself. This has been a recurring theme for me when introducing acquaintances to the autism enigma, and is among the most encouraging and desirable results of doing so.
So here’s Ramsey!
Thoughts on reading Autism and the Other by Jason Horsley
This slightly ragged essay is based on an e-mail correspondence I had with Jason when he sent me his interesting essay for comment. Being busy on my other work I have not been free to create a response as well-structured as his original essay, but have strung together (with editing) my intermediate comments and then added some more paragraphs to explain why I felt his essay is important and why it related to some of my own ideas.
One point that interested me, and I wanted to follow up, is whether I am on that [autism] spectrum? Notably in the very social environment of Cape Town, I find myself struggling to interact. I can be very good at it, but it is very tiring and I need to slink off alone to recharge my batteries after an hour or so. (Being good at it is not that paradoxical: because a learned skill can be very well developed, but just not natural and easy.)
I’ve always put this social awkwardness down to being brought up in the country, and being five years younger than my next sibling. So I spent most of my early years on my own, unlike those living in towns or villages, and missed out on a lot of social grounding. I do like people, and am highly curious to find out more about them, but struggle to make good contact.
First impression of Autism and the Other
Having read the first 2 pages, I have an immediate response.
I am aware of a tendency people have to turn a phenomenon into a condition by labeling it. My wife Lynn does this habitually:
- I sometimes wake up with watery eyes or I sneeze – Lynn has “Hay Fever”
- I am sometimes melancholy – Lynn suffers from “Depression”
- Sometimes I suffer pangs of hunger – Lynn is “Hyperglycemic”
- And so on
In the 80s when the big family values thing blew up, a major study was launched on how divorce impacts the children. It was obvious to me that, when a majority of people have decided that children of divorcees have a problem, then the children will begin to feel like “problem children”, and so they will have problems. I can equally hazard a guess that, when divorce was first legalized, it was justified by a similar but contrary assumption that children of bad marriages had problems and that an easier divorce process would help them to avoid those problems!
So, take some ordinary condition like being tall. Most people see that as a positive thing. But if society suddenly decided it was a problem? Imagine people looking at you and whispering, then one comes up to you and says “Jason, don’t worry about your height because we’ve kept a seat for you at the back”; or “this house has low beams, I just thought I should warn you”; or “your new girl friend must be really understanding, considering she’s of quite normal height”.
That is how I interpret the McLuhan quote [“Radical changes of identity, happening suddenly and in very brief intervals of time, have proved more deadly and destructive of human values than wars fought with hardware weapons.”] in your context: that a sudden labeling – like Thatcher’s labeling of single mothers as a problem in the 1980s – causes a lot of destruction. It creates a sort of division or fault line across society. And I guess that autism is a new such label?
On reaching end of chapter 3
That Blake Fleetwood [Huffington Post reporter] article is an appalling example of what I wrote about: turning something normal into a “condition”. In a few paragraphs it describes autism as a “condition” having “victims”, and as a “disease” and says it is an “epidemic” and is “skyrocketing”. All of which could equally apply to people growing taller….
Do you remember the article XXXII I sent you [reference to article published in XVI. The Tower. Radical essays confronting a world in crisis published by Scarlet Imprint] in which I associated killing sprees more with the desire to be significant, noticed or famous? All those desired qualities are encouraged in our society, and your McLuhan quote fits the picture of violence becoming a quest for identity.
It occurs to me that you could cynically rewrite most of the quoted article and replace the words “autism” with “American” – an unfortunate condition that has skyrocketed since the Pilgrim Fathers and demands early treatment for its sufferers before it explodes into individual or group acts of violence like Desert Storm…
Ref Chapter 4: I’ve suggested tallness and Americans as tongue-in-cheek examples, but one of the best true examples of a once positive factor being turned negative is “cleverness”. Under dictatorships and at public school, and often elsewhere in society, there arises a feeling that intelligence is a handicap or vice that sets you apart. President Bush was elected because, in many people’s eyes, he was not clever and so was more “one of us” or less of a threat.
On reaching end of Chapter 11
Your Chapter 7 is amazing. I like your opening quote as I myself have in the past noted the way people define themselves by what they are not, even when the thing they are not does not actually exist. My example was “I’m sorry, but I’m not one of these people who think children must be allowed to get away with absolutely anything…” As I pointed out at the time, not even the most radical alternative-schooling addict would really support that level of freedom without a lot of qualification. I was also amazed that when people say things like that they begin “I’m sorry” as if to suggest that they are actually feeling guilty for not thinking that way! This underlines their fantasy that they are a lone voice of reason in a society gone mad.
Later in the chapter you revisit the sense in which scapegoating becomes self-fulfilling. In The Good the Bad and the Funny, I gave an imagined example of a young German lad who joined the Nazi party in a spirit of high idealism; he does not really go along with the party’s anti-semitism, and is in a state of denial about it. Then he is sent to be a guard at Belsen. Whereas he always used to believe that Jews were human – maybe just a bit inferior – but what he sees for the first time at Belsen is an undifferentiated mass of resentful, dying Jews in a near bestial state of deprivation – “proving” that they really are sub-human after all. The system has made its own lie come true.
So, in response to your excellent article, we can expect an increasing amount of “real data” confirming that autism is indeed dangerous and violent etc. as the scapegoat myth begins to fulfill itself.
As to finding ways to work against that creeping myth? I seem to recall the anthroposophists arguing that Down’s Syndrome was not an affliction needing to be eradicated, but rather a significant factor in human evolution, in some way.
Chapter 11 where you describe the link between autism and exaggerated sensory impressions: as a child I do recall times when the sheer vividness of seeing seemed to hurt my eyes. I am very attuned to touch and used to be so open to the senses around me that I felt utterly vivid and “in the moment” and so was puzzled when my school friends said I was usually in a “trance”.
Psychopathy v autism reminds me of the late section in the first chapter of Little Book of Demons – about the choice Baby makes between 2 ways of interacting with the world.
See here for excerpt from Ramsey’s Little Book of Demons:
 “Negative identity is a phenomenon whereby you define yourself by what you are not. This has enormous advantages, especially in terms of the hardening of psychological boundaries and the fortification of the ego: one can mobilize a great deal of energy on this basis and the new nation [the US] certainly did. . . . The downside . . . is that this way of generating an identity for yourself can never tell you who you actually are, in the affirmative sense. It leaves, in short, an emptiness at the center, such that you always have to be in opposition to something, or even at war with someone or something, in order to feel real.” Morris Berman, A Question of Values
Thank you Ramsey for writing your reactions to Jasun’s article. You expressed my impressions of his ideas far better than I could ever put into words. It is a polished gem of an essay that can spark dozens of ideas to investigate, and one that should be published in a longer format! It is quite critical right now, at least in the U.S., that the creeping idea of “autism is bad” be brought forward and questioned. In May, the American Psychiatric Association’s standard book of diagnosis, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) will no longer ascribe Asperger’s as a diagnosis on its own. It will now simply be part of the general category of autism. (Jasun discusses this in his essay). I have noticed several “scientific studies”, reported since January, that point to a ratcheting up of the language regarding autism. The media clearly presents it as undesirable, in all its nuances of the spectrum, and something to which science is working furiously to find a “fix”. All broader issues, which Jasun analyzes, are not up for discussion it seems.
Twelve years ago, Wired magazine published a short online psychological test that only takes a few minutes, that can give you a quick idea of where you are on the spectrum, if anyone is interested and has a moment to take it. It was published in conjunction with a piece on “The Geek Syndrome” and how so many in the computer industry seem to have Asperger’s-like personalities.
My score is 35, but no one should be surprised to see quite a range. I was tested formally 40 years ago, so I don’t remember the nature of the questions, but my son was tested, and diagnosed only 10 years ago, and this seems on the order of some of his testing. IQ testing is usually also given in conjunction (even 40 years ago), and I was surprised when the school psychologist seemed to think that my son’s high IQ (125 at the time), was the clincher for a diagnosis…even after the cognitive and behavioral testing. Anyway, you may be interested to see where you are on the range if you suspect you may be at all.
And if you score high, just remember what the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.”
I look forward to your further observations Ramsey!
Thanks, DebbieF, it is great to get feedback!
My score was 23. I rated high on the not liking social situations and chitchat bits, but, on the other hand, i am definitely curious about other people and pretty empathetic. I could relate that to my lonely childhood – being curious to meet others but rapidly overwhelmed when they become a crowd. Even now, at 68, I like it when we have just one or two visitors and I can really listen to them and concentrate on their story (always hoping for some shared interest, but not often finding it); but as soon as the numbers are enough to have more than one conversation going on at once, then I get confused, frustrated and go off to do something useful.
In that context, you see why I enjoyed your response, I felt a definite and meaningful exchange in a way that gets diluted in a chatty forum. And I hope you find the rest of the essay interesting.